Covid-19 Situation Report

November 2020

Young people in Madagascar wearing masks and holding phones

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect the World YMCA and the entire global YMCA Movement, as well as the communities – and especially the young people - that the YMCA serves.

A survey conducted between April and September 2020 by YMCA Europe across 41 National Movements and 75 local YMCAs in Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean revealed income levels dramatically down, programmes reduced, staff positions and salaries cut, and external partnerships kept on hold. 

Broadly 20% of the National Movements and 20% of the local YMCAs had lost over 75% of their income. 50% of National Movements stated that they fear they will not survive if the crisis continues: the vast majority said their prime needs now were money to support staff, to keep property, to deliver programmes and to purchase on-line platforms.

Soon after the beginning of lockdown in March, the World YMCA spoke to a number of National General Secretaries, issued general recommendations, and recorded a Facebook Live session about the new pandemic. By the end of the month the Executive Committee had approved a three-part strategy to respond to the crisis: building resilience, launching recovery, and initiating a process of reimagination.

The Recovery phase of the Covid-19 response strategy began almost immediately, running concurrently with the Resilience phase.

World YMCA acted fast to establish a mechanism to give financial support to those national YMCAs which suddenly found themselves in difficulty in the face of Covid-19.  

The YMCA Solidarity Fund raised nearly CHF 400,000, to which World YMCA added CHF 200,000 from its reserves. Thus far, it has approved grants of almost CHF 380,000 to support 27 National Movements, thereby saving or supporting an estimated 380 jobs in the process.

Part I: Resilience

The Resilience work was spurred by a series of Leaders Talks in April and May, designed to make available best practice on six themes relevant to Covid-19 and beyond: crisis management, crisis communications, leadership and governance, philanthropy, technology, and understanding ‘the new normal’. These talks assembled almost 1000 people online, addressed by 20 global leaders from business, government, the UN and academia, and from the YMCA Movement itself.

Resilience Playbook - created by a team of 12, comprising Leadership Curators and volunteers from across the Movement – collated all the Padare findings and was distributed in August.



The Resilience pillar of the Covid-19 response strategy also saw the launch of the ‘Youth Voices online fora, providing the space for young people to share their concerns and hopes for the future.  In May, World YMCA organised an online debate on ‘The future we want’, discussing health and wellbeing, work and climate, and (in response to events beyond Covid-19) on ‘A future without racism’ in June.

Also in May, June and July, World YMCA staged online ecumenical thanksgiving services on the three themes of ‘hope’, ‘trust’ and ‘love’, linking Christians all over the world in worship and prayer, and giving one another support in difficult times.  The YMCA Change Agent Programme set up its own response team, offering the digital space to share Covid challenges and activities: it even featured a ‘lockdown cookbook’. 

Through the earliest months of the crisis, World YMCA established a Covid-19 Response Hub and a series of newsletters which showed and shared how YMCAs had pivoted to provide new services in new circumstances, and how young people – despite being severely and negatively impacted by Covid-19 – were  stepping up as first providers, serving their communities.

And throughout 2020, World YMCA shared stories of national YMCA movements responding to Covid-19, in a special status report in May, and with individual stories on Ethiopia and Sri Lanka (April), Bangladesh and India (July).

In April, the WHO Executive Director  Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recorded a video message for the Leaders Talks which thanked YMCA for its work in supporting the community Covid-19 response around the globe, and in June the UN Youth Envoy Mrs Jayathma Wickramanayake, in highlighting the work of 10 young people worldwide fighting Covid-19, included examples from the YMCAs of Bangladesh, Kosovo and Scotland.

In April, World YMCA coordinated a statement from the ‘Big 6[1] youth organisations, highlighting the role of young people helping their communities in the time of Covid-19, and featuring six practical tools for communities coming from the six organizations, for which YMCA USA put together a free fitness-at-home platform.  In May, the Big 6 issued a statement on the main issues affecting young people in Covid-19, which offered Governments 20 policy solutions, the most urgent of which was a call for urgent safety net policies for young people worldwide.

‘The Big 6’ – the world’s leading youth empowerment organisations – are a global voice in the Covid-19 response

From May to October, the Big 6 have also prepared a global report on the effects of Covid-19 on young people, with a strong focus on policy solutions: this report is designed to offer all national movements from all Big 6 partners a platform of joint advocacy. This Big 6 project was initiated by World YMCA and is facilitated by World YMCA staff. 

The partnership with the Big 6 is already being expanded: in September, the World Health Organisation (WHO) invited the six members to propose and lead a global youth initiative as a pandemic response.

Part II: Recovery

The Recovery phase of the Covid-19 response strategy began almost immediately, running concurrently with the Resilience phase.

World YMCA acted fast to establish a mechanism to give financial support to those national YMCAs which suddenly found themselves in difficulty in the face of Covid-19.  The YMCA Solidarity Fund raised nearly CHF 400,000, to which World YMCA added CHF 200,000 from its reserves. Thus far, it has approved grants of almost CHF 380,000 to support 27 National Movements, thereby saving or supporting an estimated 380 jobs in the process.

World YMCA also organised a series of 18 ‘Padare’ online sessions in July and August, bringing together 190 people in 55 countries.  A unique forum (hailing from the Shona tradition of Zimbabwean communities assembling and talking under trees), the Padare sessions were tasked to examine how to enact the resilience discussed in the Leaders Talks, in order to bring about recovery.

The Padares explored three big questions for YMCA worldwide: how to evolve YMCA as a trusted partner for a more resilient young people; how to build a sustainable economic and financial recovery for YMCAs; and how to become a truly ‘adaptive’ body. Their most immediate outcome will be the publication of a YMCA Adaptability Handbook, outlining ways to strengthen Resilience and bring about Recovery.  This is scheduled to appear in November 2020.

First among the findings of Padare was the need for the YMCA globally to adapt to its and the world’s new situation. Reinvention in a time of crisis will demand strict adherence to principle, but flexibility in practice. Those first discussions clustered YMCAs worldwide into categories of ‘strong’, ‘stable’, and ‘vulnerable’, and revealed that YMCAs operating on a membership model (i.e. depending on the use of their assets and facilities) have suffered more than those which are community based, and reaching out to young people

Part III: Reimagination

Padare came together with two Sensemaking sessions in September, which led to the third phase of the Covid-19 response strategy, with the conclusion that the YMCA must ‘Reimagine’ and thereby ‘Reset’.  In doing so, it will be playing its part in a global ‘Reset’ process which is already happening across the public, the private and the ‘third’ sector worldwide. 

While Resilience and Recovery advance side by side, the Reimagine process is now underway as the global Movement seeks to maintain the momentum of the Padare debates, and asks itself how to become a global thought leader, influencer, technical expert, incubator of initiatives and contributor to change across the three core themes of Livelihoods, Environment, and Wellbeing.

In October/November, a ‘Reimagine Lab’ is being prototyped in Australia, and linked to the Community of Impact on Mental Health being coordinated by YMCA Australia.  It comprises a set of design sprints over seven weeks, brainstorming new approaches that the worldwide YMCA Movement can bring specifically to the challenge of mental health, and more broadly to the manifold ways that YMCA can impact for good on society. 

The findings of the Reimagination process will ultimately shape the World YMCA’s collective vision of its future, in the form of it ‘North Star’ as it approaches its 200th anniversary in 2044.  But the reimagination – coupled with the recovery based on resilience – starts now in 2020, and will be at the core of World YMCA’s next strategy for the period 2022-2026, to be approved at the World Council in Arhus, Denmark, in July 2022.