‘This is our moment, our time to ignite change’

Today Soheila Hayek of YMCA Lebanon was sworn in as the new President of the World YMCA, ready to lead and ignite change across the YMCA Movement over the next four years.

After taking her oath, signing the Golden Book, vowing to uphold the Constitution and Bylaws and wearing the scarf – presented by outgoing President Patricia Pelton – which is symbolic of her duties to World YMCA, she was sworn in as the new President.

In her acceptance speech, she shared how her parents shaped her perception of life, clearly filled with emotion at wonderful memories.

“In my life, my parents have been the backbone of all that I am today”, she said. “‘Always smile, and the world will smile right back at you’, my mom would say. She always reminded me that life would throw innumerable challenges my way, and I need not add my negativity to the mix.”

Soheila recounted how she had always loved to help others, whether that was volunteering to work with physically and mentally challenged children, visiting numerous orphanages or making clothing for children whose parents could not afford them.

“I learned life is to be enjoyed”, she said. “It’s our perspective and how we take it. Forty-two years ago, I married the love of my life, and after having my family I still always wanted to volunteer and serve youth so they would be empowered.”

As the new president, Soheila said she stands on the shoulders of giants, including:

  • Chairman of the Board at YMCA of Lebanon, Ghassan Sayah, who has devoted his life to the YMCA and “encouraged me to run for the local board and the Executive Committee”.
  • Past World YMCA Presidents Peter Posner and Patricia Pelton, who throughout the past four years have been incredible role models of effective leadership.
  • World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee, and I’m “truly looking forward to working with him.”
  • “And I stand on the shoulders of what you have all achieved and continue to achieve around the world – locally, nationally and globally,” she said.

The world of the 21st Century is a very small one, she said. More than ever, we live in an incredibly interconnected world. Distances that once separated our various movements no longer do.

“Vision 2030 is the prime example of this global collaboration,” she said. “Our global movement is a beautiful giant that is hiding in plain view, and it is time to change that! In parallel with pursuing the goals of Vision 2030, we have the task of elevating our brand and making our name synonymous with Youth Empowerment.”

No other youth empowerment organization can claim to operate in 120 countries, she said, or claim to serve more than 60 million people. “Let us put our collective thinking hats on and come up with inspired new revenue streams to fund our Vision 2030 plans and dream up alternative revenue schemes to build our reserves.”

Increasing the number of young people in leadership positions at local and national YMCAs and ensuring more women are in leadership positions at local and national levels are priorities for us all, she said.

“Leaders of the YMCA: let’s do our best for a world that desperately needs us,” she said. “This is our moment. This is our time to ignite change.”

 

What an historic day!

I am truly humbled by your support of me and my ideas for the way forward.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

I am standing here on shoulders of giants!

In my life, my parents have been the backbone of all that I am today. They laid the foundation for the Soheila standing before you.

“Always smile and the world will smile right back at you”, my mom would say.

She always reminded me that life would throw innumerable challenges my way, and I need not add my own negativity to the mix.

“Whenever you catch a fish, it will always be fresh”, my dad would always say, reminding me that there are no missed opportunities, just another chance to give it a go!

The love of nature, gardening, and hiking was bred into me by my parents who always took time to enjoy every scenery, and every flower no matter how small. We camped in the mud under the rain and laughed about it as my mom served us hot cocoa. So, I learned that life is to be enjoyed. It is neither good nor bad. It is our outlook, our perception, that colors it one way or the other.

I carried that attitude to my scouts’ years where I volunteered to work with the physically and mentally challenged children, visited numerous orphanages, and made clothing for the newborn whose parents could not afford to buy them. I even came up with a scheme to buy puff pastry at a discount from our neighborhood pastry shop owner, who knew my family, and sell it at school at a premium price, in order to raise good sums of money for our troop to buy more gifts for our visits to these centers.  Yes, I have been thinking about fundraising since I was only nine!

In college, I didn’t sit still either. I ran for the Executive Committee of the International Student Organization and volunteered for many activities. Once I left my PhD program to marry the love of my life, Ziad Alexandre Hayek from Lebanon, some 42 years ago, and had my family, I kept on volunteering at my local church and the children’s school, much to my children’s horror!

Whether we were in the US, in Mexico, in Gabon, in England, or in Lebanon, I never stopped working with the most vulnerable. Always there with children and youth. Always looking for ways to serve them, so they would be empowered. And my better half and hero, whom I simply call “Hayek”, was always there to push me further, and encourage me on.

But I am here in my YMCA family, standing on the shoulders of a gentle giant called Ghassan Sayah who, since the age 16, has devoted his life to the YMCA. He observed the other day that he may be the person attending this world council who has had the longest continuous presence in YMCA international and local events. He introduced me to the YMCA, and the invaluable work they did from the delivery of chronic disease medication to the recycling of medical waste, to the provision of potable water. He is the one who encouraged me to run for our local Board; and later to run for the World YMCA Executive Committee, telling me you will be the next president! How did he see the future, I will never know! I would ask Ghassan to stand up and be recognized, but unfortunately, he came down with Covid and is now quarantining in his room.

 

And I stand on the shoulders of my past Presidents – Peter Posner and Patricia Pelton, who throughout the past four years have been incredible role models of effective leadership.  And as immediate past President, Patricia, our first female President! – who has understood our global challenges – politically, economically, socially and environmentally, and the need for the YMCA to adapt to those external factors and forces, will be staying on at the executive committee as Past President and I will continue to be mentored and guided by her for our Movement.

And I now stand alongside our Secretary General, Carlos Sanvee, and I have to say, that I am truly looking forward to working with Carlos.

It was his idea to hold Padare sessions during 2020. Padare sessions are inspired by the consultative wisdom-sharing councils of elders in the African tradition. They jolted us out of our Covid shell shock.  Youth Led Solutions were also his idea. They truly energized us to go forth and undertake efforts to face the pandemic. Thank you, Carlos.

And, last but not least, I stand on the shoulders of what you have all achieved and continue to achieve around the world – locally, nationally and globally. The ability for YMCAs to adapt uniquely in each community we serve is what sets us apart. It is what you have done, and continue to do, that matters most right now.

At World YMCA – we will continue forge partnerships to strengthen our global impact – and leverage our existing partnerships with the United Nations, World Health Organisation, the Big Six Youth Empowerment organisations in Geneva, and others – as we align with the Sustainable Development Goals with our Vision 2030 key pillars of impact – Community Wellbeing, Meaningful Work, Sustainable Planet and Just World, and strategic goals.

And we will continue to strengthen our internal YMCA networks and partnerships – to come together (both online and in person) – to listen to one another, to embrace diversity, and to ensure belonging for all.

We want to continue to hear the needs of all our constituent YMCAs, from around the world, to collectively find the best way forward together. The world of the 21st century is a very small one. More than ever, we live in an incredibly interconnected world.

The distances that separated our various movements, no longer do.

We need to read from the same book and play our music not in cacophony, but as ONE orchestra does.

Vision 2030 is the prime example of this global collaboration and was just passed by an astounding (almost) unanimous vote! Well done World YMCA and well done all of you who really made this possible! A round of applause for all of us for collectively creating our Vision 2030. This is our Moment. This is our time in history.

A few days ago, we learned that after 177 years, botanists discovered a new species of giant water lilies hiding in plain view at London’s Kew Gardens. We are not unlike these water lilies. Our global movement is a beautiful giant that is hiding in plain view, and it is time to change that!  In parallel with pursuing the goals of Vision 2030, we have the task of elevating our brand and making our name synonymous with Youth Empowerment!

To succeed at this job, we need to be Seen by the world, as were those giant water lilies, as was Mother Theresa, and so many other worthy causes. For that we need to unite our forces and tell one story, OUR story. And we have a glorious one to tell.

What other youth empowerment organization can claim to operate in 120 countries?! What organization can claim to serve more than 60 million people?! Our story, when told, amazes everyone. We need to make sure it is heard.

Let’s make the link between our Name and our Game!

Basketball and volleyball were invented at the YMCA. Let’s take pride in this! Why not partner with famous basketball and volleyball sports clubs or with sports equipment makers to co-brand events and initiatives?

Maybe some of you have other great ideas. Let us put our collective thinking hats on and come up with inspired new revenue streams to fund our Vision 2030 plans and dream up alternative revenue schemes to build our reserves for when we face difficulties again…

Let’s work together to continue to capture our program outcomes, and to collect consistent data about the invaluable projects we each have, to share both internally and externally. Sponsors and partners need the outcomes data to justify their support. We need to work together to achieve this.

In the past few days, I was blessed to have had the chance to speak with so many of you. And what a wonderful and enriching experience it has been for me.

I have heard you, and I will continue to ask and to listen.

As a global Movement, we have already come so far with youth led solutions. But we need to go further.

Let’s increase the number of young people in leadership positions at our local and national YMCAs. And let’s work together to ensure that more women are in leadership positions at our local and national levels.

And I will continue to stand on the shoulders of giants during my term as President –

I will depend on your wisdom, your feedback, and your collaboration to succeed.

Above all I will depend on your prayers!

Leaders of the YMCA – young, old and in between – let’s do our best for a world that desperately needs us.

This is our Moment. This is our time to ignite change.

 

Ta7iye kbíre la Lebnen, elli zghír bas fe3lo kbír, u la Masr, ula Falastín!

Merci, mes amis francophones, pour votre appui! Continuez à me donner vos avis. On va travailler ensamble et réussir ensemble! Je vous aime tous!

Mis amigos de LACA! Su apoyo y el amor que me han demostrado han sido humillantes y profundos. Muchísimas gracias! No paren de comunicar conmigo . No paren de soñar, de creer y de actuar! Los veo, los escucho, y los quiero!

Bolshoye spasíba. Velíke spasíbi. Efkharisto polí. Danke zehr. Dōmo arigatō. Shié-shié. Bahut daniavaad. Shukrani nyingi. Kheili mutashakeram. Tusend Tak. Many thanks everyone! I love you all!

Acceptance speech – full version