At the closing session of the Houston Convention, outgoing RI President Shekhar Mehta spelt out the many dreams that he has for Rotary. Encouraging all Rotarians to “dream big” and then work towards realising those dreams, he said his biggest dream was that he wants to see “this great organisation always mentioned among the top 10 in the world. We know how great Rotary is and are so proud of it. We have a 117-year-old history with a footprint in even more countries than the United Nations. We’ve taken on a major task of eradicating a disease when only once in the history of mankind has a virus (smallpox) been wiped out.”
But yet, “despite all our great work and accomplishments, when you google the world’s top 10 service organisations, Rotary doesn’t throw up at the top. Neither does it come to the top when we search by membership, programme outlay or impact.” His dream was that with its “outstanding experience in public health programmes, Rotary should be invited to the top development sectors for advice, get constantly consulted by the WHO or invited by the UN for advice. We should be invited to speak at the World Economic Forum, and asked by governments in different countries to work with them.”
But to achieve all this, “it is important that we revalue our organisation completely. Today the only measure we have of our revenue, outlay or input is all that is available through the Rotary Foundation.” But that was only part of the complete story, Mehta said, giving the example of India, which received the highest amount — $20 million — as TRF grants. “But is that the full value of the work done by Rotarians in India? No, the real value is at least 10 times greater. But because most of that spending happens at the club level, we do not know the real worth of our work,” he said.
Giving examples, he asked: “How many hospitals and schools have we built and managed? How many heart surgeries have we funded? How many people could access health service because of us? How many thousands of borewells have we sunk across the world and how much money did we spend for projects during the Covid pandemic? We have neither the numbers nor the value.”
Because of lack of data, we are underselling the true worth and impact of our oganisation. My dream is for Rotary’s true value, which is in billions and not millions of dollars, to be known to each and everyone.
The result, said Mehta, was that Rotarians did not know “the real value of the organisation itself. Because of lack of data, we are underselling the true worth and impact of our oganisation. My dream is for Rotary’s true value, which is in billions and not millions of dollars, to be known to each and everyone.” It was time that every club recorded details of the value of the work/projects it does, the hours spent, etc. That would give RI a tool to measure the real impact of Rotary.”
Give regions a federal flavour
The RI president said another dream of his for a bright future for Rotary was related to Rotary getting a “federal structure, where there is a Rotary Australia, Rotary Africa, Rotary Korea, etc, each of them having their own ethos, culture, practices, governance, etc, but all owing allegiance to RI. One size does not fit all. Rotary in Japan is different from Rotary in America and its not the same in Germany. There should be greater regionalisation of Rotary, to enhance its appeal for local Rotarians and to attract greater membership.”
An important dream of his pertained to an annual growth of two per cent in Rotary’s membership. If every Rotarian followed the ‘each one bring one’ credo introduced by him, this was possible. “This should become the philosophy of the organisation and not just a slogan. Of course, DEI (diver sity, equity, inclusion) will be all pervasive as this is one of our core values which is absolutely non-negotiable. ‘Grow more’ will help us do more. Our contributions to TRF will grow and we’ll be able to do more programmes of scale and projects worth millions of dollars impacting millions of people.”
Rotary should get a federal structure, where there is a Rotary Australia, Rotary Africa, Rotary Korea, each of them having their own ethos, culture, practices, governance, but all owing allegiance to RI. One size does not fit all.
Once these dreams were realised, governments and corporates would partner with Rotary on impactful projects. “More and more corporations are becoming socially responsible and Rotary can be their implementing partner for big projects. Just as we did in polio, we can play a role in nation-building itself. Today we are known best for eradicating polio but soon enough we should be known in Zambia for eradicating malaria, in Haiti for the water projects that we do and for literacy in India.”
The RI president added that the one project started this year that has caught the imagination of Rotarians everywhere is that of empowering girls. “Every place Rashi and I visited, this project was showcased to us and this can be implemented in each of Rotary’s areas of focus, and provides us the potential to do large-scale projects. Different presidents and prime ministers have hailed this initiative and now it’s time to take it forward. Women and girls are half the humanity and should have half the opportunities.”
Mehta signed off his year as president by adding: “These are no ordinary dreams. They will shape the future of our organisation. I am so happy that the board of directors this year spent a lot of time in discussing these transformative issues and we have started moving the needle.”