We have no tolerance for racism. Promoting respect, celebrating diversity, demanding ethical leadership, and working tirelessly to advance peace are the central tenets of our work. Educate Rotary clubs to have a fair balance in membership. Look out for minority groups who are not represented. Remember, Rotarians are not speechless and we must raise our voice against racism of any kind,” said RI President Holger Knaack to a question on how Rotary would tackle systemic racism.
He, along with TRF Trustee Chair K R Ravindran, shared their priorities and plans with the current year district governors and club presidents in a breakout session moderated by RID Stephanie Urchick at the Rotary virtual convention.
Greeting the incoming leaders Knaack said, “Each of our roles carry a lot of responsibility and none of us can achieve success without working together as a team. We are all volunteers and leading volunteers is a challenge.” He urged the club presidents to involve Rotaractors in their programmes and suggested to the district governors to appoint them in district committees. The key component of every plan must be to grow Rotary. “We need more representation of women, minorities and young professionals. Look for people with real business ethics. But select your members carefully and only those who are the right fit to your club. You are choosing friends for life,” he said.
Each of our roles carry a lot of responsibility and none of us can achieve success without working together as a team.
— Holger Knaack
Replying to a question on the challenges ahead for Rotary during the pandemic, Knaack stressed the need to retain existing members and keep their interest alive. “We are in danger of losing relevance if we are not attractive for young professionals, Rotaractors and women. Even during this pandemic, we should not see any significant drop in membership,” he said.
On the TRF front
Trustee Chair Ravindran, in his address said, “It is not going to be business as usual. We are bound to face challenges on two fronts for the Foundation. First, in our ability to raise funds and second, to carry out our projects worldwide. Because of Covid-19, we have hit the pause button for polio as it has become impossible for our polio workers to do house-to-house immunisation. We did this knowing fully well it might lead to an increase in polio cases. But if we continued it would expose our volunteers to coronavirus.”
Polio surveillance will continue while also supporting Covid surveillance, he said. The polio infrastructure that Rotary has helped build is being used to prevent Covid by supporting preparedness and response activities in many countries just like how Rotary responded to outbreaks of Ebola, yellow fever and avian flu in the past.
Moving on he said, “We can definitely expand our reach. We are masters of distribution of vaccines. Very soon, there will be a vaccine for Covid. I think we are perfectly well-placed for the UN and WHO to take advantage of our expertise and use Rotary’s network to get these vaccines out especially to the African and South Asian countries.”
Commenting on the Trustees’ decision to stop matching cash for grants, Ravindran explained, “The global grant (GG) programme, the flagship programme of our Foundation, has been an enormous success. In 2013–14, when GGs were introduced, TRF had awarded 868 of them worth $47.3 million. By 2018–19, this number had risen to 1,403 grants worth $86.6 million.” But while this demand shot up by 80 per cent, the corresponding Annual Fund contributions showed only a 7 per cent increase.
This unpredicted growth in the demand for grants has resulted in “a big strain on providing a match. And therein lies our fundamental problem,” he said, adding, “Last year, we fully expended our World Fund budget for global grants by mid-May 2020. We then realised we had become victims of our own success.”
This year, unfortunately, TRF had almost $12 million less in its World Fund for GGs; 25 per cent less compared to Rotary year 2020. This was not related to Covid; and resulted from the Annual Fund contribution decreasing significantly two years ago. Given this $12 million shortfall, the Trustees have initiated a new policy that has “eliminated the match, on cash contributions to global grants. Of course we knew it was going to hurt; but we had little choice. The shortfall in cash was going to have repercussions somewhere, and the question was where,” said Ravindran.
In this situation, the alternatives were reducing the percentage of DDF match on GGs; reducing the DDF match on PolioPlus (which in turn gets doubled by the Gates Foundation; reducing the grants to the peace centres, a favourite in the US; or eliminating the $2 million grant on large scale projects).
“Having examined, discussed and debated all these options, we decided on the one we pursued, as the consequences on the alternatives appeared even more dismal,” he said.
Big West Rotaract MDIO Director Joey Vaesan urged Rotary club leaders to reach out to Rotaract presidents, invite them over to their club and build a relationship with them. Rotary and Rotaract should work together from the inception of a project, planning and execution, he said.