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Global youth futures with the YMCA

Scenario planning for 2044 - when the YMCA will turn 200

After 175 years of action to empower the next generation, the World YMCA is looking ahead to the year 2044, when it will celebrate its 200th anniversary, and asking what it should prioritise to support future communities to thrive.

Over three months, Flux Compass worked with Forum for the Future to design and facilitate a set of live and digital engagements to understand what young people want for their future, what challenges they face, and what activities the YMCA can undertake to empower them and their communities for a thriving future.

As part of this, we held an eight-week series of interactions and polls, using social media and email to invite insights from across the world, with the hashtags #ymca2044 and #youthforchange. All responses were collated on the Futures Centre, a trend monitoring platform, contributing to a wider conversation about the role of young people in shaping future communities.

We also brought together 50 young changemakers and 20 strategy leads from across the YMCA’s seven global regions to develop seven possible scenarios for the world in 2044, as part of the YMCA's 175th anniversary celebrations in London. One scenario addressed what happens in a world where the biodiversity crisis comes together with artificial intelligence. Another asked how climate breakdown combined with the rise of China might shape the world.

After building seven 2044 scenarios, we led a workshop convening over 250 YMCA members and partners to explore them, identify the challenges they present, and devise a set of activities in response, including specific roles for the YMCA. Each group took journeys into their scenario from the point of view of imagined future personas living in the year 2044. For example, one table considered the point of view of Marina Skumbozo, an 80-year-old widower living in Rwanda in 2044, in a scenario of climate breakdown and political polarisation. The climate has affected her immune system, and conflict is limiting her access to clean water, but new technology is also supporting her to increase her mobility.

Through personal stories such as this, each table identified specific challenges their region could face in the future, such as social divisions, over-population or job insecurity.

During these workshops, I was struck by the appetite of participants for nuanced thinking about how different trends might play out. They recognised that changes emerging today can lead in both positive and negative directions, even at the same time: for instance, the same trends could lead to renewable resources and a circular economy on the one hand, and complete exhaustion of resources on the other. Another group contemplated a scenario of sustainable systems, yet a society at risk of losing control due to both migration and AI.

What makes a difference, they realised, are the decisions we take today. So in spite of this complexity, what came across loud and clear was the motivation of YMCA members to embrace challenges and find ways forward, as well as their courage in confronting the need for change at a deep personal level. As one participant put it: “We see that the hopeless scenario (wars, migration, natural disasters, unemployment) is most likely to happen, and that’s why we want to work with it: we can work for the solutions.”

The importance of collaboration, particularly across borders, came up again and again. YMCA members anticipated that major stressors or ‘snapping points’, such as natural disasters or societal breakdown, could catalyse opportunities for coordination and cooperation on the international stage. The role of movements like the YMCA in bringing people together across borders was frequently mentioned as a step in the right direction: “You’re forced to put cultures together, put your phone down and have conversations, and build partnerships where you can actually make real change.”

Global exchange, collective endeavour and youth leadership are surely key tools for thriving communities, whatever the future holds.