At the colourful Rotary Institute in Jaipur, India’s Pink City, Institute Chair and PDG Ashok Gupta and RI Director Manoj Desai had on offer a complete treat for the senses … of sight, taste, hearing, touch and smell. Petals from fresh and fragrant flowers decoratively lined up the corridors of the venues at which different events were organised, beginning with the glamorous and historic City Palace. Whether folk dances or fashion shows, folk music and peppy Bollywood numbers that had Rotary leaders led by RI President K R Ravindran, General Secretary John Hewko, and Desai, burning the floor with some innovative moves, the 900-plus delegates must have returned home thoroughly entertained. Not to mention the two huge pink bags filled with goodies … “gifts galore,” as put by incoming TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee.
But when a pinch of grace is added to generosity, you get a surprise little edible gift delivered every evening to your room… pista-elaichi til papdi, Gujarati Khakras and Ghevar, the Rajasthani sweet delicacy.
Add to this senior RI leaders led by President K R Ravindran brought to the Institute venue, the Birla auditorium, in a vintage car rally, and a golf tournament between a local team and RI President’s team, followed by two enchanting evenings in seductively lit up palaces with the finest of traditional Rajasthani and Gujarati food, and you get a complete picture of the spectacle.
But lest you think it was all colour, finery and fluff, or “sound and fury signifying nothing,” let’s come to the innovative ideas and serious and solid business that was conducted at the Jaipur Institute.
My Voice My Vote
One of the most notable of these was the My Voice My Vote initiative, specially conceived by Desai “to keep a close watch on the changing trends and find out first hand what our Rotarians and their leaders in the Districts want.” Through electronic voting metres specially acquired from Mumbai, 272 participating PDGs voted on burning questions and tricky issues exercising the Rotary world in India.
These pertained to the DGN Pilot, election complaints, attendance requirements, innovations and above all membership, and how to attract young members or Gen-next.
Later Desai said, “In an era, when a smart phone lasts only for six months or so, and things get outdated so fast, we cannot continue with age-old practices and have to keep track of changing trends and innovate accordingly.”
He has promised the participants that their views will be taken seriously and if they want changes which are for the good of Rotary, “they will be carried out during my term as RID. That is my promise to you.”
Addressing the inaugural session, he said 900-plus registrations showed the tremendous faith Rotarians had placed “in Ashok (Gupta) and his team.”
At the last Institute held in Jaipur, which was in 1995, exactly 20 years ago, “I was sitting as a rookie on the last row, and the Convenor then was Kalyanda. So I thought let’s go back to Jaipur.” Of course another strong reason was Gupta, who is the Vice Chancellor of the IIS University, and is known for his tremendous organisational capabilities.
The RI Director said that his strategic planning and Vision 20:20 seminars in districts where he held “troika meetings” (with the DG, DGE and DGN), had been “highly successful.” Earlier that morning, after the Vision 20:20 session, votes were taken on 5 core values and the number one selected was service, followed by integrity.
Report card on membership, TRF, WinS
“You also voted for projects over politics,” and agreed that strategic planning will definitely give India a better public image. Already, over 3,800 new members had been added, and this amounted to a fourth of the world figures on new members till date. He congratulated PDGs Vijay Jalan, Basker, Bharat Pandya and the membership team and the present DGs for this feat.
On the Foundation front, India stood at the fourth place and all attempts should be made for the third slot, Desai said. “In annual giving, we are on par with last year, but on polio we have given more this year till now.” He patted the RRFCs and the DGs for creating a new milestone this year — 14 Arch Klumph Society members, and 308 major donors.
On public image, he said Rotary was now capturing the minds and hearts of the community through “innovative ideas and fantastic projects.” District 3140 DG Subhash Kulkarni had entered into an agreement with the Indian Railways for cleaning up Mumbai’s platforms. District 3131, had built over 1,000 toilets blocks under WinS in 6 months, “and have signed an agreement with the zilla parishads to build 10,000 toilet blocks.”
Dare, Care and Share
Desai said keeping in mind Rotary’s profile in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, he had chosen the theme of this Institute as Dare, Care and Share. “We all reach out where no one else dares to go and make a difference in people’s lives. There are phenomenal examples, as you saw in the 90-second videos presented.”
The videos presented included post-earthquake relief and rehabilitation in Gujarat; tackling post-Tsunami challenges in Sri Lanka; building schools after floods in Uttarakhand, and more recently, building homes and schools in Nepal after the earthquake.
For the next three days, 19 video clips titled KISS (Keep it short and simple), and each only 90 seconds, were screened, a couple before the beginning of each session. Those earning accolades included WinS by District 3262, Malawi Medical Mission by D 3080, TB Bhagao by D 3140, and Happy Schools by D 3261.
Thumbs up for the organiser
If the majority of the 900-odd delegates at the Jaipur Institute were overwhelmed by not only the colour and sparkle of the Jaipur Institute, but also its meticulous planning and execution, the credit goes to Institute Chairman Ashok Gupta.
So how did he swing this mega event so beautifully?
“The moment I was asked by Manoj Desai, when he was RID-elect, I started planning with a group of friends who have creative ideas. Desai came to Jaipur many times and we had many committee meetings, but ultimately the local Rotarians worked very hard,” he says.
But as was amply evident, Gupta admits that the biggest support base and strength “that led to the successful culmination of this event were my colleagues and students at the IIS University (of which he is the Vice Chancellor.” None of the programmes, including the fashion show or colourful cultural events, were presented by professionals. Everything was done by our students.” Incidentally, all 5,000 of his students are Rotaractors.
College buses — 27 of them — were pressed into service to transport the delegates, but what stood out was the thought that went into making special wooden step-ins to facilitate the non-College age group to get in and out of the buses without too much trouble!
Problems such as vehicles not allowed right inside the city palace, where the opening night dinner was hosted along with a spectacular fashion show, were sorted out thanks to Princess Diya Kumari being Gupta’s close friend. What came in for special mention all the time was the delicious food … its quality and sheer variety. While the focus was naturally on Rajasthani and Gujarati food, “we made sure that even South Indian and other food items were included so that everybody felt they had something from their region,” said Gupta.
Looking at his relaxed body language — Gupta was rarely seen rushing anywhere or agitated — nobody would have guessed he had been sleeping barely 4-5 hours every night. When I point it out, he grins: “I was relaxed because I had delegated responsibilities to various teams; I gave them a rough idea but said you have total freedom to do it the way you want … only give everything a personalised touch.”
Many delegates heaved a sigh of relief that instead of the same old video introductions of Rotary leaders who really don’t need introductions, they were treated to these crisply made visual delights.
Providing a bird’s eye view of recent Rotary initiatives in India, Desai said Rotary has wholeheartedly joined the Swachh Bharat initiative and committed to the Government to build 10,000 toilet blocks in the first year. “We’ve also committed to HRD Minister Smriti Irani to send 1 lakh children back to schools. Chairmen for the three initiatives — Trustee Sushil Gupta for WinS; PRID Shekhar Mehta for Literacy and PRID Yash Pal Das for the Uttarakhand schools — had to be applauded for their leadership and passion, he added.
Of course, Rotary in India couldn’t have managed all this and more without the “wisdom and guidance of our two PRIPs Rajendra K Saboo and Kalyan Banerjee. I salute them for inspiring us in different ways of caring, and assure them that Rotary’s Rapid Response will be started this year.”
Rotarians believed in sharing what they had and had taken the initiative to partner with Corporates to use effectively their CSR funds. A few examples were TCS pitching in Rs 2 crore for several initiatives in District 3131; the Bajaj Group donating money for WinS; a meaningful literacy partnership with Magsaysay awardee Shanta Sinha.
Rotary has already begun a new initiative called ‘preferred partners,’ he said, adding, “under Ravindran’s leadership we have done a lot and everyone will remember his as the year of change, courage and conviction.”
Rotary in India unique
Addressing the inaugural session Ravindran thanked the organisers and participants for making him feel at home; “coming to India is anyway half home for me.” But more important, “there is nowhere in the world where Rotary happens the way it does here, and where senior Rotary leaders play such a critical role in the Rotary projects.”
While under Banerjee and PRID Mehta’s leadership, 60,000 adults had been made literate and 25,000 children are going back to school; PRID Das had himself made numerous trips to Uttarakhand where 25 schools had been completed. While Trustee Gupta led the WinS initiative from the front, PRIP Saboo, “who should have retired 25 years ago, and his good lady (Usha Saboo), go to the most desolate places in the world” for their medical camps. What stumped him was how on earth they managed food in African countries “being such staunch vegetarians.”
“But this is what makes our region so rich, so good. Most of us have spent our time in hotels and airplanes, our diary is not set by geography or convenience, we simply go where Rotary needs us and where we can do our best,” he added.
Pictures by K Vishwanathan