Posted by: thebluemusicblog | December 20, 2017


SYRUS in Dacha at Volga river – if that does not sound exotic? Dacha is the Russian summer house, it can be small and modest or huge and luxurious, but no matter the size, it is supposed to be full of a Dostoyevski/ Tolstoy’ish  atmosphere. This is the concept behind the Russian YMCA Dacha at the Volga River, just outside Yaroslavl City. It is a great symbol of the combined efforts of international YMCA solidarity through the old Field Group under leadership of Terry Ratcliffe and the hard work of a handful of Russian YMCA leaders, with Nikolai Kurochkin at the helm! As a result the Russian YMCA has now a national training and conference centre fully equipped for camps and conferences in a very traditional ambience. It smells Tolstoy and Dostoyevski in all rooms and you hear old Russian folk songs together with the chiming of church bells from the nearby monastery. It is a superbly Russian atmosphere.IMG_1846.JPG

And here above you can see what SYRUS means. It is the new Support group for YMCA Russia, SYRUS, to take over after the traditional Field Group. This support structure is open for the whole world of YMCAs, and around the table here you can see representatives from YMCAs in USA, Sweden, Scotland, Belarus, France, Russia itself and the World YMCA. Kerry Reilly, the NGS from Scotland, is the new leader. We are looking for more members, like Norway?


We had excellent work sessions during the days at the Dacha, discussing the present situation with all the challenges, and looking into the future to see how we can reach results in solidarity and collaboration. Tina Larionova is number three from the left, she is from Moscow and she is the President of YMCA Russia. The second from the left is the NGS in Russia, Alexei Kostyakov.


The main building of the Dacha, there are more buildings behind me and bedrooms to the right. The view is fabulous overlooking the Volga River.


Here you see Julie Watkins, CEO of YMCA of the Rockies, our host for the 18th World Council inEstes Park 2014! To the right you see Nikolai Kurochkin, the Manager of the YMCA Dacha and retired NGS of Russian YMCA.

IMG_1791Never in Russia without enjoying great Russian hospitality with a rich buffet and plenty of opportunities for toasts and short speeches rounded up with a tiny little chut-chut!


For Nikolai it is very important to engage local musicians and artists as well as the people from the nearby Monastery. Every evening there is a cultural programme, often concerts with classical music or russian folklore.


A visit to the monastery is always included in the programme, and here we are visiting a local artist who creates the most fascinating sculptures and paintings.

IMG_1820Would you not like to own a bird like this? I would. This artist never makes a copy, he never repeats himself. So it is not possible to order this bird. You can order a piece of art from him, but you have to give him full freedom. Next year I am going to pick up a piece of art, and I cannot wait to see what it looks like!


The work is going on in the living room of the Dacha. Number 2 from the left is Henrik Liljestjerna from Sweden, a close friend from many years back The stairs bring you up to the first floor where the bedrooms are, with en suite bathrooms. Very comfortable and a great place to have a holiday with a group of friends! Nikolai is very selective in renting out the Dacha. He never rents it to people who just want to have a wild party in the woods, even if there is plenty interest. No – this is a place for YMCA, it is a place of culture and style.



After the SYRUS meeting we always visit Nikolai and Ira in their beautiful private dacha in the nearby village. We know all their neighbours and friends and it is like coming home.


The third dacha this time is Misha and Ira’s new dacha, one hour outside of Moscow. It is a very nice place with a big land around it and space enough inside to receive friends and family. IMG_1767This brings back memories from years gone by! Many, many years ago Misha took me to a club of Colonels and Generals, some of them retired. They were from the Navy, from the Airforce or from the Army, some where Police officers, some from Customs. I was allowed access as the first ever foreigner. The logics behind giving me access to this very exclusive club, was that I was Secretary General, and that I was the boss of Colonel Misha Guskov. They just cut the Secretary and then I was OK. Sauna was an integral part of the club when they met, and their bathrobes all had the same message on the back and along the arms: GOOD NIGHT AMERICA!

Posted by: thebluemusicblog | November 24, 2017


It was intended as a few days of holidays on our way back home from Vancouver. It turned out to be a week of intense work related to our new and exciting collaboration with the United Nations on delivering the Sustainable Development Goals until 2030.


Above you can see one of the Marc Chagall windows in the Art Institute of Chicago – absolutely terrific!

We flew down from Vancouver via Minneapolis to Chicago O’Hare. We stayed the night at an airport hotel because I had to turn around and fly early next morning for meetings in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ingunn was picked up by our dear friend Sue Knox while I was flying south.


Above you can see the sense of humour at the local church in Lockport, Chicago, a church we know quite well after many visits. Being a pastor myself I look into the future with hope and confidence.

Sue Knox is the widow after J. Bruce Knox. Bruce was my travel mate and work colleague and dear friends over so many years. We met first time in Oslo back in 1988 when I still worked at the National office of YMCA Norway and Bruce was the YMCA of the USA Director for Europe, working out of Cleveland, Ohio. That was the start of a life long friendship and Bruce and I were close partners in developing all those YMCAs in former communist Europe. We made more travel stories than most and had the most exciting work experiences together in Russia and Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania and all over the Central and Eastern parts of Europe.


This is from the coffee after the service at the church, together with Evy and Sue, two good friends from Lockport.

When Bruce passed away far too early, Sue and Ingunn and I continued our friendship, and soon we were both fully included in the Knox family clan, so much that when we are going to Chicago, it is like visiting family.


This is our favourite restaurant in Lockport, Public Landing. The name refers to the canal just outside the building, this was a landing place on the canal routes to Chicago. President Abraham Lincoln sailed past Lockport on the canal and is the most prominent person ever to have been to the Public Landing.


Ingunn and Sue outside Public Landing.

Lockport is a typical small town mid western society and it is so interesting to dive into the culture and history of it and at the same time to participate in daily life in such a community.



One morning we came too late to the station for the morning train to Chicago, and we were just staring down the empty rails. A perfectly unknown lady came over to us and asked with a smile in her face if we had lost the train? We confirmed that and then she just offered to drive us to the next station, where the train connections were richer and more frequent. Just like that – a great example of American friendliness  and generosity, in the middle of a very challenging Trump era.


Lockport has the best Quilt shop in the world, and Ingunn loves to go to Thimbles, the Quilt shop in the main street of Lockport and do all her shopping for next year there. I have my favourite spot downtown Chicago, on the Michigan Avenue along the lake.

IMG_1340We are walking from the station down to Lake Michigan and the goal is the majestic building on Michigan Avenue, which you can see below.


This is the Art Institute of Chicago, for me the best art gallery in the world, and I have had the privilege to see quite a few of them around the world. It has my favourite painting,  Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. It has a grand collection of American art through the centuries, including furniture and silver ware. In the basement there is a very fascinating collection of miniature models of European interiors from the 16th century through the 1930s and of American Furnishings from the 17th century to 1940. It is called the Thorne Rooms.


Apart from the more traditional collections of paintings and sculptures and antiques there are also impressive collections from Egypt and Greece and from the Roman Empire, and also a rich collection of Asian art.


But for me the most impressive is the grand collection of modern and contemporary art, the richest gallery I have ever visited anywhere in the world.


Again the second window of Marc Chagall.


Back to work. This old aircraft hangs in the airport of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I landed early one morning to be received by partners of the United Nations UNGSII foundation, one of our key partners here in Geneva.


Robert Cipriano to my right is the founder and CEO of AllHumanity Group, a company set up to serve different humanitarian causes in a for-profit way, unlike us, being a non-profit organisation. In this way the company can function in ways we cannot, and thereby serving the NGO community in the best ways. To my left is Robert Reid, a partner of Robert from Houston.


We spent a long time together getting to know one another and to discuss perspectives of common interest. The rest of the week was used to follow up with partners in Geneva and with my President and  staff team back home.

IMG_1307On my way back home I flew via Atlanta, Georgia, and realised that in 24 hours I had been to two countries and four states and all of a sudden felt quite hungry. At the airport in Tulsa the choice was not very diverse, in fact the only place open a late Saturday night was the Fat Guy’s Burgers Restaurant. It felt like I had entered the Anonymous Burger Eaters, but it tasted like it should!


Another treat during a visit to the USA is an exposure to the Amish culture in Shipshewana, Indiana, with a population of 658 people. “The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships with Swiss Anabaptist origins. They are closely related to, but distinct from, Mennonite churches. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress and reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology.


The history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish.” The Amish people are famous for their beautiful quilts and therefore a favourite goal for a visit by Ingunn.


Above a  typical log cabin style house. The most famous quilt pattern among Amish people is called Log Cabin.

On the below photo finally the farewell meal at Public Landing together with Sue.


Oh Sue, Oh Sue –

you are the glue-

on friendship avenue!

Posted by: thebluemusicblog | November 23, 2017


I went back to Vancouver, one of my absolute favourite cities in the world. It is so beautiful and fresh and exciting, and it is the hometown of my good friend Bill Stewart. You see him below in a photo taken a while ago. Last time I was in Vancouver, it was the NAYDO-meeting (North American YMCA Development Organisation). This time it was the World Urban Network, ably led by Bill Stewart as its CEO. I love these meetings of the World Urban Network. It is a camaraderie and fellowship among YMCA professional leaders that is both inspiring and developing, enriching and motivating. IMG_8578I want to share a story about Bill and me meeting under a huge tree at Geneva Park YMCA Conference Centre outside Toronto more than 7 years ago, the summer of 2010. Bill had just taken over as CEO of the World Urban Network (WUN) and I had just been appointed CEO of the World Alliance of YMCAs, or Secretary General, as it is rightly called.


Already in March 2011 we had to present the new World YMCA Strategy 2011-2014 for the newly elected Executive Committee. “NEW WAY” was playing with the abbreviations. It obviously meant a new direction, a new way to walk into the near future. But it also meant a new W.A.Y., a new style of World Alliance of YMCAs, shortened down to WAY, a new way of structuring the World Alliance of YMCAs, a new way of living that structure, hopefully a modernized way.



As always a new message can give you new friends. It happened the summer before, a few weeks before Hong Kong. I was invited to the National meeting of YMCA Canada, was in fact made an honorable member of the National Council of YMCAs in Canada. In beautiful YMCA Geneva Park, the Canadian YMCA conference centre where I had been attending conferences several times and been jogging along the lake, through the beautiful, mighty forests. I love that place!



During the National meeting of YMCA Canada I was asked for a meeting by the CEO of World Urban Network, Bill Stewart, the former CEO of Vancouver YMCA, a great personality, a very respected and admired leader of the YMCA and an outspoken critic of the World Alliance of YMCAs. IMG_1096

In fact the World Urban Network was established in the middle of the 50 years period I mentioned earlier in this text, the time up to the end of the 20th century, when the World Alliance of YMCAs basically lost its way. A group of large, local and urban YMCAs felt at the time that the WAY was not giving them the focus and the service they needed, and they established the World Urban Network. For a long time it was an alternative structure to the World Alliance, not officially, but practically it functioned that way. It was ongoing tension between the different structures.


Bill and I met under a big pine tree. It was a warm summer day in early June, and we were sitting on the roots of the tree, very informal, very unofficial.IMG_1104

I told Bill about my visions for the WAY, about the dream for a more unified YMCA movement, a movement with more visibility and stronger voice, a movement focused on Youth Empowerment. I talked about my hopes for a movement where all of us were moving together to reach common goals, at the same time as the local YMCAs were keeping all the freedom to decide on their own priorities and strategic goals. No empire building in Geneva, but a smooth, decentralized operation to serve the movement in modern and effective ways.



Bill just told me straightforward: If this is your real message, you will get a lot of new friends. We shook hands and decided that World Urban Network and the WAY should work hand in hand and collaborate as closely as possible.



Bill Stewart has been one of my closest and strongest partners in the work that has been done in the 7 years after that informal meeting under a pine tree in Geneva Park, close to Toronto, Canada. We have participated in one another’s meetings and conferences and always demonstrated friendship and close collaboration.

IMG_1156When we introduced the Property Development Project, a vision to take care of the large property portfolio of the YMCA around the world, Bill was the first one who really believed in the need for such an idea, and invested his personal reputation and authority to keep the vision alive in the first difficult years. Bill had himself facilitated a famous example of Property Development in Vancouver YMCA, resulting in the most successful development project ever seen in the YMCA.


Seven years later and we meet in Vancouver to discuss leadership challenges in the YMCA and how we evaluate the federated structure of the YMCA around the world. What are the burning issues related to our federation?

IMG_1176An exhibition from the Vancouver Museum of Art. I always use the opportunity to find my way to a museum of modern art, if they exist.

Below you can see examples of what was discussed during the week in Vancouver.


It was a great week with a full and rich content, served by our excellent host, the CEO of the local YMCA in Vancouver, Stephen Butz. What impressed me the most, was at the end of the programme. There was a panel of four YMCA leaders from different parts of the YMCA Federation, Peter Dinsdale, CEO of YMCA Canada, Carlos Sanvee, General Secretary of Africa Alliance of YMCAs, Kevin Washington, CEO of YMCA of the USA and humbly yours from the World Alliance.


We all had a 15 minutes input on the theme and then we had questions and answers and a general public debate. It was top interesting. The language had changed since last time i was at a similar conference. All of us used the term Youth Empowerment in stead of Youth Development, and one speaker after the other was underlining the importance of reconnecting with young people. One said: But we do not know how to do that. We need to relearn it.


Another one said: We need to have young people together with us. We need to listen to the young people and listen to their needs and see their perspectives on life and society. We need to change as YMCAs. My good friend Medhat Mahdy, the President and CEO of Toronto YMCA said that they looked upon themselves more like a social movement working with thousands of young people, than a business like institution. I loved the conversation and I can see a continuation of this great debate at World Council in the summer of 2018, July 8-14, Thailand.


Together with Peter Dinsdale, the new CEO of YMCA Canada, we took the cable car to the top of the mountain and had a great farewell party for Bill Stewart. He is retiring after 7 years as CEO of WUN. There were many well deserved speeches and gifts and we all appreciated Bill’s leadership so much. Another good friend from years back, Bob Gilbertson, President and CEO of Seattle YMCA, is appointed to take over after Bill next year.


Sunset over Vancouver as we were gliding down the mountainside in a silently moving cablecar.


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