November 08
Walking side by side with young people


I've been thinking about seeking a young mentor ever since I heard the challenge from the National President of YMCA Australia Andrew Smith in a forum in Melbourne last month. Some call this 'reverse mentoring'.

Millennials – typically those born in the 1980s to early 2000s – now make up the world's largest generation ever. They're considered a creative and socially minded cohort, but also one inheriting a world facing some seriously wicked problems.

Smart organisations recognise they need young people

Smart organisations recognise they need to better understand, engage and connect with young people, and Andrew Smith's call was specifically to YMCA leaders as we work together to bring to life our belief in the power of inspired young people.   However, it's a relevant challenge for all.

Young people can mentor Gen X and Baby Boomers

Well, last week I found a mentor, while attending a forum of YMCA leaders from around the world in the Czech Republic! 

Taylor Crockett, 24, from Scotland, speaks at a million miles an hour, and both shares and reflects our global vision to positively impact (empower) 90 million young people in the next five years –tripling our current reach. 

World YMCA Forum Comms Group.JPG 

That's Taylor in the red shirt, together with other YMCA communicators from Italy, Spain, England, India, Australia and Brussels.

"I reckon we can do that," I heard him say.  This was not long after he'd shared how one of his first jobs with his YMCA was to produce their Annual Report.  Taylor's previous experience had been in managing and working in night clubs.

He suggested to his CEO that they do away with printing the reports, which honestly, for all the work that goes into them, many end up gathering dust.  He also suggested that the Y's young people produce the report.  His CEO trusted him, created space for their young people to lead, and the results were stunning.

Produced for less than $150 using a range of free or low cost applications and freelancers sourced from sharing sites, it was viewed 15,000 times in its first month online.  You can view it here .

I was impressed that a young person without formal experience or training in communications, had been able to effect change and demonstrate leadership in such a short space of time.  It struck me that maybe a young mentor might be standing before me.   

What might 'reverse mentoring' look like?

"What does that mean?" Taylor inquired when I asked if he was up for it. 

"It means I think I can learn a lot from you about how to better connect with young people and help the YMCA at the same time," I told him. "You can help me keep up with what's new and what matters to young people."

"I was thinking I could learn a lot from you about strategic communications," he countered. "I just do things as they fall in front of me, I'd like to learn how to plan our communications better."

"Sounds like we could help each other out."

Later, I learned more about Taylor, and I'm even more impressed with him, and his local YMCA. His story is not mine to share, but it's a powerful one.  I couldn't help but feel like the stars had lined us up.

Generations walking side by side together

If we are to be an organisation that truly reflects our belief, then why wouldn't more of our current senior leadership seek to better understand what young people want, need and can do to help us?  Perhaps this is one way our generations can walk side by side together to create a better future for both today and the future.

"It only takes 5-10% of a population to change the direction of others"

Carsten Sudhoff, ex Chief Executive of Human Resources at the World Economic Forum, told the World Alliance of YMCA's Strategic Forum that it only "takes 5-10% of a population to change the direction of others."

The YMCA, founded by a 22 year old in England over 170 years ago, still believes in the power of inspired young people, to change the world for the better.  Always has. Always will.

I'm ready to walk side by side with young people like Taylor.  What about you? 

About the author

  • Dianne McDonald is Executive Manager of Communications at YMCA Australia. She was one of four Australians, Peter Burns, CEO YMCA Victoria, Stephen Bendle YMCA Australia, and Andrew McKenzie, World YMCA,  and a New Zealander, Peter Fergusson, CEO YMCA Auckland, who attended the World YMCA Our Way Strategy Delivery Summit in Litomysl, 28 October- 3 November.   E: dianne.mcdonald@ymca.org.au T: @DiFromtheY Linked In: diannemcdonald

You can read more about the forum via the excellent Blue Music Blog from World YMCA Secretary General Johan Eltvik.  

World Forum Geneva.JPG 

September 27
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

sustainable development.png 

By Stephen Bendle
Today, 27 September 2016 marks one year since the launch of the United Nations 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development. Last year in New York United Nations transitioned from their millennial development goals which covered the period from 2000 to 2015 and committed to 17 goals for sustainable development of our planet.

The YMCA is clearly well-positioned to impact many of these goals and are already acting through our change agents. The opportunity to align our work, around the world, with the objectives, goals and actions of governments, organisations and not for profits is profound.

sustainable dev2.jpg 

I have tried the new Windows 10 App called SWAY to pull together a multi-media chalk board on the SDG’s. 
Here is the link. Hope it works for you.

September 19
Fair Australia: Social Justice and the Health Gap

Blog 19 September 2016

This week as I have been driving around Melbourne I have taken the opportunity of listening to the dulcet tones of Professor Sir Michael Marmot as he delivers four orations as part of the ABC 2016 Boyer Lecture series titled: Fair Australia: Social Justice and the Health Gap.

I have only listened to the first two so far but I am enthused enough to contemplate what it means for the YMCA.

Marmot has devoted his career to the Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) which are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.[1]

Every sentence, discussion, claim or plea he makes is evidence based and grounded in case study after example after research thesis. His calm, accented delivery style is mesmerising and especially compelling as I drive around suburbs of Melbourne where the postcode is a signpost to the health of the people in the street.

In Australia the SDoH are a key platform for the Governments Closing the Gap strategy[2] and the YMCA is a partner in the Social Determinants of Health Alliance.[3]

Marmot explains that:

Health and inequalities in health are closely linked to the conditions in which we raise our children, the education we get, the neighbourhoods in which we live, the work we do, whether we have the money to make ends meet, our social relationships, our care for the elderly. In short, all the things that matter to us day to day and in the arc of our lives influence health. And these conditions of life that matter to us are strongly influenced by the decisions that societies make and, indeed, global decisions that influence our social environment.

Stephen Bendle Blog Fig. 4.1.2.png

Last week the latest report into Australia's Health[4] was also released. Among the most startling of the Figures was the one showing the social gradient in Australian mortality

The Report shows that 20% of Australians living in the lowest socioeconomic areas in 2014–15 were 1.6 times as likely as the highest 20% to have at least two chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes

Regarding the perennial question that is often politically motivated or associated with cries of "nanny state" he discusses the paradox between individual lifestyle choice and the role of a civil society in managing its social systems. He explains that smoking, drinking, unhealthy patterns of eating and exercising, and obesity are indeed causes of ill-health but the real issue is the "causes of the causes".

Stephen Bendle Blog 2.jpg​Education levels, employment opportunities, public transport infrastructure, school funding and other social structures are strong indicators of health inequalities. So are our social systems that we all tolerate that allow the greatest number of gambling machines, fast-food outlets and fresh food deserts to occur in our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

So what does this mean for the YMCA? How can we really impact social systems?

The answer is we are already doing it.

At many YMCA's around the country we are already changing the social system that we provide for the communities in which we operate. Many are changing the food and drink options available to patrons and thereby changing what is "normal" when visiting a YMCA. We know that purchasing patterns are changing and we are having a real impact on the health and wellbeing of people.

Our childcare centres are providing quality early learning opportunities that are maximising the potential of young people. In a fascinating example of the social gradient[5] of inequality that exists in nearly all communities, Marmot explained how people at the lower end are less likely to read to their children and put less value on hugging their 3yo children than those at the higher end of the social gradient. The YMCA continues to provide a nourishing environment for all children wherever they are on that curve.

We are empowering young people and inspiring them with opportunities to be heard. The ability to have a voice is a key pathway to improving a person's circumstances and helping to break the social, community or family binds that perpetuate social conditions.

The YMCA is slowly but surely impacting on those factors that contribute to the causes of the causes of poor health and we should continue to be mindful of the social gradient of inequality.

And we will do more.

[1] http://www.who.int/social_determinants/en/

[2] http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/oatsih-healthplan-toc~determinants

[3] http://socialdeterminants.org.au/

[4] http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=60129555544

[5] https://theconversation.com/social-determinants-how-class-and-wealth-affect-our-health-64442

July 04
Inspiring young people to get active: What we could learn from the United Kingdom

By Stephen Bendle, Executive Manager Advocacy – YMCA Australia, @sbendle1

Last week I had a wonderful opportunity to listen to Jennie Price, CEO of Sport England, talk about the inspiring work they are doing to promote physical activity, especially among inactive populations, females and CALD communities.

She is in the envious position of being able to manage funds to the UK sporting sector (not the elite) and is insisting that at least 25% of the £300 million available is directed exclusively towards inactive people rather than just accommodating facilities and services for those who are already active.  Their vision focuses on providing opportunities for all people to be physically active ­- not just the fit and talented. They are also backing up their efforts with solid research and evaluation.

A focus on children and young people is central to their efforts. They have dedicated funding for getting children and young people active from the age of five, including a new fund for family-based activities. They are also offering to train at least two teachers in every secondary school in England to help them better meet the needs of all children, irrespective of their level of sporting ability.

Jennie described the challenges of engaging with the traditional sporting sector, previously focused on facilities and success for elite athletes, and bringing audiences to watch rather than play sport.  It is fair to say they haven't often looked at ways to get the inactive active or playing their sport.

Probably the most inspiring part of the presentation was about their very successful campaign This Girl Can. 

Do yourself a favour and take 1m and 29seconds out of your life to check out this video.

While in Australia we are able to match the production quality in our own efforts such as the Girls Make Your Move campaign there is a huge gap between how the British campaign connects to real opportunities for girls to get active in their communities, Where we provided a few click through links, Sport England have provided a coordinated pathway for females to explore opportunities to be active.

Their own social media campaign has Hit. The. Spot.  Check their website and admire the pluckiness of the poster images.  There's Here's an example – and it's not the pluckiest!

girls on the move.jpg 

Which all points to the opportunities we have to address the levels of inactivity in our backyard – especially among children and young people – as we know that the best time to create healthy habits and outcomes in life is when we are young. Just imagine what more healthy, active and inspired young people could do for the world!

We need more than great videos. We need a National Physical Activity Action Plan. Like the one that the Heart Foundation, the YMCA and many other organisations have been calling for over the last 12 months. You can read it here.

Jennie Price said that talking about sport in Australia "was like talking about ice to the Eskimos". However, she left a great impression on the audience and inspired everyone to call for more action on getting the health, sport and recreation sector more focused on getting the inactive, active.

June 24
Time for a Sugar Tax

Stephen Bendle is Executive Manager of Advocacy at YMCA Australia @sbendle1

So public health and prevention is finally on the political agenda as we countdown to the 2 July election.

Labor has committed to investing $300 million in health promotion and disease prevention to address the rising rate of chronic disease.

The Greens have announced support for a 20% tax on sugary drinks.  Announcing the policy, Greens leader Dr Richard Di Natale lamented the fact that so many of our Australian children were overweight or obese and that 30% of the added sugar that kids consumed come from sweetened drinks.

The latest ABS data shows that 14-18yo males consume an average 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, while the top 10% of male teenagers have at least 38 teaspoons of free sugars per day. Sugar sweetened beverages were the major source of sugar.[1]

A recent study found that a 20% rise in the price of sugary drinks and flavoured mineral water would save 1600 lives over the next 25 years.  It would also prevent nearly 4500 heart attacks and over 1000 strokes[2]. Not only would this lead to better health for Australians but also significant savings to our healthcare system.  In addition, the parliamentary budget office has estimated that a sugary tax would raise more than $500 million in revenue each year which under the current plan would be quarantined to be spent on additional health initiatives especially for children and young people.

Some would say the tide is turning on the issue of taxing sugary drinks.  Already many countries such as Hungary and Mexico have taxes in place.  The United Kingdom will introduce the tax in 2018 and the fifth largest city in the United States, Philadelphia has just voted in a sugar tax.

Despite the "nanny state" hyperbole from some commentators we all know that most successful public health initiatives in Australia in the last 50 years have involved some government intervention either through regulation, legislation or taxation.  This includes tobacco control, alcohol consumption, road safety, vaccination, medication and cancer prevention.

Obesity and its related outcomes such as diabetes is one of our most pressing public health issues facing this country and many others.  The impact on our children and young people is likely to be the most profound.

The YMCA continues to stand up for the health, well-being and safety of children and young people.  A better future depends on the ideas, energy and voice of young people – and we need to do all we can to create an environment in which they can thrive.

Some YMCA youth parliament students in WA recently made their views known this way.

It is for these reasons that YMCA will continue to advocate for the introduction of a sugar tax on sugar sweetened beverages and for all political parties to address not only the health care system at the bottom of the cliff but put sufficient preventative fences at the top.

[1] ABS - http://tinyurl.com/j2996mx 

[2] The Age - http://tinyurl.com/h7v2vzp

June 21
National YMCA CEO for the Day, Lachlan Headlam writes....

​Last week I got the opportunity to be YMCA Australia's CEO for the day. I am proud to say that I am a Global Change Agent from YMCA. I have experienced and learnt more in the last year than I could have previously imagined possible. From the opportunities YMCA has given me they have really showed me they believe in me, they care about me, want to actively listen to myself and other young people and this has given me a much greater belief in myself the belief that I can do anything.

Why we all need to be citizens of the world
I am a white tall male living in an economically and resource rich country. There are so many people in Australia and the world that don't have half as many opportunities as me, for no good reason. But as citizens of the world and YMCA we have the responsibility to continue to actively listen, act and be the change. Having a young person as national CEO for the day represents what giving a voice is all about.

The Changing World
The world is in a rapid period of change, for instance the global population, according to statistics, has doubled since the 1970's (think of the implications to the environment, economy…). Some people choose to ignore this change and some choose to be involved in shaping this future to something that is peaceful, sustainable and a place that gives every single person the opportunity to enjoy life, believe in themselves and reach for the stars in all aspects of their lives. This is something that I believe more and more young people want and need to be involved in at all levels of the YMCA and the world to be agents of change and global citizens.

While being CEO for the day
The global theme for the day was to give a voice. I really felt I had the responsibility to actively listen to all the voices loud and soft from far and wide. I heard from young passionate YMCA staff and volunteers who are enthused and excited about making positive change. The young YMCA Australia staff for the day where divided up into two groups:
1. Youth voice
2. The true cost procurement

Key messages from the Young YMCA Australia team
1. "Young people are the YMCA. We value you and want to hear your voice because you matter" - Youth Voice Team at Melbourne National office YMCA Australia.
2. "We can build rapport with young people through offering personal development and guidance. Young people look to us for leadership, skills and encouragement. The youth in our community need empowerment and we need to be their voice".
- Youth Voice Top End.

Key messages from the Procurement team
It is important we all strive to be environmentally friendly as we are currently behind the eight ball. A key area to begin telling the story and creating change is by using recycled paper within the YMCA. "We only use 20% recycled paper" the YMCA Australia Procurement Manager, Nyrie, told the group and "we use a lot of paper". Think about the true cost of your purchase because every purchase has an impact on more than just your wallet. So, three things everyone can do now:
1.   Think about the impact of your purchase before you buy
2.   Actively listen and work together with trust, believe in young people as one person's has the potential to change the world.

I encourage you to take a stand and be an active global citizen. We are shaped by our circumstances, experiences and the people around us. Life is an unfair game for so many but together let's make sure everyone is given a chance to reach there full potential and we have a prospering planet to live on.

February 25
Food Politics

​Published by Stephen Bendle

It has been a really interesting week to consider the influence and opportunities available to advocates for healthy food and drink in Australia. 

I went to a seminar held by Professor Marion Nestle (@marionnestle) at Melbourne University last week which had the title of Soda Politics: Food and Health Advocacy in Action.  Food politics is her specialty and the influence of the food and beverage industry is astounding.  She gave the example of the soft drink industry spending an estimated $200 million opposing the so-called "Soda tax" in San Francisco and Berkeley last year.  She also discussed the dilemma of Coca-Cola investing an estimated $29 billion in sub-Saharan Africa in bottling plants and distribution centres.  The job opportunities and infrastructure is balanced against the undoubted impact that an explosion of soft drink will have in the population.

The other issue that has been raised in the last little while is the influence of the food industry on research and professional organisations.  Last year the Global Energy Balance Network was uncovered as a front for Coca-Cola. Fairfax newspapers have recently published some scathing articles on the nondisclosure of beverage funded research in Australia and our own Dietitians Association of Australia has recently come in for some significant criticism for being so closely associated with the food and beverage industry.

Finally the issue of sugar tax has emerged again with South Africa being the latest to implement a tax on sugar sweetened beverages in line with taxes on alcohol and tobacco.  This follows a number of countries who have introduced similar taxes and strong recommendations from England's National Health Service.  Here in Australia the Rethink Sugary Drinks campaign, of which the YMCA is a supporter, is calling upon our government to investigate tax options to increase the price of sugar-sweetened beverages relative to healthier options to change purchasing habits and achieve healthier diets

So why is the role of food and drink advocacy so important? Well if not us then who?

The Huffington Post Australia have just published a series of articles on the impact of obesity in Australia. The numbers are staggering and somewhat overwhelming. We cannot rely on individual behaviour change. The food and beverage industry have many more resources than the preventive health industry. Their marketing, advertising, product development and pricing are no match for our individual programs.

We have to change the system. Advocates like the Obesity Policy Coalition are keeping the industry honest using the regulations that we have – weak as they may be.

However the rest of us need to have our voices heard. Stand up and speak out. Share, talk, comment, like, post, tweet, ask, inquire.

Food politics and food advocacy can make a difference to the environment that our children and young people will grow up in and all of our leaders in the YMCA have an opportunity to stand up for the health and wellbeing of children and young people.

February 17
Why the YMCA Swimathon matters to me – and to many others

The power of swimming and water safety should never be underestimated.  It can be many things to many people from different walks of life and of all abilities.  In a land surrounded by water, the one thing it is to every Australian is a vital life skill.

Many of us take the swimming lessons we received as children for granted. But now older and hopefully wiser, we can stop and think about the barriers people with disabilities face when seeking to learn how to swim.

First of all let's discuss access. For people with a physical disability, the centre must be equipped with disability access. This includes the carpark, the path from the entrance to the pool, access in the pool and access in the change rooms.

Pool Hoist$15,000
Mobile Lifter$3,000
Water Wheelchair$2,000


There are many types of disabilities including physical, intellectual, sensory or neurological which play a huge part in finding a teacher appropriate qualified and able to teach a student with a specific disability.  The type of disability and whether the class is group or private significantly, can impact cost.

Teacher Qualification Equipment Cost to participate in classPrivate lesson
Access & Inclusion Qualification $225.00Neck floatation collar $50$884 per year$1,000 per year
 Float suit $500  


These are just some of the additional costs involved in teaching a person with a disability to learn to swim, which are often in addition to costs borne by families at home, at school and for other day to day necessities.

At the YMCA, we strive everyday to ensure our facilities are accessible to everyone and every person who comes through our doors.  We are working hard to increase the number of our swim teachers who are qualified to teach people with a disability learn to swim or be safe in the water, but as a not-for-profit, we need community support to enable this.

This is one of the reasons why we hold our national fundraising event the YMCA Swimathon on February 28th  in 60 pools across Australia! We aim to raise $400,000 so we can further reduce the barriers to access - whether it's to ensure our centres are more accessible, to upskill our instructors or to support those experiencing financial hardship due to their disability.

See this inspiring story in The Age about how one YMCA is able to support more deaf and hearing impaired children to learn to swim, with funds raised through the YMCA Swimathon.

We are asking for your help. Please visit www.ymcaswimathon.org.au and sign up to swim or make a donation, either a one-off or why not consider donating to one of our extraordinary ambassadors?

February 02
Ending Childhood Obesity

The WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) has delivered its final report on this global health issue. It provides a sobering reminder that childhood obesity is reaching alarming proportions in many countries and poses an urgent and serious challenge.

There are now 41 million overweight or obese children in the world. The fastest growing areas are in low and middle income countries and especially in Africa.

The Report shows that obesity can affect a child’s immediate health, educational attainment and quality of life. Children with obesity are very likely to remain obese as adults and are at risk of chronic illness.

We have long known that our modern society has created an obesogenic environment that encourages weight gain and obesity. Energy imbalance has resulted from the changes in food type, availability, affordability and marketing, as well as a decline in physical activity, with more time being spent on screen-based and sedentary leisure activities.

The Report is clear that no single intervention can halt the rise of the growing obesity epidemic. Addressing childhood and adolescent obesity requires consideration of the environmental context and of three critical time periods in the life-course: preconception and pregnancy; infancy and early childhood; and older childhood and adolescence.

The Report focuses on recommendations in the 6 key areas shown in the graphic. There are 36 associated recommended actions in the Report.

The Report concludes that there is an urgent need to act now to improve the health of this generation and the next.

The Implications for the YMCA in Australia

  • Our role can be significant considering the interactions we have with so many children in so many different settings.
  • In each of these settings and each planned interaction with children we should address any of the recommended action areas that we can.
  • YMCAs should continue to consider the obesogenic environment that children live, play and learn. We should endeavour to influence that environment in any way that we can
  • YMCAs should make every effort to ensure that our environments do not contribute to this obesogenic environment
  • We should consider ways that we can assist in the treatment of obese children
  • We should consider our role in the life course, especially preconception and pregnancy; infancy and early childhood; and older childhood and adolescence
  • We should strengthen our advocacy efforts in this area
  • We should continue to partner with other agencies in the advocacy for a national Physical Activity Action Plan
  • The importance of sugar sweetened beverages in childhood obesity has been reinforced and we should continue our advocacy efforts as part of the Rethink Sugary Drinks partnership and among other things call for the government to investigate a tax on soft drinks and to limit the advertising of junk food to children
January 27
You don’t have to be a bystander

Many of you know that YMCA Victoria has been implementing a unique, ground-breaking project promoting gender equity and respect in their workplace since 2012.  YMCA Australia was fortunate to promote this on a national basis when they employed Scott Holmes in 2015.

The impact of this project on individuals became evident again to me last week when a young female staff member at the Y Australia office. Michelle shared this story with me.

Michelle was recently out enjoying herself at one of Melbourne's popular entertainment precincts when she was walking along the street and came across an arguing couple.  She described the situation as verging on violent with loud threats and abuse being made towards the female.

Michelle said that in the past she would have probably crossed the street and hurried on, eager to avoid the situation, as she would be scared to get involved with an angry male.  She described how she had gone through the staff training conducted by Scott last year in which the role of bystanders was discussed.  Realising that everyone has a role in preventing violence against women, Michelle took the bold step forward and interrupted the barrage of verbal abuse with a strong and loud exclamation - "Excuse me, don't talk to her like that!"

To Michelle's surprise, and relief, almost immediately a number of other people including the guy's friends reacted to Michelle's circuit breaker and intervened.  He was bundled into a taxi and sent on his way and the young lady was comforted by friends.

I reflected on Michelle's story over the Australia Day holiday where I was heartened and proud that we are able to celebrate the actions of another significant Australian in David Morrison as the 2016 Australian of the Year.  This following from the extraordinary impact that Rosie Batty has had over the last 12 months.

Morrison's landmark speech culminating in the seminal statement "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept" can be no better demonstrated than with Michelle's actions.

Well done Michelle.

More Information on the impact of bystanders


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