The YMCA celebrates 180 years of empowering young people and communities  

Date: 05 June 2024

YMCA 180 Logo

Worldwide the YMCA reaches 60 million people across 6 continents each year 

The worldwide YMCA Movement marks its 180th anniversary today. Its global, national, and local initiatives empower young people and communities to continue to build a ‘just, sustainable, equitable, and inclusive world’ for all. 

YMCA was established in 1844: it is the oldest and one of the largest youth organisations in the world. From providing young men with a safe space in industrial London to developing young people in ‘body, mind and spirit’, and supporting communities ‘cradle to grave’ including migrants and refugees, it has grown massively. 

“What started with 12 young men in London in 1844 has grown to encompass 12,000 communities worldwide – in 120 countries – in June 2024”, said World YMCA President Soheila Hayek. “The Young Men’s Christian Association is proud to serve young and old, men and women and boys and girls, Christians and those of any and no faith.” 

YMCA has always been a pioneer. It invented basketball and volleyball, for instance. This is in addition to teaching English as a second language, running migrant reception programs, establishing gyms and swimming pools, and places of education and housing for all ages. YMCA won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for supporting soldiers, prisoners, and families in two World Wars. 

For a look at some of the most memorable moments across the global YMCA Movement, see our YMCA 180 photo gallery.

Click here to see the gallery

“We remain pioneers”, says World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee. “We believe in youth-led solutions and work with our global and local partners to make those solutions fly. Prompted by COVID, we also believe that we must continue to reach out to communities and not expect them to come to us.” 

2024 has seen the YMCA partner with five other global youth organizations. The YMCA has also partnered with the EU and the UN in a Euro 10 million program to facilitate young people’s initiatives in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The first round of the program, the Global Youth Mobilization, supported youth-led solutions to the COVID crisis, which reached some 3.6 million people. 

In addition, this year, the YMCA conducted global research on young people’s hopes and fears about the world of work. This research will lead to worldwide advocacy and national programs to underline the YMCA’s role as one of the biggest employers of young people worldwide. 

“Young people’s needs – their mental health, their jobs, and the needs of the societies in which they live – have never been greater”, says Carlos Sanvee. “And nor has their potential. We continue to empower young people to be and to lead the change they want to see.”