„YMCA Europe is a working fellowship to strengthen movements where people grow in body, mind and spirit.“


17th June 2022

Emma Hundertmark, Chair of YWCA-YMCA of Sweden, shares her thoughts on the high importance of youth empowerment and examples how to reach it.

1Emma Hundertmark, Chair of YWCA-YMCA of Sweden

I would like to state, once and for all, that young people are not the leaders of tomorrow. They are leaders within their own right, today.

As a matter of fact – the UN has found that young people between the age of 15 – 24 accounted for 16% of the global population at a staggering 1,2 billion in 2019, comparable to the entire population of India. Paired with an ever-growing elderly population, the belief that young people will take over the torch further somewhere further down the road becomes straight out laughable.

Research also shows that well-being and empowerment are closely linked to being able to influence one's own situation. But, the most common voting age globally is set at 18 years. In most countries, the right to vote – including the voting age, is considered to be so crucial to the democratic participation that it is anchored in their constitution. And while there was a trend in the 1970s to reduce the voting age in several countries, few besides Brazil did.

Youth, however, has found other ways to make their voices heard. Some has turned to the internet, others to the street. Most notably, in my perspective, is the formalized participation of youth in the civil society sphere and organizations such as the YMCA. At the age of 27, I am currently the youngest serving president for a National Board at the Y.

This is not a coincidence, seeing as my predecessor was 23 the year she was elected and the president before that was elected at the age of 26. I would even go so far and say that YWCA-YMCA of Sweden has established a new norm of being led by young people.

A key component in making this possible is that the statues of YWCA-YMCA Sweden emphasize that at least half of the board members – including the chair and vice chair, must be 30 years or younger the year they are elected to the board. Furthermore, the chair or vice chair must identify as a woman.

A recent amendment made in 2021 to the statues that regulate how boards are selected on a regional level across Sweden states that Nominations Committees should strive to include someone under the age of 18.

This also means that having young people represented at every level of the organization isn’t just a nice thing to have. Instead, it is formalized in such a way that is lies at the very core of every decision being made by the Y in Sweden – and that, is what true representation is all about.

But this is just the first step. When establishing a norm of young leadership and in turn, youth empowerment, you need to make sure to involve more than one young person. Being the only one like yourself in a room or a conversation is a large barrier to active participation as one person cannot be expected to represent a large, diverse group. This should go without saying, but when it comes to those below the age of 30, it is worth repeating.

Furthermore, you need to involve more than one young person and by now, you might be thinking that hey – she already said that! But my point is – ask more than that very same capable young person that you might know of and that did very well the last time you asked if they were interested.

Finally, making sure to retain active members should be as important as bringing in new members. At the national board for the Y in Sweden we strive to ensure long-term, sustainable involvement. At the end of every board meeting, we share our “commitment capital” on a scale between 1 – 5 where one's mental and physical state are factored in.

We believe that since life isn't static, your involvement shouldn't be either and if you end up burning so brightly that you eventually burn up, your experiences will burn too. Like the Village People sang in a song all too familiar to all of us:

No man, young man, does it all by himself
Young man, young man, put your pride on the shelf
And just go there, to the YMCA
I'm sure they can help you today

Author/Source: Emma Hundertmark, chair of YWCA-YMCA of Sweden

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