Posted by: thebluemusicblog | March 22, 2018


It has always been clear to us that young people need empowerment. It was equally clear to us that the small and medium size National YMCAs also needed empowerment – they needed a place around the tables of power and influence. To give them that, we needed to see them every year at least once.


Michal presenting the refugee project

We knew that it would take time, but we believed that the regularity of the annual NGS-meetings would help change the situation in a good way.


Denise from England and Wales

It was very interesting to listen to the opinions of the National General Secretaries from five continents. The first meeting in Dunford House in England was very positively evaluated – it was obviously meeting a strong need for people working lonely jobs.


Alexei from Russia

At the end of the first NGS meeting it was unanimously declared that annual meetings were needed to strengthen the unity in the movement and to give all of us the necessary feeling of belonging to the larger context of YMCA in the world.



Nikos Bibiris from Greece

The principle was going to be the same: A host movement would pay for the meeting cost together with WAY and making the meeting free of cost for the participants.


What is building up in our garden?

Travel was to be paid by the participants, but bursaries were given according to the travel policy of the WAY. Lack of funds should not make participation in the NGS meetings impossible. These meetings were regarded top priority and therefore given a line in the budget.



A hamburger shop!

In 2014 the NGS meeting met in Kassel, Germany, hosted by the German YMCA. We also met at the World Council in Estes Park, Colorado, in the summer of 2014.



Ernesto from Mexico

In 2015 we met in Mexico, hosted by Ernesto (picture above!), in 2016 in Thailand, Chiang Mai and in 2017 in Tanzania, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. Every year the meeting grew larger.


Michal and Selma from our staff

These meetings have been instrumental in bringing NEW WAY and OUR WAY strategies through to implementation in the national movements around the world and also to bringing us a huge group of fabulous Change Agents.


The whole group (almost) of National Secretaries

A growing number of National YMCAs have decided to align their National Strategies with the World strategies, thereby strongly strengthening the unity of the movement! None of these important developments would have happened without the annual NGS meetings.


Gwenael from Haiti

In 2018 we met in Leysin in the Swiss mountains just above Montreux. A record breaking number of 60 leaders of National Movements, Area Movements and the World Alliance first met at the headquarter of the World YMCA in Clos Belmont 12, Geneva, for a welcome party in our offices.




Peter Dinsdale from Canada

Since our office would be too small for a dinner party for 60 people, we hired the only hamburger wagon in Geneva to come to our garden and they served burgers and soft drinks until we had fed YMCA leaders from 5 continents.



Antonio from LACA

From there we went into the beautiful, mighty mountains of Switzerland to celebrate our achievements together and to prepare for the 19th World Council in Chiang Mai, Thailand, July 8-14, 2018.



Jared from Kenya

In the middle of that conference we took the cable cars to the top of the mountains and had a spectacular view of the Swiss Alps in splendid sunshine. It was a mountain top experience in more ways than one!



During the NGS meeting we prepared for the collective story of all the National Secretaries: Our joint travel through Youth Empowerment. It will the performed at the World Council in Chiang Mai July 8-14 this summer, all the National Secretaries on stage at the same time!


Romulo and Carlos from our staff, and I am proud and very happy to introduce Carlos Sanvee as my follower as Secretary General! Great news!

A few of us made an extra excursion to the Ice Cathedral in Leysin to estimate if it would be large enough to host one of the devotions during the meting.


It was very special and vey beautiful, even if it was one of the coldest churches I have ever visited.


Unfortunately it was too small to host 60 people at the same time, but many others from the group made a visit to this excellent place of worship. It is rebuilt every winter!


Carlos, Romulo, Humbly Yours, Jose and Andrew from our staff team

Having been to church, all of us fell for the temptation to use the ice glider down from the mountain top. We rented a rubber wheel to slide on and went for the adventures!


It was great fun, after the first feeling of panic had left our body, mind and spirit and we were just gliding beautifully down the ice in warm afternoon sunshine.


More preparations for the collective story of the Journey through Youth Empowerment!


Enjoying the mountain top experience and good friendship together with Jose!XH7iqNcLSs+JsQ22EWiiOA

Christian Kamara from Sierra Leone. Together with colleagues listening to the wisdom of Jørgen Kvist from Denmark.

Posted by: thebluemusicblog | January 30, 2018



Romulo and I went to Davos together and I could not resist this photo opportunity in the main street of Davos! This blogpost takes us from Litomysl and the Strategy Summit to Monaco and the conference with Sports and Peace to Davos where we presented the Global Youth Poll. I shall take you on a tour of some very interesting events in some very exotic locations with some good partners of YMCA.


The autumn moon is shining over a church in advent mood, preparing us for the great message of Christmas again – a huge light in a dark world!


A big group of global YMCA leaders, most of them working in local YMCAs, came together to evaluate the Our Way Strategy and to plan for the next action steps together. These conferences are always extremely inspiring and motivating, and I always come back from them with loads of energy and smiling motivation.


Look at those concentrated faces! This year we spent more time together in plenary and organised ourselves as a huge think-tank for the Global YMCA. What have we done together? What did we achieve the last years? Which mountains did we climb together?


Serious faces are thinking and considering: Where are we going? What will happen over the next months? Are we in agreement when we analyse where we are today and where we should aim to go tomorrow? It was an amazing agreement in the room, if we were together in smaller groups or in the full plenary.


Two staff members, Andrew and Jose sharing dynamic smiles and good energy! The beautiful YMCA Europe Training Centre in Litomysl was a great context for this Strategy Summit. So inspired were we that the whole group unanimously demanded a new meeting next autumn, in the autumn of 2018, after the next World Council. I promised that we will hold a meeting in 2018 as well, happy that people were motivated to continue to meet!


Do you see the Eiffel Tower in the background? Ingunn and I went for a private visit to Paris in early December, a city we both loves dearly. In the middle of hectic travel it is necessary to rest and recharge batteries. No better place to recharge batteries than in Centre Pompidou , Louis Vuitton Museum of Modern Art or Louvre!


Then I found myself in Monte Carlo, Monaco! It was the annual conference of Sports and Peace, a Monaco based organisation with famous sports stars, political and cultural leaders and all of this under leadership of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco. The World YMCA was nominated for the award as NGO of the Year – we were one of three finalists.


Above you can see kick boxing taking place, very symbolically performed by athletes from Ukraine and Russia. Amazingly both the male and the female matches all ended with a draw 🙂 The competition of the NGO of the Year was between us an a German organisation running football for peace and a small organisation run by young Muslim girls on the Horn of Africa, based in Kenya, fighting for peace with football. Their slogan was “Shoot goals, not guns!” I was really taken by this Muslim organisation and the great work they were doing, often with risk for their own lives, fighting against terrorism and violence. I admired them, and when they were declared as winners, I congratulated them heartily. They deserved it and they needed it and I was happy for them!


Didier Drogba, Chelsea F.C. and Ivory Coast in the middle of famous leaders. To the right Joel Bouzou, President and Founder of Peace and Sport, and to the left Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh.


It was a peaceful weekend just before Christmas and Monte Carlo showed itself from its most tranquil and harmonic side. No roaring race cars in Formula One racing around the hair pin bends of Monte Carlo, no screaming winners outside the Casino, just very calm and peaceful and a very interesting conference of Sports and Peace.


H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco was present at the conference and gave an inspiring speech at the gala dinner in the Monaco Bay Hotel. It was a conference built on all the values held high by the YMCA for 174 years. I so much could identify with the goals and values of this organisation. It is a good place for the YMCA to be at, and I can imagine a further and wider collaboration between our movements.


I saw the Casino of Monte Carlo from the outside only, it is cheaper this way 🙂


I was giving a speech at the round table at the conference, and I was introduced by the facilitator in the following way: “Johan, as we all know you are the largest and the oldest…” and at that moment the crowd started to laugh hilariously! I felt really large and old, before she added ….”youth movement in the world!” After my remarks a number of other organisations came to talk and wanted to collaborate with the YMCA. We have a good profile in the world of sports, and our image is coming up generally. It is a good feeling to observe that the Giant has woken up and is moving around!


Goodbye to Monte Carlo with the typical yachts in the harbour – playground for rich kids!


From summer temperatures in Monaco to winter landscapes in Davos!


As the train was stumbling uphills from Bad Ragaz to Davos, the sun was finally trying to come through.


And when it came through, the fabulous landscape was revealed in brilliant sunshine and blue skies. The World Economic Forum is really located in exotic surroundings! Beautiful nature, high mountains and hundreds of armed Police people, all with machine guns and automatic weapons. Streets were closed and you had to show a badge to enter the city at all. Not my favourite atmosphere, I must admit!


More than 3000 rich and famous people, or people trying to become rich and famous, stumbled around in the icy and very slippery streets of Davos. I have never seen so many well dressed, elegant people in completely weird footwear!


The SDG Lab, the Laboratory of Sustainable Development Goals, met in  a hall in Hotel Hilton, just in front of the main entrance to the WEF congress hall, and we had good discussions on migration and integration, on poverty and development, about clean water and air and not the least about young people and their future!


Some of my friends and partners in the SDG Lab in a break after we presented the Global Youth Poll, where YMCA is a key partner. One of the outcomes of the presentation in Davos is that a couple of us were invited to come to Berlin next month to meet with representatives from the German Government to discuss with them and representatives from Africa Union a collaboration around the Global Youth Poll. So we hope for a break through in the negotiations for funding for the poll. I shall keep you all informed!


To the left above you can see Roland Schatz, the founder of Media Tenor and the leader of the SDG Lab together with Professor Dr James D. Bindenagel, an American diplomat and professor. He used to be the leader of the Holocaust negotiations around the so called “Jewish Gold”, a rather honourable position, and he is now the first Henry-Kissinger Professor at the University of Bonn and is founding Director of the Centre for International Security and Governance. A very interesting conversation partner!

And the last photo from the presentation of the youth poll. You can see Thomas Root to the right, Tom has a background in Hollywood, but is now leader of HopSport, a network of children around the world and a new partner for us in the YMCA. In the middle is Michelle Schatz, presenting kids’ perspective on the future, and humbly yours to the left.

Today is the second last day of the Early Bird price for registration for the World Council in Chiang Mai, and in this second we are passing 1000 registrations and new registrations are floating in every minute! Wow! It is still only January and I am a happy man! See you all in Chiang Mai July 8-14!

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!

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