Don’t water the weeds: President Jones’ advice to incoming leaders

Vinita and RI Director A S Venkatesh greet RI President Jennifer Jones and her spouse DGN Dr Nick Krayacich at the Lakshya programme in Pune.
Vinita and RI Director A S Venkatesh greet RI President Jennifer Jones and her spouse DGN Dr Nick Krayacich at the Lakshya programme in Pune.

RI President Jennifer Jones’ invaluable advice to the incoming district leaders at the goal-setting seminar Lakshya in Pune was brief and simple: “Don’t water the weeds; concentrate on
the flowers.”

Responding to a question from DGE Jayashree Mohanty, RI District 3262, on her one important advice to make their year as district chiefs memorable and impactful, Jones recalled a piece of advice she had herself received from a PDG — Don’t water the weeds. DGE Jayashree had sought her advice for the seven women DGs in her batch of 2023–24.

Said Jones: “This is the best piece of advice I have received from a past district governor, it’s not specific to women but can be a tool in your tool box. There are so many people who may get in your way during your term as leaders. People who are going to just nitpick, and bombard you with issues you really don’t need to talk about. By doing this they will try to capitalise on all of your time. But if you spend all your time focusing on watering the weeds, you take away time from the flowers, people who want to nurture or work with you. So when someone gets negative on you… you know all about… when they go low, we go high!”

More than 1,500 Peace Fellows in the world

She added: “It’s hard to do this, I’ll tell you because in my inbox I get a lot of people saying so many negative things…”

Saying how wonderful it was to meet and interact with all the governors, DGEs and DGNs in person, “I’d like to share with the DGNs that my husband Nick (Krayacich) is going to be your classmate as DG, and I look forward to travelling to Orlando in two years and spend time with your partners (at the international assembly) because I will be a part of the partner programme!”

Referring to the overall goal of $36.84 million for TRF giving for 2022–23, she said, “I know the goal you have set for your zones is huge but I know you can do it. We raise the money because we know the immense good the incredible engine, our Rotary Foundation, allows us to do through projects that touch lives.”

She next went on to explain how she has structured her tours around the globe during her presidential year, when she will travel to different parts of the world and connect with people. “Those of you who know me know that I am a storyteller and I love a good story, and it is by telling our stories that we can ensure our organisation will grow, thrive and survive. Telling the world of the good work we do is important, so that other people will want to join us.”

Total TRF goal for 2022–23: $36.84 million

To do so, she had created the Imagine Impact tour, that “touches on every single responsibility and role that all of you have focused on in the last few days here at this training event. I am doing at the international level what you do at the national, regional and local level.”

Her objective is to describe the large-scale impact of Rotary’s work in seven different areas of focus, with the eighth one being of course polio. “We are so close… by the end of 2023 we believe we will be able to stop the transmission of the wild poliovirus which will allow the declaration of our world as polio free by 2026. And that will be the time to stand up and celebrate like none other.”

Jones said it was important to get “social media and other media influencers to tell our story at the national level to those who don’t know about us.” Hence there was a media and PR aspect of the Imagine Impact tour, which will also talk about TRF and showcase the impact of the large-scale projects Rotarians do at the grassroots level.


Showcasing these would trigger the membership aspect; “I firmly believe that when we tell our stories, likeminded people will want to join us. After India, the first stop is next week in Pakistan where we meet frontline female health workers to tell the story of polio, of women who go door-to-door to gain the trust of mothers and ensure immunisation. We are going to meet these women and tell them two incredible words: ‘Thank you’. We know that these women put themselves in harm’s way every day; not an easy task.”

She would also be meeting Rotary’s partners in the global polio eradication effort, particularly from the WHO. “We know the power of ­partnerships, with WHO, UNICEF, the Gates Foundation, etc, is something that makes a big difference in the work we do; we can’t do it alone. We are going to document that story on the social media.”

The next tour will be to Zambia, where Rotary has its first programme of scale to eradicate malaria from that country. “We have put in $2 million, The Gates Foundation $2 million and World Vision another $2 million.” While this $6 million can’t eradicate malaria completely, it would go a long way in setting up a public health infrastructure, replicating what Rotary did in polio in more than 70 countries, setting up a sustainable infrastructure.

Their next tour stop will be Uganda where the very first Rotary peace centre in Africa is coming up. “We are going there to meet with peace fellows to learn about their journey, and to help tell their story. We have more than 1,500 peace fellows who now have our DNA running through them as they take on office in government and other places.” The highlight of that tour will be following one of the peace fellows to a refugee camp where he has set up a Rotaract club.

RI Board had set a clear goal — 30 per cent of female leadership by 2023

She will also visit the South Pacific islands to talk about maternal and child health and the immunisation of children there. In a huge immunisation drive, Rotarians from Australia and New ­Zealand are immunising 100,000 children there against several diseases. “This is thinking big and to celebrate their 100th year in Rotary. We are going to Guatemala to focus on basic education; there is a wonderful programme there supported by 600 Rotary clubs to raise awareness on the education of young girls and boys as well. This is critically important in that country because of the very dangerous migration path that happens into the US.” Educating them will encourage such youngsters to stay in their own country. “For the girls it means a chance not to become child brides, and not get pregnant at an early age, and for both boys and girls this education might lead to entrepreneurship so that they can start their own businesses or be employed somewhere else.”

She will also visit Haiti where a group of Rotarians have said they will provide clean water to every man, woman and child there. This would take over a decade and over a billion dollars, but the first pilot ­programmes have been set up. “We want to see that project because it has the potential to work and if it works there, it will work in other places as well.” The idea of doing large-scale sustainable projects was to examine the possibility of replicating them in other parts of the world, Jones added.

In the South Pacific islands in a huge drive, Rotarians from Australia and New Zealand are immunising 100,000 children

The last part of her tour will be in Mexico and is related to the environment by focusing on the breeding of bees and butterflies by setting up rooftop gardens. “We are people of action, purpose and influence. Every single one of you in this room can open doors to service, membership and raising funds, to make a difference. On your graduation day I thank you. Rotary brings in leaders and makes them even better leaders after training sessions like this one.”

Jones was next asked a question on the upper age limit for Rotaractors and the apprehension that lower dues would come in the way of their joining a Rotary club where the dues are much higher. She explained the great importance she was giving to Rotaractors with a “very special emphasis on positions of leadership”, such as a seat on international committees, including the convention committee, “one of the most coveted of all our committees”, and sending them as the president’s representatives to district conferences. “We know that they have the ability to ignite and inspire us as much as anybody else.”

Yes, the upper age limit for Rotaract has been eliminated, and while she understood the concern about their conversion to Rotary from Rotaract, “it will be interesting to know after the introduction of annual dues for Rotaract, whether they stay or leave. We do know that the conversion rate from Rotaract to Rotary is now only five per cent. It’s impossible in my mind to understand how it can be so low.” But then there were many issues faced by youngsters who were starting a family, building a career, etc.

From L: RID Venkatesh, PDG ISAK Nazar, RI President Jones, RID Mahesh Kotbagi and Lakshya chairman PDG Ashish Ajmera.
From L: RID Venkatesh, PDG ISAK Nazar, RI President Jones, RID Mahesh Kotbagi and Lakshya chairman PDG Ashish Ajmera.

The main idea was to retain Rotaractors within the Rotary family; and eventually “when a Rotaract club becomes a Rotary club, wouldn’t it be a victory? Hopefully they will become Rotarians one day,” but meanwhile even if they remain in Rotaract, “it gives us an opportunity to keep them closer and give them a meaningful experience. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out.”

She reiterated her resolve to keep the spotlight on the empowerment of girls, the programme initiated by outgoing president Shekhar Mehta, and said that every single part of the world had different kinds of challenges when it came to gender equity. But one thing was certain; “empowered girls became empowered women!”

As for the ways and means to attract more women into Rotary, Jones said that most Rotarians were business professionals, and if “in your own company, if you had an underperforming market share, what would you do? Evolve a strategy to fix it. We too have an underperforming market share, in that despite 50 per cent of the world’s population being women, with many of them being quality business professionals, we have not managed to tap them. So we will have to think how to target that group.”

In Guatemala 600 Rotary clubs are focusing on basic education of girls and boys to prevent dangerous migration to the US

The RI Board had set a clear goal… “to have 30 per cent of female leadership by 2023 at the highest level in our organisation. We have to put a goal in order to achieve it. And then take required steps to make it happen… how many women are there on the board of directors, trustees, how many do we select as training leaders or district governors, and so on. We are keeping a pulse on these numbers to see where the trend is going. I know this year, in your region there is one woman governor, but next year there are going to be seven. Isn’t that wonderful? But we need to make sure they are qualified and talented and this is an incredible talented group of seven women that you have here.”

Addressing the incoming district governors, RI director A S Venkatesh urged them to set their goals. “See and decide for yourself where you would like to be after one year. A lot of planning has been done at this training event; now go ahead and achieve your goals.”

RI director Mahesh Kotbagi added to the assembled leaders in the hall, “Our region is rising in Rotary at a great pace and we have a membership of 150,000-plus. That shows all of you are performers.”

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat


In last 10 years 1.2 million joined Rotary… and left

RI President Jennifer Jones acknowledged and appreciated the Indian region for being, along with many African countries, the fastest growing region in the world of Rotary, but then people are also leaving equally fast.

One startling piece of statistic all Rotarians needed to keep in their tool kit was that in the last 10 years, 1.2 million members have joined Rotary. “That means that 1.2 million people have also left. What this shows us is that people do want to come into Rotary but the problem is that they join but they don’t stay. So what is our call of action? We need to be better with how we deal with our members. And more focused on their comfort and care. When someone joins our organisation, we need to ask them what they want and then deliver on that promise. Whether it is service, fellowship, events; that’s how we will grow. If you want responsible members, you need to give them responsibility. Keeping them engaged is critical.”

DGs set a TRF goal of $36.84 million

At the concluding event of the goal- setting seminar Lakshya in Pune presided over by RI President Jennifer Jones, TRF trustee Bharat Pandya announced that the DGs for 2022–23
had set the overall total target for TRF giving at $36.84 million.

Of this, the goal for Annual Fund has been set at $10.88 million; Polio Fund $2.02 million; and Endowment Fund is $4.87 million.

Incidentally $36.84 million, if achieved, would be the highest ever amount raised for TRF by India and Nepal.

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