The YMCA Movement. Our History
The Young Men's Christian Association was founded in London, England, on June 6, 1844, in response to unhealthy social conditions arising in the big cities at the end of the Industrial Revolution (roughly 1750 to 1850). Growth of the railroads and centralization of commerce and industry brought many rural young men who needed jobs into cities like London, working 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
In 1844 twelve young men led by George Williams founded the first YMCA in London, England. Their objective was the "improvement of the spiritual condition of the young men engaged in houses of business, by the formation of Bible classes, family and social prayer meetings, mutual improvement societies, or any other spiritual agency."
Sir George Williams
Together with the other founding members, George Williams wasted no time in organising YMCA branches throughout England, Scotland and Ireland. Over the next ten years, YMCA Movements also began to develop across Western Europe, North America, Australia and Asia.
The idea of creating a truly global movement with an international headquarters was pioneered by Henry Dunant, Secretary of YMCA Geneva, who would later go on to found the International Committee of the Red Cross and win the first Nobel Peace Prize. Henry Dunant successfully convinced YMCA Paris to organise the first YMCA World Conference. The Conference took place in August 1855, bringing together 99 young delegates from nine countries.
Mike Will, President of YMCA Europe holding the original document of the Paris Basis adopted in 1855
The Conference adopted the Paris Basis affirming the YMCA's mission and purpose, and created the Central International Committee. The Committee operated without a headquarters until 1878, when a permanent headquarters and formal structure for the Committee was created in Geneva, Switzerland. This was a turning point for the Central International Committee that would eventually become known as the World Alliance of YMCAs.
From its inception, it grew rapidly and ultimately became a worldwide movement founded on the principles of inclusive Christianity. Local YMCAs engage in a wide variety of charitable activities, including providing athletic facilities, holding classes for a wide variety of skills and humanitarian work. The national organizations in turn are part of both an Area Alliance and the World Alliance of YMCAs. The World Alliance's main motto is "empowering young people".
YMCA in Europe (The European Alliance of YMCAs)
Taking into consideration that the YMCA was founded in England, it extended quickly across our continent, involving young people from a large diversity of local communities.
The European Alliance of YMCAs (EAY) is relatively recent. It was created by several national YMCAs in 1973 with the purpose of setting a collective direction of the European movement and strengthening the work of the YMCA across the continent. Soon the initiative was followed by other national movements and an official structure of volunteers and staff was created. The first seat of EAY was established in Kassel, Germany in the mid 70´s. Later it was moved to St. Gallen, Switzerland and finally to Prague in the Czech Republic.
EAY focused on the development of YMCAs in Southern Europe throughout the 80´s in partnership with the World Alliance of YMCAs and the YMCA of the USA. A crucial historic moment that helped shaping the strategy of the European Alliance was the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Many local and national YMCAs were re-founded in Eastern Europe and their facilities were brought back to the movement after decades. The role of our European umbrella organization was fundamental in providing guidance, resources and capacity to the new members.
The full denomination of the umbrella organization (European Alliance of YMCAs) was transformed into a more practical and contemporary name - YMCA Europe - even if in our Constitution the official name was kept.
In 2016 a representation office was opened in Brussels, Belgium in order to strengthen the voice and profile of YMCA Europe among the key European institutions and other civil society organizations.
The main governance body is our General Assembly, meeting each year in a different European country. An Executive Committee formed by volunteers is elected among the membership of YMCA Europe and a decentralized staff team operates and delivers the Strategic Plan and priorities adopted by the member YMCAs.
Today there are 39 national YMCAs in Europe and 33 of them are full members of YMCA Europe. The rest are co-operating YMCAs. Collective there are more than 5.500 local YMCAs, involving more than 100.000 volunteers and approximately 21.000 members of staff.
The present Strategy of YMCA Europe (2016-2020), reaffirms the Mission, Vision and Guiding Principles of our working fellowship and focuses on three objectives :
- Creating Spaces
- Strengthening Movements
- Advocacy & Representation
The programmatic priorities for this period include :
- Youth Empowerment
- Peace & Justice
- Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants
- Youth Employment