Addressing the incoming district governors at the 2023 International Assembly in Orlando, Florida, RIPE Gordon McInally called upon the members to capture the world’s attention and lead the way toward possibilities far beyond our current expectations.
McInally, a member of RC South Queensferry, Scotland, unveiled the 2023–24 presidential theme, Create Hope in the World, during the Assembly on Jan 9. He urged members to promote peace in troubled nations, help those affected by conflict and maintain the momentum of initiatives begun by past leaders. “The goal is to restore hope — to help the world heal from destructive conflicts and, in turn, help us achieve lasting change for ourselves,” he said.
He recalled meeting a woman in Ban Taling Chan, Thailand, where Rotarians helped build houses, a meeting hall, and childcare and healthcare facilities following the tsunami that devastated South Asia in late 2004. The woman had lost her family and livelihood. But she still had a gift to offer McInally: a beautiful seashell. “She told me that Rotary had restored her optimism. We gave her hope,” he said.
A significant way to bring hope to the world is to put a greater emphasis on peace, said McInally. He cited the action Rotarians have taken in the past year to support the people of Ukraine after the invasion by Russia. Rotary has made humanitarian relief a priority, attracting more Ukrainian members in the process. But he noted that true relief won’t come without peace — not just in Ukraine, but in Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and dozens of other places around the globe. “Peace is the soil where hope takes root,” he said.
He emphasised the power of continuity, calling for Rotarians to continue the work of past leaders. He pledged to maintain the Empowering Girls initiative launched by 2020–21 president Shekhar Mehta and uphold the emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion throughout Rotary. He also noted recent events that underscore the importance of Rotary’s continuing focus on polio. In the past year, polio cases have emerged in many areas around the world, making it more crucial than ever for Rotary to lead the fight against the disease.
To do that Rotary must continue to raise at least $50 million each year to receive the full 2-to-1 funding match from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said the RIPE. Only about 1 in 12 members currently gives to the polio eradication campaign, with fewer than 1 in 5 clubs donating each year. He asked the DGEs for support, creating a new sense of urgency in their clubs to help realise Rotary’s vision of a polio-free world.
Focus on mental health
Rotarians should offer hope to those affected by mental health challenges — a crisis exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, said McInally. Many people have lost family members, many more have found their social networks uprooted, and young people especially have had their educational and developmental paths interrupted. As a result, more people around the world are facing mental health issues. And yet, seeking assistance is often perceived as a sign of weakness. “Reaching out for help is courageous — and continuing on a path towards wellness is even more so,” he said, adding that Rotary will work to improve mental health services in the next year and beyond.
McInally ended his speech by describing his ideal balance of continuity and innovation. “Rotary helps create the conditions for peace, opportunity and a future worth living. By continuing what we do best, by remaining open and willing to change, and by keeping our focus on building peace in the world and within ourselves, Rotary helps create a more peaceful world — a more hopeful world.”