Open Y: Expanding mission and impact thru digital collaboration and delivery

open-y-platform

To go fast, go alone; but to go far, go together.’ - African Proverb

We all know the world has changed. We also know the YMCA has been responding to change, innovating, and driving transformation since its founding. 

Now is no different and yet there’s a new twist—our next quantum leap needs to be digital. We are being called upon to connect with our members, participants, donors and communities in new ways. Our websites, digital platforms and virtual programs are now considered as relevant—or more so—than our physical spaces. 

Unfortunately, many of our websites and digital platforms are not ready to meet this demand. Often YMCAs have outdated and difficult to use digital experiences. Our teams and partners are isolated and disconnected. We have fragmented systems and approaches that not only create subpar customer experiences, they don’t allow us to realize economies of scale within our federated model.

Imagine: 

  • A teen acquiring job skills on her phone while riding the school bus through her city
  • A rural multi-generational family learning about digital literacy together after dinner
  • A state-of-the-art website and collaboration platform for the “Global Youth Mobilization for Generation Disrupted” Initiative 
  • And all of us, worldwide: working together, reducing our total cost of ownership, amplifying our reach, and galvanizing our digital talent 

It’s all possible, and there’s already a YMCA digital community and platform poised for this work. It’s called Open Y. Our vision combines community, digital platforms, and content to create experiences that become an integral part of people’s lives. Our team has been working with YMCAs across the U.S. and Canada to democratize digital processes and platforms, improve our ROI, and keep us relevant to our members through modern online experiences and virtual programming.  

What is Open Y? 
Open Y is a three-part solution: a philosophy, a community, and a digital experience platform. Our philosophy brings YMCAs and digital partners together to work toward innovation and sustainable impact. Our community of YMCAs and partners collaborate and support one another on mission-aligned goals. And our open source platform is the foundation for stellar online experiences that deliver on our mission.

Why does it matter to your YMCA?
Think with Google reports “The acceleration in digital adoption, especially e-commerce, is one of the most obvious and relatable trends driven by the pandemic ... Some observers are referring to it as phygital—the blurring of the lines between physical and digital.”

We’ve all experienced this acceleration both professionally and personally. We know intuitively that YMCAs would collectively benefit from:

  • sharing talent, costs and capabilities
  • collaborating to innovate and bring new ideas to market 
  • lowering our cost of doing digital
  • leveraging the strengths of our international teams

With Open Y’s focus on strategy, creative platforms, collaboration, and innovation, we’re ready to make it happen.

How did Open Y get started? 
Open Y was founded to create a better and more unified digital experience for fragmented U.S. YMCAs. Six associations were involved in the original discussions and our vision put us on a path that allows Ys to focus their time, money, and resources on serving their local communities via their websites. It was created by YMCAs, for YMCAs, on an open source marketing and content platform with many facets of two-sided marketplaces like Airbnb and Uber.

Our approach: 

  • [C] Collaboration
  • [A] Agility
  • [U] Unity
  • [S] Sharing
  • [E] Economy of Scale

Digital collaboration is paying off 
Most YMCA associations on Open Y have seen increases in "digital" traffic, revenue, and customer satisfaction ratings. There are 160 live websites that represent over 50% of the U.S. membership base. There are over 500 members of our Slack community, an extended team of Y colleagues who have become even more important in our remote work culture. New features like Google Translate and Virtual Y are being introduced with each release and are available to anyone on the platform once they upgrade. And perhaps most importantly, by working together we’ve been able to respond quickly to the changing needs of our YMCAs. 


COVID-19 virtual programming   
Responding quickly was crucial during the pandemic when the necessity to connect digitally skyrocketed. Collaboration, agility, and sharing allowed Open Y to create Virtual Y—an online content solution for live streams, on-demand videos, and virtual meetings—in less than two months, helping to ensure that YMCAs remained relevant in the new home-based reality. We know virtual delivery is not going away, and our core tenets still serve us—shared strategies, priorities, and benefits. 

Where do we go from here? 
We want to live in a world where the YMCA is completely equitable and available to everyone, regardless of their income level or where they live. Open Y can help make it possible. 

In his March 16th blog post, Carlos Sanvee, World YMCA Secretary General said “Our future will be the way we reimagine it: fair and bright.” If we want to be a global leader in wellbeing, employment, equity, and civic engagement, we need to work together. We need to work smarter not harder. Open Y is ready to join you and help transform our world. 

A culture of gratitude

  • Open Y wouldn’t exist without the innovative YMCA community and partners who have supported us financially and with ingenuity, creativity, and sweat equity. Thanks to: 
  • YMCA of the North for initiating Open Y and supporting the core team and our board
  • The 27 associations that provided seed funding  
  • Y-USA for their early and ongoing support and funding
  • The over 300 YMCAs and partners that continue to make Open Y better