Soheila Hayek: Reflecting on a year of growth and challenges

Date: 05 December 2023

Above: Embracing YMCA Vision 2030 at the 12th Annual YMCA Africa General Assembly.

As 2023 nears its conclusion, World YMCA President Soheila Hayek reflects on her first 17 months in her role. Right now, she experiences very mixed emotions. A native of Lebanon, she has witnessed firsthand the turmoil in her region due to the conflict in Gaza.

 “I am quite shattered because my region is up in flames,” she said. “However, as President of a peace-making organisation and a person who believes in God, I know I must look at the positive. And, I understand the work we are doing at the YMCA, and Vision 2030 will lead to a world where no one else has to witness what we are witnessing today. I am very hopeful for the future”. 

“Having visited different countries and seeing the work on the ground reminds me that the YMCA is such an amazing organisation”, she said. “I feel blessed and grateful to be here”. 

The past year has been one of travel and discovery for Soheila. In late 2022, she visited Brazil and Mexico, and throughout 2023, her journey took her across various African countries and the Asia Pacific region. “Having seen the work on the ground, I am reminded of the YMCA’s life-changing efforts”, she said. 

As she looks toward 2024, Soheila is encouraged by the increasing collaboration and innovation within the YMCA Movement, particularly around YMCA Vision 2030. However, she acknowledges that challenges remain, particularly in funding. “We are still not where we should be,” she said, emphasising the importance of fundraising for the success of Vision 2030.

To this end, she has gathered a Task Group of experts from YMCA current and past volunteers, called the Task Group on Sustainable Development Initiatives (TGSDI) to explore the best ways for the YMCA to become the partner of choice for Sustainable Development Initiatives funded by donors interested in helping the world reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These initiatives would both bolster the effectiveness of Vision 2030 on the ground, since the four Pillars are in perfect alignment with the SDGs,  and bring in much-needed funds to support operation, capacity building and strengthen governance structure for the participating local YMCAs. 

Here are highlights from Soheila’s 2023 travels:

March 2023

On International Women’s Day, Soheila wrote an article about women’s progress and how far we have yet to go. 

“I have seen women go from beautiful servants at the workplace to commanding board rooms. I have seen us grow from careers in teaching and nursing to becoming University Presidents and surgeons, astronauts, scientists, and mathematicians. There is hardly any field from which we are barred. And yet, challenges remain”, she wrote. 

In addition, she moderated a panel discussion of international YMCA leaders in an #EmbraceEquity event organised by the YMCA of the USA. 

(Click the photos for more information)


April 2023

She presided over the 85th Executive Committee Meeting held in Estes Park, Colo., USA. Learn more about the meeting and watch her highlights video

Also this month, she visited the Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong’s hostels, sheltered workshops, recreational and sports services, and one of its social enterprises (YM Hair). In addition, she also met the YMCA of Hong Kong’s Community and Youth Outreach Team and dropped in on its Community Arts Space – ‘The DOOOR’. Click here for a photo gallery. 

June 2023

The National Council of YMCAs in Japan celebrated its 120th anniversary, paying tribute to its history and looking to the future. Soheila attended the festivities in person and saw firsthand how the YMCA of Yokohama, in collaboration with the Mayor’s office and funding from the electricity company, were housing and educating displaced Ukrainian war refugees brought to Yokohama. She thought this could be a formula for other local YMCAs to strengthen their reach by collaborating with local governments and private sector funders.

July 2023

Soheila joined World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee at the Y-USA General Assembly in Atlanta, Georgia. The two made a presentation to the Executive staff of the different YMCAs and appeared on a panel together. 

October 2023

Soheila travelled to the World YMCA headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, for the 86th Executive Committee meeting. There, she announced the establishment of a task force to explore new funding and partnership opportunities. “I’ve seen remarkable strides in implementing our vision – more than I could have ever imagined”, she said. 

November 2023

Ahead of the 12th YMCA Africa General Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, Soheila visited YMCA Ethiopia. She met with the staff and had a fruitful meeting with the team of Minister Nigussu Tilhun Gebreamanuel at the Ministry of Labor and Skills. She introduced the YMCA as a partner of choice in all youth training and job placement projects.  Also, they began discussions on returning the ownership of the Addis Ababa main YMCA building and land taken over by previous governments back to the YMCA. Work on both fronts has already begun. 

During the YMCA Africa General Assembly, she saw the Kenya YMCA College of Agriculture and Technology in Limuru and assisted with tree planting. She planted a Tree of Friendship in the name of the World YMCA.