Sunday 4 August 2019 – Opening Ceremony
In 1844, YMCA began above a draper’s shop in St Paul’s Churchyard, London. On Sunday 4 August, more than 3,000 YMCA young people, staff, guests and volunteers from 100 countries gathered just down the River Thames at ExCeL London to kick off its flagship anniversary celebration, YMCA175.
The opening ceremony got off to a rousing start as the United Nations General-Secretary’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, served as keynote. “You are not only the leaders of tomorrow, you are the leaders of today,” she said. “When given the right tools and opportunities, young people thrive in making the world a better place. Our generation possesses the power to build a foundation for a better world.”
The evening proved to be a moment of celebration, mixing historical memories and contemporary reflections. YMCA officials first welcomed each delegation before Denise Hatton, CEO of host movement YMCA England and Wales, encouraged the delegation to “keep in mind the great leadership shown by our founder [Sir George Williams].”
Young leaders coached by TED-Ed shared their moving and inspiring stories on stage, urging young women and men the incentive to speak up, to act, to make their voices heard and not to give up. Alex Taylor, a Youth Ambassador from YMCA England & Wales shared her simple, but straightforward motto, “Change the things that irritate you.”
In between speeches, the audience was entertained by joyful music and lively songs. One of the key moments of the ceremony was the colourful, united procession of flags from all delegations representing their individuality.
With the original Paris Basis by her side, World YMCA President Patricia Pelton left an indelible mark on the ceremony, “As we celebrate our rich history, let’s not forget to take this opportunity to look to the future and take our first step together to build a stronger, more inclusive society for all.”
The ceremony closed by a blessing given by Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor at St Paul’s Cathedral. The celebrations of YMCA175 are now officially underway!
Highlights in video:
Monday 5 August 2019 – Day 1
The first full day of YMCA175 was jam-packed with impactful keynotes, workshops and panels. Entrepreneur and the founder of the Haiti Tech Summit, Christine Souffrant Ntim, kicked off the opening plenary encouraging delegates to embrace their individuality and to stop at nothing to reach their goals. She asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” before promoting the crowd to respond in unison with their own name.
The theme continued into the first round of TED-Ed talks featuring young leaders from England and the Philippines. TED-Ed speaker Ianne Aquino from YMCA Albay in the Philippines said, “Find your passion, commit to your values, increase your network and always work hard.”
The morning concluded with a keynote from the President of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, Her Excellency María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés who later joined World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Madjri Sanvee, World YMCA President Patricia Pelton, and a group of YMCA global leaders for a high-level discussion. They discussed the main challenges facing young people today and how international organisations can respond to their needs and expectations. “The opinions and the voices of young people are critical in decision-making,” said Madam President Espinosa Garcés. “I want the UN to be closer to the people we serve.”
Later in the afternoon, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, participated in a panel discussion on environment and climate action. She then met a crowd of young people from various delegations during an open Q&A where she spoke about youth-led tools, resources and platforms made for and by young people.
During the afternoon sessions delegates got their first taste of the more than 300 hours of workshops planned for the event, each focusing on at least one of the Sustainable Development Goals.
One of the first workshops was the World YMCA #YouthForChange campaign. Attendees reflected on YMCA’s Vision2044, sharing their hopes and suggestions for the future. Lisa Kalivatsi, Programme Secretary for Refugee Assistance at World YMCA, also spoke about her work in Greece during a session led by YMCA Europe’s Working Group on Refugees.
The day concluded with an anniversary celebration filled with music and special guests. Jasmine Tucker, a family descendant of YMCA’s founder Sir George Williams, took to the stage to highlight how one person is capable of changing the world. Members of former World YMCA Secretary General John R. Mott, Katharine Mott Münger and Sam Mott, were also on hand for a special gift to the movement. The family presented a replica of the Nobel Peace Prize John R. Mott received in 1946 to World YMCA via its President Patricia Pelton.
Delegates return to ExCeL London on Tuesday for what promises to be another day of exciting, interactive content. The day two livestream will begin at 11am with the opening plenary and conclude with a panel discussion on mental health awareness among young people. Tune in or watch recaps of previous day’s activities on our website.
Highlights in video:
Tuesday 6 August 2019 – Day 2
The main word for Tuesday 6 August at YMCA175 was “caring”. Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York and President of YMCA England and Wales, delivered a vibrant devotion centred around unconditional love.
The plenary session followed suit through the theme of mental health. TED-Ed speaker Elise Knutsen of YMCA Norway set up a support group in YMCA Kenya to make sure that young people have a safe place “to be seen, to be heard and to be accepted.”
Loizza Aquino, YMCA175 keynote speaker from Canada, created her own non-profit, Peace of Mind, after the suicide of her best friend four years ago. She promised herself to support those who struggle with themselves. “There is power in a simple conversation,” she said. “Conversation leads to awareness, which leads to education, which then leads to a more empathetic approach.”
Later in the day, Aquino joined a panel of experts who discussed concrete actions to deal with mental health awareness. The discussion was moderated by Elisha London, CEO of United for Global Mental Health, and highlighted how important it is to be vulnerable in speaking out about yourself. Professor Miranda Wolpert, head of the Mental Health Priority Area at Wellcome Trust, pledged for a better collaboration between mental health researchers. Attendees also heard from Jeffrey Sparr, co-founder of PeaceLove in the USA, who shared how he fights his symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) using painting. He said, “Creativity is a way to build a kinder, gentler and more empathetic world.”
The panel was completed by two extraordinary young people, Jayden Parsons of YMCA Australia and Sophia Zahra of YMCA England & Wales. Both of which shared powerful stories about their own experience living with mental health difficulties. The panellists finished the session with a captivating Q&A session.
The day concluded with a panel on economic empowerment. Among the speakers was Tom Davis from Forbes and representatives from YMCA Peru. The job market is constantly evolving and panellists shared their experiences and ideas on how to support young women and men in adapting their skills and mindsets to find sustainable careers.
YMCA175 is scheduled to conclude Wednesday 7 August – but before the wrap-up, participants still have a long list of workshops and meetings to choose from. From the outset the energy has been high and friendships are continuously being forged. Don’t forget, you can catch all the action from the opening plenary, panel on civic engagement and closing ceremony live online.
Highlights in video:
Wednesday 7 August 2019 – Day 3
“Empowerment is not given, it is taken” – on this last day of YMCA175, speakers and panellists wanted to make sure delegates returned home with the will and the power to act. John Loughton opened the plenary session talking about modern activism. He encouraged the crowd in “ABC, Always Be Confident, Always Be Compassionate and Always Be Challenging”.
Lindsay Martin from YMCA Greater Vancouver shared about her work on reconciliation with Indigenous communities in Canada. She said, “Reconciliation is a collective effort – we are all responsible and we all have a role to play.” The CEO of Sioux YMCA in the USA, Andrew Corley, followed Lindsay and said, “Your job is to change the world. But you have to take care of yourself first, because if you are not, you won’t be able to impact others.”
The Civic Engagement panel highlighted the early afternoon session and looked at how young people can impact on their institutions and governments. Many youth movements use online petitions, digital campaigns or address tweets to their national leaders. Though this might feel like a small effort, Zoë Kelland from Global Citizen said, “We need to have the understanding of the power we have. Because if we do not believe that our actions can make a change, we don’t do anything.”
The final panel of the event covered Partnership for the SDGs, discussing how we can achieve the SDGs by 2030. “Technology helps us to understand that we are making process, but when we live in a reality of despair, this means nothing,” World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Madjri Sanvee said. “There is hope because YMCA and other organisations speak a common language. YMCA cannot solve the problems by itself, but when we all come together and we understand the plea of the people we serve, we can provide concrete solutions.”
The UN Advocacy Group also held a workshop to reflect on ways to strengthen the relationships between the UN and YMCA. The group shared how this starts with a better understanding of the SDGs’ mechanisms and languages. Sanvee said as an introduction to the workshop, “We believe in peace-building and we believe in multilateralism. The UN is looking at youth organisations like ours to reach young people.”
After two sessions of brainstorming, the World Café welcomed delegations to reflect on seven scenarios for their future in 2044. They explored how those could apply and impact their regions of the world. World YMCA is now going to take the outcomes to start the process of the 2044 YMCA strategy.
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. YMCA175 offered a closing ceremony at the image if its participants: colourful, joyful, diverse and young. And the movement is already looking forward to the future, particularly the June 2020 Youth Summit in San Francisco, USA, and the 2022 World Council, taking place in Arhaus, Denmark. In his closing statements, Sanvee said, “Something significant and positive has transpired over these past days, and I believe YMCA will never be the same again.”