Article originally published in Linked In by Casey Harden.
For 22 years, I have celebrated the New Year as part of a YWCA somewhere in the world. After time off from work, sinking into the wonder of the story of a baby born in a manger, and getting used to giving the cold shoulder to my smart phone without feeling guilt, the countdown to the first day back in the office begins. I resume thinking about how I will manage the demands of the job, how I will hold myself accountable, and how I will do good for the YWCA.
As I looked back over 2019, I was filled with gratitude for the many leaders who engaged, supported and guided World YWCA during the past year. You volunteered, attended a meeting, followed and engaged with us on social media, made in-kind and cash donations, reached out to check in, walked on a trail with us or cheered from the side line. You are an important part of our work.
As I reset for 2020, a short and sweet speech I made at the closing session of a gathering of the International Civil Society Center in Addis Ababa last year kept coming to mind. I was asked to share some inspiring words for the attendees at the close of a rich and demanding three-day exploration of legitimacy and impact of the civil society sector and I did my best to meet that lofty expectation.
The theme of the event was framed by the saying “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. That old adage was a thread that tied the expansive exploration together. I believe in the value of aphorisms like “making lemonade out of lemons.” They have such power, they are so effective in grounding or centring us.
In the civil society sector and human rights movement, we know the power of words. We embrace a new word, or a new way of saying things – innovation, localisation, authenticity, mutual accountability, recovery, intergenerational or transformation. One word gives us a common understanding for something far more complex. For a while, those words become not only our favoured vernacular but guideposts, and a way to foment and strengthen us as.
A few years ago, when both my children were under the age of 10, I felt that they needed a centring of some sort. In the ebb and flow of living in the 21st century, it would be a good idea to have them name some principles, some values to centre them through various tides, calms, and storms – just as we do as YWCA leaders and organisations.
Seven-year-old Sadie chose hers from a song popular at the time: You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine. Nine-year-old Peter chose an adaptation of the golden rule, do unto other as you would have done unto you: Treat others as you want to be treated. My husband chose something from the Irish writer Samuel Beckett: Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. I also chose something from a song: All you need is love.
We each wrote our aphorism on a piece of wood, then hung them in the bathroom of our home, where we brush our teeth at the beginning of the day and the end of our day. The idea was to spend those quiet moments brushing our teeth staring at our adages, centring and grounding ourselves.
Aphorisms ground us. They centre us. They give us clean and simple values, actions, principles and strategies.
I fall back on aphorisms when I do my YWCA work. Some come like an epiphany. Some are adopted slowly. They come and go. Some are evergreen, some transient. Some private and repeated in my mind on the walk to and from work. Some shared in a meeting or from a podium, in the hope that they galvanise a vision with a simple collection of words.
At our 29th World Council just a couple months ago, the YWCA movement met to galvanize our vision.
We adopted a strategic framework for 2020-2023 and affirmed our ecumenical identity and origins, that the global climate is in crisis, the priority of peace with justice, and the shared work of young women`s leadership. Now, we gotta ignite our light and let it shine.
The four year strategic framework includes an expectation for the leaders and various YWCA entities, including local and national associations, regional bodies, task forces, advisory councils and committees, and the World YWCA – both Board and Office – to be mutually responsive and accountable to each other and work in partnership and solidarity. We must treat others as we wish to be treated.
At Council, we acknowledged and discussed that the business of the World YWCA movement, including: operations and administration; communications & engagement; friend- & fundraising; governance; and more, requires strategic, bold, focused, and creative attention. We set an ambitious path to bring the YWCA fully into the 21st century, ensure we are relevant to girls, young women and women, and to fully own and leverage our ecumenical, feminist and grassroots driven identity. If we do this well, we must ask each other Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
And, as evident in the networking, celebrating, relationship building, and worship of the Council, and as manifest by the remarkable, lifesaving, and transformative work done at YWCAs around the globe, the YWCA movement is a human and women`s right movement like no other. All we need is love.
In 2020, I am looking forward to working side by side with each and every one of you. Our commitment to creating change at the local, national, regional and global level, through strong collaborations as partners will have long lasting impact. The world needs our values of love, service, humility, pragmatism, transparency and hope and our partnerships need to ensure that.
Wishing you a bold and transformative 2020, filled with creativity, inspiration, energy, community, and meaningful work.
And, may you embrace a word, an adage or an aphorism to be your compass in 2020!