The President’s Annual Report    |   2019 was a year of extraordinary change and challenge, as we continue to adapt to changing circumstances, programme outlooks, and the test of managed growth. 

15 December 2019

Friends, volunteers, supporters, and partners:

What an extraordinary year of change. The IAYG Family – our family of projects and programmes – has continued to expand, consolidate, and strengthen. Most importantly, we’ve stayed true to the basic values we set when we began as a new organization helping young people learn more about the world. For all we have done and are doing, we remain a network of volunteers, teachers, and students, a community of changemakers, and a foundation for projects and programs: small but meaningful beginnings to a better world.

This is a time of enormous and exciting transitions. Some of our programs are growing, some are downsizing, and many are being redesigned as we look to long-term sustainability. I’ve particularly enjoyed leading our Clubs for Peace and Geography Challenge programs over the last year. For Clubs for Peace, we inaugurated focus workshops on gender equality and combatting gender-based violence in April this year, and I am keen to see the program launch in West and South Asia next year. And I could not be more excited about upcoming Geography Challenges that we’ve been hard at work building – notably our Geography Challenge at Allahabad in April, the fruit of the partnership we began two years ago with the leadership of the Institute of Indian Geographers and the inimitably dedicated Dr. Harikesh Misra.

This year, we have been focused on managing the explosive growth of the last few years. It has not always been a smooth road. Our most important goal is working towards programme sustainability, a priority underscored by developments this year. Some of our international partnerships, for example, have been tested by political change, shifting priorities, and weak communications infrastructure. In Sierra Leone, repeated lapses in communications with the Ministry of Youth Affairs have led us to suspend our support for the National Youth Service Scheme. And we have temporarily taken sole leadership of the Global Initiative for Youth Service to re-assess the direction of the Initiative and the IAYG Family’s programme planning for youth service. In this sector, we are constantly adapting to changes in capacity and priorities, as we do our best to manage our growth. I’m proud of this team’s flexibility.

The IAYG Family is, and will forever be, a work in progress. And the wide challenges we continue to address remind us of the task set out for us in 2020 – strengthening our ground presence, improving accountability, and fortifying communications. 

First, while students and educators register for and participate in online programmes from all over the world, we have not matched the scale of interest with physical organizing presences on the ground – as a result, while we’ve reached out to people remotely, we have not come close to the potential of our reach and impact. Our volunteer and program bases are not nearly as geographically spread as the interest in IAYG programmes. I am committing to a worldwide call for volunteers and ground-level organizing plan to get the IAYG Family in more parts of the world. Up to this point, our strongest organizing presence has been concentrated in Africa. We want to replicate that model in other parts of the Developing World.

Second, I look forward to working with our coordinators and volunteers this year to improve programme reporting and get a better idea of where needs are and are not being met. As a decentralized family of projects and programmes, reporting on people and communities reached has always been challenging, often limited to rough estimates. My focus in 2020 will be to align best practices across the board. There are ways that technology can help. For example, in our November/December 2019 human rights education workshops – one of my favourite programmes this year – we created an online form where student attendees can share how they’ve been empowered at the end of the event, another way to improve estimates for the number of students who benefit from our programmes. At the same time, this is a less potent solution for most of our work that occurs in the Developing World, and I will be listening across our networks to examine, innovate, and test new solutions.

And finally, we will strengthen our communications programme. There is a lot of work to do. For one, we need a better communications framework for our partners: as the scope of our focuses have expanded, our ability to manage international partnerships has come under substantial strain. We thank the organizations we’ve worked with for their patience as we improve, and I look forward to more accountable and consistent relationships in 2020. We are laser-focused on improving our outreach platforms. In the IAYG Family, our projects and programmes have always been strongly impact-focused: but in dedicating energy principally towards programme development and expansion, we have neglected critical factors like social media outreach and quality outreach with local media. Both will be among my major focuses this year.

In the meantime, many of you are reading this letter on the new IAYG Family website. Although our internal digital communications have been widely upgraded in the last two years, website design remains a point of highest concern. Still too many programs cannot be reached or registered online, and there is significant work to be done digitizing access. In early 2019, our Web Development team attempted to address these gaps by launching a draft, content-light overview website at iaygfamily.org, but messaging materials used were often unaligned with our outside messaging and confusing for users. The new website is a much more helpful guide. I especially applaud Rishi Gorrepati and everyone who has made this possible. We will be hard at work building on that progress this year.

I remind myself every day that we are still a young organization – a small and budding approach to vast, global inequities and challenges, in a world of young people we have yet to reach. We start 2020 with much on our plate. But I am confident we will rise to meet these challenges – challenges common to many impact and growth-focused organizations. And more than ever before, I am confident in our commitment to break barriers and work as a different kind of organization.

The IAYG Family will always be a grassroots organization. It is fundamental to our values – that globally connected communities of young people require international cooperation, but local leadership, and program ideas should start from communities themselves. The cause of supporting young people is uniquely rooted in each community, and best led by citizens and volunteers – people with an innate and inalienable connection to the places they serve. And as a family built to support young people, we will always back the leadership and capacity of young people in our organization.

Perhaps this grassroots, bottom-up commitment stands out in a sector known for big bureaucracies, glitzy ad campaigns, and quasi-governmental work. But I am not just confident that our relationship with communities is the right one, but that we will continue to succeed. I know that because every day, I see the work of our incredible volunteers: everyone from university students in our university branches – like the Geographic Society of the University of the Philippines, with whom we are excited to work to launch another Philippine Geography Olympiad this February – to public figures like best-selling author and Jeopardy! star Ken Jennings, who has graciously continued to contribute questions for our popular web feature.

I cannot ever take credit for their commitment, ingenuity, and humanitarian leadership. But we all owe it to them, and to the communities we reach, to do everything to lead, support, and guide their work.

I believe in the IAYG Family because I believe in you. As we begin a new decade, reminded of the challenges ahead, the opportunity to lead this family remains the honour of my life. Thank you for your confidence.