‘We hit the open road’ – Secretary-General & President chart 4-year YMCA journey into and out of Covid

Date: 06 July 2022

‘We have journeyed together through hard times, and come out stronger’ – the theme of the four-year report from World YMCA President Patricia Pelton and World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee presented to the 20th YMCA World Council in Aarhus today.

The two reflected on the global YMCA’s path from anticipation through crisis to  ‘ignition’ over the period 2018 to 2022. They thanked the outgoing Executive Committee for their role in helping ‘to navigate this Movement through one of the most turbulent periods in its history’.

They spoke of ‘ground-breaking’ times, setting the context of a period of political, economic, social and environmental turmoil and upheaval, which had affected young people more than any. ‘The challenges are multiplied several times over for young people, who are left out of policy and debate, and frequently patronised with things done to them, rather than being empowered to do things themselves’ said Carlos.

The President and the Secretary General set out four elements of real advance over the period 2018-2022, two elements of real challenge, and one element tying everything together as the YMCA Movement goes forward and ignite.

The four areas of advance:

  • first, the way the YMCA came together as a Movement and actually became stronger – all this, in responding to a series of very serious crises
  • second, the way the YMCA advanced its core theme of youth empowerment, giving it new meaning and new expression
  • third, the way the YMCA projected itself on the world stage, as good partners outside and inside the Movement
  • and fourth, the ways in which it strengthened both its foundations and its collaboration

The two areas of real challenge are:

  • first, the flipside of the advances made in strengthening foundations and collaboration: there is much more to do
  • and second, the issue of financial insecurity

And the element bringing all this together under one banner going forward: Vision 2030.


Becoming stronger

Covid: Discussing Covid and the three-part YMCA response of Resilience, Recovery and Reimagination, Patricia said that ‘Covid made us think not just of 2044 … not just of 2030 … but of right now.  In the face of Covid, how could we not just survive, but thrive?’ A highlight was the establishment of the YMCA Covid Solidarity Fund which raised 1 million dollars, helping 27 struggling National Movements to pay their staff, and pay their rents. ‘We saved almost 400 jobs. It was an incredible act of practical solidarity.’

Other challenges: Patricia set out a series of YMCA responses to the issues of climate change, racism, gender inequality and forced migration. These included a high-profile YMCA presence at the COP 26 conference in Glasgow in November 2021.

Conflict: Carlos said how the YMCA Movement had raised USD 1 million and helped to fund immediate relief for some 50,000 Ukrainian refugees, and longer-term support in areas like mental health. He cited mor Movement-wide solidarity in helping Haiti, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Lebanon, Gaza and Sri Lanka over the 4 years.


Youth empowerment

Patricia described how YMCA ran three large online Youth Led Solutions Summits, on Climate Action in October 2020, on ‘the future of work’ in June 2021, and on mental health and wellbeing in October 2021. They were attended by 1500 people and led to the formation of some 70 ‘Solutions Teams’ which received USA 450,000 of seed funding. Carlos added that the YMCA’s 18 major national projects as well as hundreds of local projects under the Global Youth Mobilization Initiative had helped a global initiative reaching 800,000 people.



Among the partnerships cited were those with the Worldwide Fund for Nature, the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization, the Global Fund to Fight TB, AIDS and Malaria, Goodwall, Concordia, HP Life and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, as well as many parts of the UN system including Generation Unlimited, the office of the Special Envoy on Youth, and UNICEF.


Foundations & collaboration

Patricia cited the launch of the YMCA Governance Standards, and the streamlining of the Executive Committee from 33 to 23 people, with the option of two external members to provide us with fresh perspective.

Carlos outlined both progress and limits to the work done in establishing five Communities of Impact (on climate, refugees, jobs, mental health, and also public policy and advocacy), collating Movement-wide data, and achieving concerted Movement-wide communications.

Likewise in Finance, where easier release of funds from the successful John R Mott Fund could not conceal financial pressures felt by the World Alliance and across the Movement.

Carlos drew to a close: ‘if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. With Vision 2030, we’re really in a position to do that. We walk together; work together; we leave no one behind.’