The results from the YMCA One Million Voices Youth Research show strong examples of young people’s most important needs going unmet.

“The World YMCA has reviewed the research results and is deeply concerned about the powerful negative messages coming from the world’s young people”, confirmed Johan Vilhelm Eltvik, Secretary General of the World YMCA. “It is clear that the global YMCA is not doing enough to help young people where they are most in need.”


“The global picture presents a harsh voice back to the YMCA and gives a painful message. We are not where we thought we were in reaching and serving distressed young people. We thought that globally we were more inclusive than we seem to be.

We recognise there is some fantastic impact being made by many YMCAs, but the global picture is that in the areas that young people said were most important to them the YMCA is not providing enough information, resources and help.

We took a risk to listen honestly and receive the feedback so we can serve more young people and serve them better. What we have heard teaches us and therefore it can also teach everyone who has a responsibility for young people”, Johan said.


“The size and scale of this research means that we believe it is the largest ever research of young people aged 15-24 in terms of global coverage, random selection, face to face interviews and total numbers. “

YMCAs in 55 countries have contributed to this and nearly 18,000 young people. Surprisingly the news is consistent amongst young people around the globe. The quality and robustness of the scientific methodology, overseen by Professor Fred Coalter, ensured random sampling and credible techniques for greater accuracy and results. “The respondents to this research were all in some way affiliated with our movement. This was for scientific reasons. To aim for the total youth population was outside of our financial reach, but we intend to aim for this in our coming research, and that will demand a sizeable budget”, said Johan Eltvik.


The Research clearly shows that young people don’t have the information they believe they require for the most important areas of their lives. The nine priority areas that young people were surveyed about were:

  • Job opportunities
  • Human Rights
  • Psychological/mental health
  • Sexual/reproductive health
  • Job requirements
  • Politics
  • Workers’ rights
  • Global environment
  • Local environment

For example, 59% of young people say they do not have proper information for their number one need: employment. A link between lack of training and resources and information is shown.

The ILO reports that 36.7% of all young people are unemployed. Their research shows there is a mismatch between education and work and a need for specialised skills training and work experience. The ILO report says that “despite increasing levels of education, productive employment is often hampered by low skills or by skills that are not aligned to labour market requirements. Education and training are critical to create greater opportunities for young women and men to obtain decent and productive work. There is a recognized virtuous circle between education and training and higher productivity, more and better quality employment and economic growth.”[1]

Schools and other institutions – including the YMCA – rate extremely low at being the ‘go to’ information sources. Instead, the young people who were surveyed turn in huge numbers to the unfiltered internet to fulfil their information needs, which in most cases, does not lead them to finding the answers they seek.

The fact that for more than 2/3rds of respondents schools are irrelevant as information sources in their most important aspects of life is a huge concern. The YMCA is extremely concerned because the YMCA was irrelevant for 90% of information needs. Like schools, the YMCA has young people in vast numbers but we are not asking them and not giving them the information that they believe is important.

The results paint a disastrous picture of young people not engaging in politics, civic engagement opportunities and local communities. Nearly half of all young people (38%) are not interested in civic engagement. They do not believe they have a voice and can contribute citing “lack of interest”. They are disillusioned, disengaged and disconnected. “Have we lost them to helping contribute to and positively build their local and future societies?”, Johan asks.

The role of schools in cultivating civic engagement is affirmed by Masaryk University’s research: “Schools are often considered as places that provide students with opportunities to acquire basic civic attitudes and competencies.”[2]

But schools, like the YMCA, are coming up against barriers to youth participation in civic engagement, as confirmed by Brandtzaeg, Haugstveit, Luders and Folstad’s research: “Organizations aiming to foster civic engagement, such as government bodies, news outlets, political parties, and NGOs, struggle to purposefully use social media to engage young people. The results indicate important participation barriers among young people’s civic engagement in social media; related to language, content disbelief, and privacy and times issues. [3]

To overcome these barriers to civic engagement D’Agostino and Visser comment: “Youth civic engagement—and particularly youth participation in properly designed youth programs—has indisputably favorable outcomes for the young people involved.”[4]


This is a major life issue for young people and the most serious of challenges for communities. The YMCA results show that young people (36%) believe they have lower levels of information on mental health compared to other health issues.

Statistics show that suicide, the worst tragedy of mental health, continues to rise.

According to The World Health Organisation about 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental disorders or problems, with half of all mental disorders beginning before the age of 14.[5] Only 20% of the Youth with a mental health condition receive the treatment they need.[6]

Mental Health disorders (according to the WHO) are associated with more than 90% of all cases of suicide. Traditionally suicide rates have been highest amongst elderly males, however suicide rates amongst young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at highest risk of suicide in a third of all countries. Youth suicide is increasing at the greatest rate.[7]

The WHO states that suicide results from many complex factors but is more likely to occur at a time of crisis (eg. loss of a loved one, unemployment, sexual identity, disengagement). They stress the importance of schools based interventions that include crisis management, self-esteem enhancement, the development of coping skills and healthy decision-making.

“85% of young people in the YMCA research state that the YMCA is a youth friendly organization so we have a role to play in providing such support”, said Johan.


The internet is the major source of information for young people’s most important aspects of life, compared to schools, religious organisations, institutions and the YMCA.

The YMCA research shows internet usage for a third of respondees is over 11 hours per week across the globe for young people.

And what do they find in this unregulated world? The largest Google search results are about “death and destruction”. [8]

As the University of Oxford’s research confirms, “there is a strong link between young people using internet forums and an increased risk of suicide. Well over half (59%) of young people interviewed said they had researched suicide on line.”[9]

“Most of these young people are unlikely to get professional help. Though there are internet based self-help programmes online, they are primarily information based, low-level, repetitive, or self-serving, as opposed to valuable, credible, reliable sources of psychological help or advice. Evidence-based interactive programmes developed specifically for young people, are not yet available.”

Dangerously, added to this is young people’s inability to discern what information is available. As Bartlett and Miller state: “Our research shows, however, that many young people are not careful, discerning users of the internet. They are unable to find the information they are looking for or trust the first thing they do. They do not apply fact checks to the information they find. They are unable to recognize bias and propaganda and will not go to a varied number of sources. As a result, they are too often influenced by information they should probably discard. This makes them vulnerable to the pitfalls and rabbit holes of ignorance, falsehoods, cons, and scams.” [10]

The YMCA research also shows the biggest source of information on politics is television.

“Where are the reliable people who are the positive influencers and information sources our young people can rely upon?”, Johan said.


Information needs for the environment were accorded the lowest priority, with television and the internet taking equal priority as the main information sources.


“The YMCA must become known for much more than just the old YMCA song. Change is needed. Youth empowerment is needed. These results speak loudly to where the YMCA can make a big contribution to improving the lives of young people for the future”, confirmed Johan Vilhelm Eltvik, Secretary General of the World YMCA.

“This is the untold story that now comes to life for our future. We now know more about young people’s needs, and now we need to know more about the internet, mental health, suicide rates and more.

“We have interpreted the scientific data of the Report of Professor Fred Coalter and, based with other research and our long YMCA experience, believe we have found a deep vein of need for the world’s young people. This is giving us aggressive truth through this scientific Report.”

“Youth empowerment is the work of every YMCA. This Research is what informs us. This allows us to respond, to react, to change our strategy and therefore improve our impact by being more relevant to the young people we want to serve”.

The YMCA movement has committed to this research program as part of its ongoing strategy. The second survey will be launched in May, 2016 with results to be released in 2018.


 About the YMCA:
Working for social justice for all youth, regardless of religion, race, gender or culture, the World Alliance of YMCAs is a global ecumenical Movement reaching 58 million people in 119 countries worldwide. Founded in 1855, the World Alliance of YMCAs is the oldest and largest Movement for youth in the world.

About the YMCA One Million Voices Youth Research Project:
The YMCA believes this is the world’s largest research project listening to young people aged 15-24. It was conducted by the YMCA in 55 countries.

The YMCA set out to hear from the world’s young people. To hear their views and to better understand their needs, with the view to helping give the young people of the world a voice.

 Further information:

World YMCA                                                                                        

YMCA One Million Voices Youth Research                         


Media enquiries:

Johan Vilhelm Eltvik, Secretary General, World YMCA (based in Geneva)

Andrew McKenzie, Executive Secretary – Communications, World YMCA (based in Australia) +61 413 003 009

[1] ‘Global Employment Trends for Youth’ – International Labour Organisation Report – 2015

[2] ‘Civic socialization in school: Equal opportunities for all?’, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Czech Republic

[3] Petter Bae Brandtzæg, Ida Maria Haugstveit, Marika Lüders and Asbjørn Følstad; SINTEF, Norway – 2015

[4] Addressing and Overcoming Barriers to Civic Engagement, Maria J. D’Agostino and Anne Visser – 2010




[8] Google Tendances des recherches – Tendances pour Events, tats-Unis – 2013


[10] ‘A report into young people’s digital fluency’; Jamie Bartlett Carl Miller, DEMOS Think Tank – 2011



One comment

  1. As interesting as this piece of research is, why does an organisation like YMCA make their own research report proprietary by choice? 30 Dollars for a print copy, and no access to a digital copy: Where, why and when has the idea of open access stopped to be appealing to an organisation the size of YMCA? I find blocking access to the details of such a research piece a regrettable choice. Who will improve the scarce availability of youth research if not the organisations with the resources to do so?

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