Change does not begin from somewhere or somebody. It has to begin with ourself,” said RID Bharat Pandya, addressing 400 participants from across the world in a virtual meet on ‘Be the change’ organised by the Rotary International Women’s (RIW) group.
“Commitment, competence, courage and self-confidence should be your watchwords if you want to move with the change. It is better to embrace change, otherwise it will break or destroy you,” he added.
Rotary is at a crossroads now. “We are proud of the many great achievements done in the past. But much more needs to be done for a glorious tomorrow. The potential that each one of us has and the way we realise that potential, makes us successful,” he said.
Most positions in Rotary are for one year. “Are we adapting to change because of this tradition? Or are we really looking for a change?” he wondered, adding, “we have settled into a comfort zone, and complacency has set in. For long, our membership was stagnant at 1.2 million Rotarians. But in the last two years we are down to 1.18 million.” That is, even before the pandemic, the membership has declined. “Now is the time to look within ourselves and effect a change to set Rotary in the right direction.”
Pandya quoted Rotary founder Paul Harris’s words: ‘Rotary has to be evolutionary at all times and revolutionary on occasions,’ and cited instances where Rotary leaders have made revolutionary changes. “In these 115 years, from just four members in 1905 to 1.2 million now, it has always been evolutionary and relevant to communities.” Rotary was started for fellowship and networking. The aspect of service was a paradigm shift and “today our motto is ‘service above self”. This is indeed a revolutionary change.”
When Arch Klumph set up the Rotary Foundation with $50, it was a revolution at that time and now, it is one of the foremost foundations in the world. So was the drafting of the four avenues of service and the four-way test by Herbert Taylor which is the yardstick for all Rotarians to live by. The CoL, Rotary’s parliament, was a revolutionary change at that time. “Now it is time to rework the policy. Do we need to wait three years to meet at the CoL to change the rules and policies? The recent introduction of the Council of Resolutions which meets every year is a revolution in that direction,” he explained.
At least 60 per cent Rotarians are not aware of what Rotary is. We need to market Rotary to the Rotarians first. We must take pride in our organisation.
Referring to TRF grants, he said, “Can you imagine anywhere in the world where your $1 can be matched multiple times?” This concept was revolutionary at that time. And, the newest revolution of Rotary is its action plan and the new vision statement. “Rotary’s future vision programme is another excellent revolutionary programme that has taken grants to the next level. It has shown Rotarians to act locally and think globally,” he added.
District grants help to meet local needs, while global grants help to create impactful projects in communities. “So let us not limit ourselves to distributing notebooks and school uniforms. Let’s dream big. The way forward is partnerships — working with governments, semi-governments and private organisations to increase our impact.”
PolioPlus is the best example for partnership. “However much we raise our collars and say we achieved it, we have to realise that the polio success story would not be possible without the partnership of world governments, WHO, UNICEF and the Gates Foundation.” Talking about expanding Rotary’s reach, he emphasised on the ‘Grow Rotary’ initiative which was adopted by RI in 2019–20. “Rotary is not a service organisation, it is a member organisation. Our members are our customers. We have to create value for our members, such as fellowship, internationality of Rotary, pride, self-development and leadership. Only then Rotary can grow.”
Talking about attracting ‘quality members’, Pandya said, “when you point a finger at someone, remember three fingers point at you. Rotarians must make an audit of their own qualities first. Then automatically your clubs will attract quality members.” He reiterated that there should be equal opportunities for men and women members. “RI has recently set a goal that by 2023 Rotary should have 30 per cent women in leadership positions.”
Women have been discriminated against for generations. “We need to change that outlook,” he said and referred to a medical study that compared the time taken by men and women in reaching a hospital after the onset of chest pain. “For males, the average time taken is two hours, while women reach out for medical help after 22 hours. This is because women ignore their personal problems, wanting to put their family first. This change in mindset should start from you,” he said, addressing the women participants.
Change is needed in the public image of Rotary. “It is not about the public image to the outside world but to our members. At least 60 per cent Rotarians are not aware of what Rotary is. We need to market Rotary to the Rotarians first. We must take pride in our organisation. Only then we can market Rotary to outsiders.”
Signifying the relevance of Project Positive Health, Pandya suggested a shift in focus from curative to preventive healthcare. The corona pandemic has taught us two important lessons —
good health is a person’s greatest wealth and the death rate in people with comorbidities is high, he said.
To a question from a participant about Rotary’s focus after polio, he replied that until polio is totally eradicated, Rotary will not consider any other major programme. “I believe, what is actually needed after polio is regionalisation. Different regions need different focus. What is a necessity in Spain, need not be so in another country. So, Rotary should be tweaked to meet the needs of different regions.”
Denise Kilschan, an RIW member from RC Ibiza, Spain, suggested that Rotary can adopt menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) as a global project. RIW is awaiting RI’s approval for a Rotary Action Group for MHH. The RI director applauded the group’s initiative, saying, “Period poverty is as much a western issue as a developing country’s issue. More power to you.” He suggested including Project Positive Health in the RAG as “women are as much susceptible to lifestyle diseases as men.”
RIW’s founding members Vidya Srinivasan delivered the welcome address and B Dakshayani delivered a vote of thanks.