Recently World YMCA had the most amazing opportunity to represent young people from all over the globe at the Olympism in Action Forum – The first of its kind run by the International Olympics Committee which featured a range of influential and powerful speakers, including athletes, sport and government officials, academics, Young Change-Makers, business leaders, NGOs, and more. These inspiring minds lead the Forum’s debates and discussions, and shared their experiences and perspectives on how to build a better world through sport and here I got selected to represent our organisation within my role as a graduated Change Agent to form part of this illustrious group. WOW!!!
This was a big deal for me, not only because we are almost 175 years old as an organisation or as stated in the YMCA blue book 2012 – that we representatives of 119 countries or 58 000 000 people all plotted across the globe but rather the role I as a young person have been entrusted with. The extensive training, I have received as a Change Agent will now be put to the test, along with skills that have been harnessed over the years at various levels from local to global level. Most of all I felt absolutely thankful, privileged and honored and do hope that I have done justice on this particular platform representing YMCA as a whole.
The event took place over 2 days with various plenary sessions, along with working zones. I joined the working Zone around Solidarity Inclusion and Social Cohesion through sports with an elite panelist group which included Facilitator: David Eades, Chief Presenter, BBC Conference Host and Moderator, United Kingdom and Speakers: Luke Dowdney, Founder CEO, Fight for Peace, Brazil; Neşe Gündoğan, Secretary-General, Turkish Olympic Committee (TOC), Turkey; Raouf Mazou, Country Representative, Kenya, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Rabbi Carlos A. Tapiero, Deputy Executive Director, Maccabi World Union, Israel and myself.
Our team build report just before the session by chatting because it was the first time we all met after a few months of communicating via email and decided to get some ‘Selfies’ – to keep up with the times. The session was more of a discussion than anything else, we knew what we would be covering but one of it was prepared word for word, rather we were given guidelines of what we would have to cover and what type of questions would be posed.
Our working zone aimed to explore how sport can bridge the divisions that currently exist in societies around the world, with the goal of promoting inclusion and creating cohesive communities. David Eades opened up with the question: “How are we as YMCA using sports to create social cohesion amongst youth”. This was pretty simple to answer, considering we practically invented three different sports namely: basketball, racquetball and volleyball. I also shared about the Red Triangle where we focus on Mind, Body and Spirit and then went into more detail with regards to the ‘Body’ aspect and how we use sports at various locals as a way to harness and to develop the body as a tool of empowerment. I also touched on the fact that as an organisation we aim to ‘Think Globally and Act Locally’ as the YMCA differs from country to country, region to region and local to local.
We were then in conversation with the audience whom brought up a range of various questions I would consider the toughest question received was addressed to myself and Rabbi Carlos A. Tapiero where we were questioned on how we in our organisations include other groups that are from different faiths and from different backgrounds or culture as we presumably would be limited. To my relief I could explain that we evolved as an organisation, over a period of time. Even myself representing our organisation which is known as the Young Men’s Christian Association – I as a Women am able to stand here on this platform and speak on behalf of our organisation. A typical example of how we constantly aim to adapt with the needs of society.
I continued by explaining that we as YMCA understand that we need to adapt with the times without losing our mission or vision in the process but rather realise that our needs change over the decades and therefore we constantly aim to be as inclusive of all, as much possible, as long as it doesn’t infringe on our ethos as an organisation. I elaborated by explaining that we do not say because you are from a different religions or from a different background that we won’t allow you to take part but rather aim to make our programmes as inclusive as possible.
As a graduated Change Agent I felt really comfortable being among 1 500 participants from different organisations across the globe, ranging from young and old with different backgrounds and cultures. I felt equipped and comfortable communicating YMCA’s vision, mission and answering questions effectively, not only because of information given to me but rather because of the experiences I have had, going through the two-year programme.
The OiAF was a lot like the global gatherings which took place on the Peace boat as well as in Thailand and because I’ve already been exposed to working zones and to plenary sessions, speaking in front of crowds encompassing various cultures, exchanging ideas and creating safe spaces to dialogue – I can truly say that these gatherings has allowed me to have a comprehensive understanding of our organisation at a global level right down to local level and representing the YMCA on such a platform was possible, in my opinion, due to the various training received both online and in person, as well as ample exposure to practical experience through hosting facilitation skills, preparing workshops etc.
I considered the OiAF an opportunity for us at the YMCA to have our views heard and did not feel like I was thrown in to the deep end as we have been reared as a Change Agents to take on these types of roles and although I worked independently most of the time there was a whole support system behind me.
One thing I did find a bit challenging – however not unique to this forum but rather something I’m always mindful of is the fact that it’s quite difficult to always represent a large group without generalising, and also being mindful not everyone will agree with you 100% of the time. I therefore feel that as a young person, if I did not receive the training I’ve had received previously as a Change Agent, I would not be as comfortable to speak on behalf of a global group because I not only understand my organisation at local level but I understand it as at a global level as well through the exchanges that we have had at the global Gathering, sharing with other Change Agents where you also get to learn about different cultures and different programmes that was within an organisation. When you talk and share examples you don’t merely speak about researched facts or things that you have seen on the internet but rather the first hand experiences and stories from other Change Agentss giving their time to the YMCA.
As a young person it was also great to see people coming up afterwards asking questions and congratulating us as an organisation. I also heard about connections was the YMCA have already made and also were asked by some organisations to connect and put them in touch with the right people in the YMCA to spear head possible new partnerships.
The Forum also included a cultural evening, a lot of networking breaks and an invitation to the opening ceremony which happened in a public space (which was also a first). The sessions itself I found to be really informative however would take too long to mention them all here, I will leave a link below, where you can check out some of the sessions that took place. It was also great learning about these various organisations and the different works that they do and it was great to see how everyone was encouraged to network, combine models and ideas and work in such a fashion that everyone grows as an organisation and or movement by using sports as a tool to accomplish this goal.
I was then also fortunate enough to meet friends from one of the sister YMCA’s in Argentina. This included their GM Santiago Prieto who gave me his card and let me know that I can call anytime if I needed anything whilst I was there and then my two lovely hosts Sofi Rapuano and Santiago Luli whom showed me around for the rest of the day and taught me some Spanish. I had so much fun and I thought ‘oh my gosh – how amazing is it that I’m part of this massive movement and although we didn’t even make plans and haven’t met previously being with then felt like home’. It is just the most amazing feeling to have when you connected because you share the same values and principles and although we struggled with some language barriers we communicated through it and it was so much fun. We ended off the trip by going to the opening ceremony and then I took my first ever subway and travelled to Sofi’s home where we enjoyed amazing flavorful pizza close to midnight with her whole family and I got to learn more about the culture of the people staying in Buenos Aires.
I enjoyed the event and Iearnt a lot – personally I feel that it was a good platform YMCA to be involved with and I do believe that we would get more opportunities like this because as a global organisation it’s important for us to be a voice to the people on such platforms. I received a thank you letter from the president of the IOC Thomas Bach. He also included that they have already started to discuss how to translate all the inputs into action. The conclusions of the Forum will inform the IOC’s ongoing Olympic Agenda 2020 reform programme so that the IOC can strengthen the role of sport in society and better pursue their mission to make the world a better place through.
I am truly thankful to the Vatican, World YMCA and the respective YMCA’s, IOC, OiAF team, my family and friends and to each individual that has had a hand in allowing me to be part of this amazing initiative. I wish I could mention everyone personally but the list might just not end… Therefore, I will leave it here.
Here is to YMCA empowering youth!!!
Change Agent – South Africa – Cape Town
- Videos – Olympism in Action Forum Day 1
- Videos – Olympism in Action Forum – Day 2
- Blue Book – World YMCA Statistics
- Olympism in Action – Frequently asked questions