World Service Council Annual Meeting Focused on Reaffirming Mission

YWCA women from across the country and abroad gathered in NYC Oct. 25 for the 98th Annual Meeting of the World Service Council (WSC). In addition to YWCA leadership, USA CEO Alejandra Castillo and World YWCA Deputy Secretary Casey Harden, who joined World Service Council members, attendees were past and present national and world board members and staff, former and current YWCA CEOs and EDs, former World interns and longtime volunteers.

The day was so much more than a meeting, but rather a reunion of dedicated women with a global vision. Despite the fact that pipe bombs were being delivered to critics of the President throughout the country, including nearby CNN, the atmosphere inside the walls of the Colony Club was warm with camaraderie, and rich with determination to create a better world with young women leading the way.

WSC Co-Chair Connie Tate opened the business meeting with her report on WSC activities over the past year (UN Commission on the Status of Women Reception for the World YWCA delegation and other UN activities, newsletters to membership and WSC development strategies), and she referenced the Council’s history that began after World War I when President Woodrow Wilson asked the YWCA to help raise money for European YWCAs. In more recent times, the WSC has focused on funding the World YWCA’s legacy Internship Program and Movement Building. Treasurer Elaine Carlson announced that the WSC contribution to the World YWCA this year will be $111,000. Membership Chair Carole Markus announced two new members have joined the WSC – Sylvia Acosta from El Paso, TX and Millicent Agnor from Cleveland, Ohio. Sylvia is the CEO of YWCA El Paso and Millicent is a retired board member of YWCA Cleveland. Carole also asked for a moment of silence in remembrance of Mary Jane Weyher, a passionate World Service Council member, who passed away this year.

Despite a few IT problems that prevented videos from being shown, reports by YWCA leadership prompted much interactive engagement. YWCA CEO Alejandra Castillo spoke strongly about holding on to and spreading “contagious optimism” in the face of a disheartening political landscape. She stated that the YWCA USA has become boldly vocal in its condemnation of policies such as dividing families at the border, and she cited concern about adding a citizenship question on the census which could negate the presence of many minorities and immigrants. Driven by thought leadership, the YWCA took a stance on Kavanaugh, is advocating hard for VAWA authorization and recently released a survey on what women want that oversampled for minorities and millennials. The YWCA also produced an inspirational public service announcement on the significance of voting that has been picked up and shown on network TV.

Alejandra also discussed the three areas of focus in the national office – all things financial, development and communications. Emphasizing that our more than 200 YWCAs are the fabric of communities, the message should be that we are “One YWCA” so we can harness the collective in response to natural disasters and other vulnerabilities. To that point, grants have been successfully sought to help individual 501C3s – half a million from Coca Cola and a million from Google. Another innovative decision to intentionally invest in women is that the YWCA USA is the first non-profit to participate in an Exchange Traded Fund (WOMN) that will be announced publicly and advertised in November.

World YWCA Deputy Secretary Casey Harden, in her position for just a few months, spoke about how the World YWCA used the previous year’s WSC contribution. It funded two interns, Sarah Brady from YWCA Australia and Bella Masanya of YWCA Kenya. Sarah focused on governance and the mechanisms used to maintain and grow the movement. As part of this initiative, she helped revamp the member association survey. Bella worked with the Young Women’s Engagement Team to implement the new strategy of development and implementation of the young women’s global campaign and framework.

Emergency funds were used to help the YWCA Puerto Rico rebuild after its facility was damaged during the 2017 hurricane season. Funds were also sent to the US Virgin Islands for training on mosquito borne illness prevention and care, and workshops were held on hurricane recovery efforts. Casey explained that the World YWCA is undergoing significant changes to its business model with lots of infrastructure changes. Currently, it is focused internally on ways of work and how to be strategic in its mission to member organizations. Strategic planning around young women’s leadership (how to mobilize and engage) strives toward the 2035 goal that “100 million young women and girls will transform power structures to create justice, gender equality and a world without violence and war, leading a sustainable YWCA movement, inclusive of all women,” is a priority. Two other focus areas are building a stronger, young women brand identity, governance and partnerships; and accountability and management excellence.

The World YWCA is working on developing a constituent list to create better communications worldwide and created a new annual survey to identify best ways to support the movement. A newsletter will begin to be distributed monthly. All this readiness and preparatory work is integral to the planning of the upcoming World Council meeting scheduled for Nov.17-22 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

WSC Co-Chair Deb Stock moderated a powerful afternoon session featuring super stars in their respective fields of interest. Mary Luke, of UN Women, presented a power point on UN programs promoting and supporting women throughout the globe including the He-She Movement, and Cities for CEDAW efforts. Michaela Walsh, a self-made financial wizard, was instrumental in developing Women’s World Banking that provided loans to women for start-up businesses in third world countries. And, South Carolina Professor Emeritus Wanda Hendricks, an award-winning researcher of social and political experiences of African American women during the 19th and 20th centuries, told the story of Madie Hall Xuma who used her YWCA experience in Winston Salem to later develop YWCAs in communities in South Africa. Xuma also served on the World YWCA Executive Committee from 1955-1963.

Inspiring words of former WSC Chair Joyce Mims were read by Secretary Joelle Logue to acknowledge the day of empowerment and reaffirmation of our work to achieve gender equality.

“We are a gathering of global citizens with a vision beyond our neighborhood and country. Our 98th annual meeting is a time for reaffirming the YWCA as:
–a place where women’s voices are respected and heard.
–a place where truths can be told about violence and anti-neighborliness.
–a place where imagination is nurtured to challenge hate with hope and positive change.

Our time together is a joy-filled reminder of the values of caring for one another and our world. There’s a Tibetan saying: “Wherever you have friends, that is your country, and wherever you receive love, that is your home.” For thousands of women around the world, that place is the YWCA, which your generosity makes possible. Join me in accepting the Quaker invitation “to walk cheerfully over the face of the earth, responding to that of God in everyone.”

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