Waking the Sleeping Giant

Article by Clifford Collins Omondi

YMCA Youth Delegate - Rio+20

13 July 2012 The World Alliance of the YMCAs, together with other partners like Y’s Men International and Y Global, supported 34 youth representatives from Kenya, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, Angola, Korea, Argentina and Zambia to share their voice at Rio+20 - the UN conference on sustainable development - from 14-22 June.

Bem-vindos! Bem-vindos! Se sentir em casa e desfrutar Brasil! These are the first words you here in when you meet people in Brazil - they mean “welcome”!

Welcome! Feel at home and enjoy Brazil. The living standard here gives you a feeling that Brazil has escaped the south and now are part of the north even though there are still elements of the south or rather the developing countries but a little higher than the developing since they are part of the G20 - and what a people!

I feel like I am just at home and the first stop I had was the Ilha ACM (YMCA) in Rio de Janeiro. It was just an indication of the benefits of being a YMCA member, far away from home but the welcome feels like I was in my own YMCA. The warm welcome and the weather makes me feel like I am at home in Kenya.

This concept of Global Citizenship makes me comfortable. Being part of the World Alliance of YMCA brings YMCAs from all parts or the world together in friendship to talk about global issues. In particular, the youth get space to transform the world for a better, sustainable future.

Young people are the future of the world and as a civil society organization, the YMCA has the capacity of 58 million people around the world, and being part of the United Nation under ECOSOC Consultative Status, we need to take part in leadership and decision making as far as global issues are concerned.

The YMCA youth from all the participating countries met for dialogue on a sustainable future and held a side event at the Rio+20 conference in Rio de Janeiro. The process leading up to the conference included a preparatory event for young leaders that took place at ACM Ilha do Governador in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The event involved camping at Ilha and included a dialogue on the YMCA and its relationship to sustainable development. The meeting also included service to the community around ACM  Ilha with the YMCA delegates taking part in some activities organised by the surrounding community. In total, about 600 people in the community were mobilised to clean up a mangrove area and the delagtes visited various other community projects including a public school.

What concerned me was that many Brazilians do not even know what so many people around the world were gathering in Rio de Janeiro to talk about. Sustainable development?!? Rio+20?!? What is it really?!?

According to Michael Thomas Needham, sustainable development refers to the ability to meet the needs of the present while contributing to the future generations’ needs. There is an additional focus on the present generations’ responsibility to improve the future generations’ life by restoring the previous ecosystem damage and resisting contributing to further ecosystem damage.

Twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, Rio+20 was organised by the United Nations to bring the world’s leaders and other stakeholders together and talk about a sustainable future.

But, one would question what is Rio+You?

According to the conference there are two central themes to Rio+20 - a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

One would also be curious and skeptical when talking about a green economy and institutional frameworks while an African child goes hungry without food for days and perhaps starves to death? That is the reason for the two themes - for the countries of the north to talk about institutional frame works and the countries of the south (developing countries) to talk about poverty eradication.

There is need to have the world’s citizens involved and committed towards a sustainable future. Rio+20 is all about us and our future, thus Rio+You.

During this Conference, the YMCA hosted the Ministers of Environment from Korea and Lebanon, the Swedish Ambassador for the Environment, and a specialist on Youth Participation from UN-HABITAT as panelists at their Rio+20 side-event. This was one of the most positive meetings during  Rio+20 since it was a time for the YMCA as a civil society organisation to take part. The youth delegation from the YMCAs got a chance to share their vision to the world leaders and convince them to build the future we want.

As a student of political science, I was very interested in the political process in the negotiations but the negotiations were so disappointing since the text gives priority to markets and growth, and presents the inclusion of the private sector in governance and international cooperation as a panacea.

Some countries are insisting upon public-private partnerships, even by those who have already experienced their limitations. The text fails to address the responsibility of companies, especially multinational corporations, in our unsustainable economy. They do not have to account for their negative social and environmental impacts and human rights violations.

Negotiators do not seem to realise that this irresponsible behaviour is one of the main contributing factors to the global problems which Rio+20 was expected to answer. Poverty eradication and human rights realisation are immediate issues but politicians are always interested in their own material gain. Their language is always the same - they say they are concerned but they never agree and commit themselves to a sustainable future.

As a civil society organisation we need to show them that we need a sustainable future now. The positive thing is that civil society is taking a good shape as far as decision making is concerned and not just leaving it the General Assembly which is a higher level in the United Nation structure.

There are a lot of demands from civil society for a better future of our planet. To have a sustainable future it means we have to consider the planet first, then people, followed by profits; the three pillars must be considered jointly but mostly starting with the environmental, then social and lastly economic.

But the world is ruled by greed, politicians put profit first, multinational cooperatives have taken over and are shaping the world. What politicians and these multinational cooperatives do not understand (in my thinking) is that the resources we use come from the planet and will be lost if we do not take care of it for future generations.

For instance oil will not last forever and minerals will be depleted. They all come from the earth, as does the food we eat. My country, Kenya, used to export a lot of food but now we import food from abroad because the Government cannot feed its own population.

The language of politicians is very unpleasing - they say they are concerned but when it comes to implementation they do not agree - it is time for as to take part in decision making.

The YMCA is a sleeping giant and it is time for the giant to wake up. The worldwide YMCA reaches about 58 million people and this number can bring a big change in the world. The challenge is that many young people face unemployment, gender violence, poverty, and issues related to climate change. This hampers their ability to work as change agents.

The YMCA should also have a global identity since many YMCAs are doing good work but there is no common identity.

As far as sustainable development is concerned, what is the YMCA’s position and what should we do as the YMCA world?

The delegation discussed the importance of YMCAs to plan on how to engage the YMCA youth in decision making. At least 2 youth per country will research how to involve more youth and make the YMCA wake up. The process should go on until the 2014 World Alliance Conference in the USA.

When we are talking about sustainable development we do not only focus on environmental aspects but we also focus on economic and social development issues and this is a good platform for YMCAs to work together.

Different YMCAs have different activities which touch on the economic, social and environmental pillars. Y Climate Action, for example, is doing good work surrounding climate justice and Y Global is involved in the Stop Poverty campaign. The Kenya YMCA is also involved in climate issues and the S2C process involves political, social and economic empowerment.

All this is about space, transformation and impact in the world. In joining hands we can create make a difference. Within civil society, there is a need for more communication which will enhance team work. It is time to wake the sleeping giant.


© Y's Men International 1998-2016

Avenue Sainte Clotilde 9, CH-1205 Geneva, Switzerland