Posted by: thebluemusicblog | February 15, 2013



I am in the lounge at Gatwick Airport outside London. It is Friday and I have just hugged the last of 40 world leaders in the YMCA goodbye. We journeyed around the globe for 5 days at Dunford House, the YMCA Conference Centre in Essex. It has been a journey filled with fellowship, friendship and shared visions for the future. It has been amazing, absolutely amazing.


We started on Monday night introducing ourselves, National General Secretaries from 40 National and Area Movements, and continuing with expressions of expectations for the upcoming meeting. Tuesday morning the first leg of the journey was commenced, it was a journey from Hong Kong to Dunford House, a travel from July 2010 to February 2013. What were the messages from Hong Kong and where are we in delivering the strategic directions? I started out the journey by highlighting key elements from the NEW WAY Strategy, the unifying message around Youth Empowerment, reminding us of the Nairobi Statement from the stakeholders’ meeting in Nairobi Kenya, where 80 YMCA leaders last year unanimously decided to stand for Youth Empowerment, and I told them how we are recruiting 240 Change Agents to assist us in fostering the change around the globe. Waking the Sleeping Giant!


I was again clear in my message; it is not the local YMCAs and not the National YMCAs, which are asleep. We have 12000 vibrant local YMCAs in 119 countries on 5 continents, and they are absolutely not asleep, touching the lives of 58 million people every year.

It is the collective voice, which is missing, the collective visibility and influence that is not there.


We went on to discuss what had happened to us. Why did we loose it? How could it be that we went from the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 and huge Refugee programmes for thousands of suffering people to a situation of no collective visibility in this world?


The answers were many. We did not move with the times, we did not adjust to the big changes and challenges of the past 40-50 years, we did not maintain our building in Geneva and we lost it, we cancelled all programmes and it looks like we decided to cancel ourselves and run away from the collective responsibility.


Interesting to observe that the same had happened during the same time period in different countries, not in all, not even in the majority of member movements, but there were similarities on national levels as well.


We used the Fishbowl method to facilitate these discussions; we had four presenters in a panel and three free chairs. As soon as you felt you had something to comment or protest or add, you had to move to one of the free chairs on the podium and would be given the floor as soon as one of the presenters came to a break. It resulted in a rich conversation going deep and giving profound analysis and suggestions for ways ahead.


How can we reposition the YMCA to take our collective responsibility seriously? We have the strength, we have the quality of programmes and services, we have the numbers and we are spread around the globe, enough to give us a strong and visible presence and voice and influence in the world. We want to become the leading organization when it comes to the world’s Youth Agenda.


The Arch Bishop of York, Rev. Dr. John Sentamu, came to speak to us about Empowerment as a Christian Ministry, and he engaged all of us and inspired us immensely around the visions of becoming a visible and empowering Community of love, inclusive of all people and caring for the needs of all people in a most holistic perspective. “The Spirit of the Lord is at work, if you notice it or not,” said the Arch Bishop. He also spoke strongly about the needs of the young generation and told us how he had dressed up in a hood to show solidarity with the youth, who at that time were given a really bad press. 45 minutes of fascinating communication, filled with anecdotes and hilarious jokes and deep, convincing theological reflection. We are proud to have such a personality as the President of YMCA England!


On Wednesday the journey continued from Dunford House, February 2013 to Estes Park, Rocky Mountains, Colorado, USA June 29, 2014. We presented the Playbook, (see my first blog post this year), the work plan for the world movement for the next 18 months. We introduced the Change Agents, the plans for the World Council programme, the communication and branding process and how we all could get more actively involved in these shared agendas.


Then Professor Fred Coalter came to Dunford to help us to introduce the 1 Million Youth Voices research project. We want to research the situation for young people aged 15-24 all around the globe, a research that has never been done at this level and on this scale. 2500 young people selected according to a well worked out system to give us a representative result will be interviewed in 90 countries and give us a result and a report which big partner organizations like ILO and UN and WHO are interested in sharing.


We had a very healthy and profound discussion around resources and time perspectives for this huge undertaking, and based on this discussion we adjusted important elements of the plan and gave all of us time to discuss with our own movements before we committed ourselves. And the planning is on-going. Professor Fred is a renowned expert in international youth research, and we met him through our participation in the UN system, where Romulo is a rising star.


On Thursday the journey took off from Estes Park, World Council, July 5th, 2014 and into the open future, the four years until next World Council in 2018. Where will the journey take us?


In the first devotion on Tuesday, led by Carlos, we learnt the African saying that if you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together!


The commitment to travel together was clearly expressed, with unanimous strength. Before we took off into the future, Rev. Dr Johnston Mc Master from Belfast spoke to us about: “The Faith Imperative: Justice & Peace as a Global Strategy”, sharing chapters from Luke with us, and perspectives for social justice and peace building, inspired by the teaching of Jesus. The clear inclusion of social needs in our spiritual agenda was inspiring for all of us, and we took off for the future with Johnston’s inspiring words singing in our ears.


Discussions and sharing in smaller groups led to interesting strategic directions around Youth Empowerment, Financial Sustainability, Increased Partnerships, Closer Collaboration and above all a strong and convincing collective presence and visibility of the YMCA world wide.


The National Secretaries from 40 movements then went into smaller groups to prepare very creative presentations in the form of radio reportages, theatrical elements and even a very lively demonstration of how important it is to have new wine bags for new wine, to illustrate the need to manage change appropriately. We laughed and applauded the creative energy and great sense of humour, at the same time as we went really deep into strategizing for the next four years.


These ideas and suggestions will be combined with the deliberations of the International Secretaries from their meeting in Geneva in January and all of it will be given to our highest level of governance between World Councils, the Executive Committee, for them to decide on the further formulation of a draft strategy at our meeting 1st of April in Jericho. After that the draft version of the strategic directions will be distributed to all relevant levels of the YMCA, all National Movements and local YMCAs and partner organizations for consultation.


In the evening Peter Jeffrey, the Board Chair and Denise Hatton, the CEO and Ken Montgomery, the International Director of YMCA England, hosted a delicious closing dinner at Dunford House. It was time to express our great appreciation to the English Movement for hosting us so generously at Dunford House; they gave us a week of meetings with free board and lodging. Fabulous! Ken was, as always, working very hard to make all of us feel comfortable, thank you, Ken!


The staff of Dunford House showed exceptional friendliness and hospitality and I expressed my surprise at how non paying guests were treated like kings and queens in England, at least at the YMCA conference centre at Dunford House, probably the cosiest and most comfortable conference centre in England.


And in the late evening Surinam was dancing Salsa with Bangladesh and Argentina was dancing Tango with Ghana while the Netherlands were drinking tea in the corner together with Togo and Peru and Sierra Leone was putting logs on the open fire place for France, Germany and Brazil to feel warmer. Gaza and East Jerusalem took a torch to walk in the dark forest as South Africa and Denmark were discussing fair share with Sweden and India and Pakistan. And still some of the nationalities had gone early to bed in the silent night in the country side of England and slept the sleep of the just under the shining stars of hope and joy. What a week it was!



  1. Great blog Johan.
    And I’m in the Heathrow lounge preparing my report for the I can add you blog as an attachment…thanks.

    Ron Mell
    Chief Executive Officer
    YMCA Australia
    88 Market St, South Melbourne, VIC 3205
    Direct: (03) 9693 9702 Main: (03) 9699 7655
    Mobile: 0403 347 945 Fax: (03) 9699 2365


    • Safe flights, Ron. it was a great pleasure to see you again and spend these intense and fruitful days together with you. A special thank you for breakfast this morning 🙂

  2. Great summary Johan V. Congratulations for an inspiring week sharing, discussion and building our common agenda in fellowship. Thank you!

  3. This was really an enjoyable week Johan. I am a lucky man. I appear twice in the photos

    • This is because you are so handsome! Thank you, Suheil, itv was a pleasure to get to know you better! Look forward to next encounter, and greetings to all YMCA friends in Gaza!

  4. Really good week Johan, thankyou. It was a real joy to grapple with really fundamental issues alongside a group of people who share such a heart for vulnerable young people.

    • I agree, Peter, it was an important week and deeply satisfying, thanks for joining!

  5. Spennende innlegg, nydelig skrevet..!

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