Worldwide leadership meetings 2021

‘Navigating out of COVID and beyond’

Supporting its members as they emerge from COVID – with World YMCA serving its 120 YMCA National Movement members, and they in turn serving their 12,000 local branches worldwide – was the principle reaffirmed as two-thirds of the global YMCA Movement, met online from Thursday 25 to Saturday 27 February 2021. Some 85 YMCA National General Secretaries and 70 National Board Chairs joined the meetings.

While all can see and are acting on COVID as an opportunity to reimagine themselves for a ‘new normal’ post-pandemic future, all remain in the immediate recovery phase from a virus that has seen YMCA jobs lost and revenues cut. ‘We’ll be in Phase 1 – supporting our members in COVID times – for as long as we need to be’, said one National General Secretary, echoing a Movement-wide commitment to do whatever it takes, for however long it takes.

‘The YMCA is often the last organisation still operating’ said another National General Secretary, as YMCAs worldwide shared news of new and continuing work to support communities, and how National Movements had pivoted and diversified where necessary to provide whatever service was needed.

‘We’re all in this together – either be bitter, or get better…’ was the constant refrain of a group which remained optimistic about its work and the potential of the people it serves.

National General Secretaries discussed not just their post-pandemic recovery, but also the fact that the pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated existing fractures and vulnerabilities in their societies, and that they are refocussing their efforts on remaining relevant to young people whose needs have never been greater.

All were speaking within a two-day National General Secretary meeting which – on its second day – ran parallel with a separate one-day National Board Chair meeting.

On Saturday 27 February, the National General Secretaries and the National Board Chairs came together for a historic joint consultation, as the global Movement reviewed aspects of its governance to ensure its agility, focus, efficiency and solidity in the 21st Century. ‘When a crisis hits, it’s really too late to think of governance: it needs to be in place before something like this [COVID] happens’ was the thread linking the group’s discussion on operational planning with its specific focus on governance.

The consultation discussed an updated set of objectives which accurately reflect and underpin what the YMCA does, and the Christian ethos which has always been the foundation of the global YMCA Movement and which makes it an inclusive organisation working with all people in all communities. It also discussed the size and composition of the World YMCA Executive Committee, and new approaches to combine flexibility, security and growth in the stewardship of its financial assets.

Several external speakers addressed the meeting.

Ahmad Alhendawi, Secretary General of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement which – like World YMCA – is a member of the ‘Big Six’ largest global youth organisations, told the National General Secretaries: ‘Countries with structured youth movements are proven to be more resilient in responding to crisis, especially where formal education is under pressure. Governments are realising that organisations like ours are crucial’. He spoke about the ‘Global Youth Mobilization for Generation Disrupted’ project launched in December 2020 with the WHO, UN Foundation and the Big Six, and the projects which it will launch at local, national and global levels.

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director at UNICEF, the United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children in 190 countries worldwide, used a video message to say: ‘Let’s work together across the UNICEF and YMCA families; let’s bring together our expertise, experience, influence and resources; let’s take our next steps in our journey together’.

Emilio Granados Franco, author of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2021, presented research among the ‘Pandemial’ generation of young people affected by COVID19, stressing that the most severe impacts of current global crises will be felt by the 15-24 age-group, citing the potential for youth disillusion and rejection of social and economic structures. He also stressed the potential of ‘building back better’. ‘My trust for our collective future is in organisations like the YMCA’, he said.

Three young YMCA leaders – Nicole Wry from Greater Moncton in Canada, Norah Chabu from Zambia and Dae-un Yang from South Korea – joined a youth panel with the National General Secretaries, and described the ways in which their own YMCAs had stepped up to help local people during the COVID pandemic. All urged World YMCA to continue to play a role in advocating for COVID vaccines freely and equally for all who want them, and proper information for all. YMCAs worldwide continue to support the roll-out of the COVID vaccination process.

‘It’s a remarkable achievement for two-thirds of the global YMCA Movement leadership to come together like this and find such common purpose and joy in each other’s company’, said Patricia Pelton, President of the World YMCA. ‘But all agreed that we need to see each other in person – God willing, we will soon be able to do so.’