Dream big… don’t worry where the money will come from, and don’t worry about failure. Because if you don’t dream at all, you will not fail. Just like you won’t reach your destination if you don’t even leave your home! If you want to see the biggest failures in the world, google the failures of Abraham Lincoln. He failed in almost everything he tried and yet he is one of the most successful people in history.”
With these words past RI president Shekhar Mehta urged the governors-elect and DGNs assembled at the Lakshya goal-setting event organised by incoming RI director Anirudha Roy Chowdhury in Kolkata recently.
While the International Assembly and GETS were important landmark events in the DGEs’ journey as they approached their year as governors, “Lakshya, the goal-setting event that you are now attending under the chairmanship of PDG E K Sagadhevan, is no less important. I would call this one of the most important events in a DG’s journey, because after IA and GETS, it is here that you finalise your vision and set your goals for next year.”
This is an organisation that has a larger footprint and presence in more countries than even the UN. And who can dream bigger than Rotary governors?
Urging the participants to keep “sharp focus” on the discussions they had with the coordinators and assistant coordinators at Lakshya, who would give them “guidance without interference,” Mehta said on July 1, they all would be on a roller coaster. “Here you will see the highs of your life, its thrilling and exhilarating moments, as also the low moments.”
Quoting the Indian coach for women’s hockey team, played by Shah Rukh Khan in the iconic film Chak de India, who tells the hockey players before their World Cup final match, Mehta said: “In that movie Shah Rukh tells them that the 70 minutes of that match would be the most important minutes of their life. Similarly, I would say that the 366 days (2024 is a leap year) of the coming Rotary year will be the most exciting, most precious days of your life. How you use them will be crucial. Use this unique opportunity to do community service to your heart’s content, because you won’t get these days back.”
Giving an example of the “amazing work” that zones 4, 5, 6 and 7 do, the past president said that last year, thanks to these four zones putting in exemplary work in getting new members, for the first time in a long while, Rotary’s declining membership had been arrested. Even in TRF giving, “you have been No 2, now you cannot slide down to No 3.”
When it comes to doing service projects, Rotarians in our zones, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, have no comparison. “I don’t have to tell you how to do projects; I’ve been going to several PETS, and learning from you how to do projects.”
His only advice to them was to dream big; “what bigger dream can be there than the one to eradicate polio? A dream that required so many countries to work together. This is an organisation that has a larger footprint and presence in more countries than even the UN. And who can dream bigger than Rotary governors?”
As RI president, I went to 40 countries, to each of them Rotary had something to give and nothing to ask. Isn’t that amazing?
Appealing to them to look at the larger picture, Mehta said, “In the next one year you will change millions of lives. In that year, thanks to you, thousands of children will get heart surgery, tens of thousands of people will be able to see once again, and hundreds and hundreds of villages will have potable water only because of you. This is the power you have… please think of this as god’s work.”
Similarly, thousands will be able to afford dialysis because of the facilities they set up. He gave examples of the big service projects that had resulted thanks to the ambitious goals set up at Lakshya two years ago, and even earlier, as Rotary celebrated its 100th year in India. Once again, it was at a Lakshya meeting that Mehta’s own district (3291) had pledged the building of a 500-bed hospital in Kolkata costing ₹400 crore, and the then DGE Sameer Hariani had pledged that his district alone would do projects worth ₹800 crores.
But the breakout of the Covid pandemic put a brake on the realisation of those lofty goals in the following year. However, with the pandemic “now behind us, we’ve laid the foundation stone for a 500-bed, ₹400 crore-hospital barely 5km from where we are seated (West End Hotel in Kolkata). We’ve also laid the foundation for a ₹300 crore-residential school for 1,000 tribal girls where they will get free boarding and education. All these projects began with big dreams.”
But the craziest dream of them all “was the one Rotarians in India dreamt, after we were declared polio-free; to make India totally literate. Only if you get into the literacy programme, you will understand its enormity. After all, in 75 years of Independence, all that the Indian government has managed is 75 per cent literacy. And here are a handful of us thinking we will make India 97 per cent literate by 2027, and totally literate by 2030,” added Mehta.
But he cautioned the Lakshya participants, “It doesn’t happen just by dreaming… you have to put in a lot of detailed planning, collective effort and hard work… that’s the magic of Rotary. One person dreams; a true leader is a dealer in hope, and everybody works to fulfill that hope, that dream.”
To achieve these ambitious goals, they’d have to think that they were working not for Rotary, “but your country. So go for big projects; if you think the project is too big for your club, partner with 20 other clubs, districts and even other countries. Think up dreams so big that they can’t be completed in your year and have to be carried forward.”
Listing out some big goals that were achieved, Mehta said that last year the target was to put up 125 dialysis machines all over India. (P)DG J Sridhar, from one district (3232), alone put up 135 dialysis machines; 15 eye hospitals were put up with the help of DGE Hiralal Yadav (RID 3291).
Also, while setting up big goals, they should not worry about the money. As RI president he had visited 40 countries and promised help to so many heads of state, particularly in Africa, for heart surgeries. He had no concrete plan how these promises would be fulfilled. But when requests for heart operations came in, DGs and PDGs, such as Rajendra Rai, Rajendra Agarwal, Sandip Agarwalla etc, had risen to the occasion to get these done.
“So resolve today that we want to do a health camp for 10 lakh people, set up so many blood banks… I doubt any other organisation in India has put up as many blood banks as Rotary has done. If there is no blood bank in 100 sqkm around you, then put up one. If there is no eye hospital within a distance of 50km, put up one. Every DG/DGE has some strength, work with each other’s strengths. For setting up dialysis machines take Sridhar’s help, for eye hospitals contact Hiralal Yadav, and for general hospitals PDG Sagadhevan. He constructed in 45 days a 70,000 sqft hospital with 400 beds (in Erode).”
His last words on the power they held as incoming governors in Rotary: “As RI president, I went to 40 countries, to each of them Rotary had something to give and nothing to ask. Isn’t that amazing?”
Picture by K Vishwanathan