This is my first day back from the International Youth Hostel Federation biennial conference, held this year in Slovenia. It was both inspiring and thought-provoking.
IYHF (also known as Hostelling International) leads global hostelling. Every two years, delegates from member associations around the world (about 70 countries) meet to decide policy and elect International Board members. HI-USA is the United States affiliate. This year HI-USA was represented by Board Chair Mark Skender, Board member Eric Oetjen, and me.
One source of inspiration: we are so clearly part of a bigger cause. As the IYHF member association for the United States, it means that daily, our own staff and volunteers are working as part of a larger, global team to bring alive hostels and experiential travel. It is a source of strength and satisfaction.
And we exist for a larger purpose. That’s why IYHF is organized as a nongovernmental organization with ties to the United Nations as an affiliated agency.
With amity comes ownership of challenges sometimes different than one’s own. Thus the uncertain European economy cast a long shadow on the proceedings. Both England-based IYHF and national associations from Europe are dealing with the prospect of revenue shortfalls. Quite aside from the possibility of economic contagion, among friends no problem is quietly ignored.
The conference itself is a decidedly democratic forum. Delegations are seated by country with headsets fed by professional interpreters of Arabic, German, French and Spanish (English is the official business language). Every delegation has a voice and a vote on every decision.
The first two days focused on process, policy and elections. This was the conference to successfully wrap up a six year effort to create more organizational accountability and update governance. It’s the stuff of bylaw changes and membership agreements. International Board elections resulted in the retirement of two well-regarded members, along with the planned send off of two others (including USA’s own Gail Hesse who was term-limited after 8 years of service).
On the third day, with obligatory matters addressed, the conference blossomed. A motion by the German youth hostelling association energized the room. It was a call for the incoming IYHF Board to move forward over the next two years with a plan to reinforce organizational philosophy and values. Suddenly, dozens of hands around the conference hall affirmatively rose to be recognized. Inspiring words from delegates deeply committed to hostelling were shared. Financial concerns receded; the power of the hostelling idea was celebrated.
A highlight was remarks from IYHF president Edith Arnoult-Brill (France) who eloquently advocated for a fresh focus on mission. Five national associations were called upon to make presentations to the conference about their mission-based activities, including HI-USA and its Opening Doors, Opening Minds family of programs. IYHF has plans to support national activity with a powerful new social media-based web site and an innovative blog-driven marketing campaign.
Global progress matters, and IYHF is an important ingredient to our collective success.