If the session moderated by PRIP K R Ravindran was titled ‘Frankly speaking,’ the address delivered by RIPN Mario de Camargo at the Bengaluru institute deserved the title ‘Plain speaking’.
Addressing one of the sessions, the president-nominee almost read out the riot act to those Rotarians from our zones who indulge in dubious activities to boost figures and win false glory. Spelling out his vision, he told the assembled participants: “Our vision is membership, membership, membership, make no mistake about it. But we want healthy, sustainable membership. No fake clubs, no bogus members. Rotary doesn’t need that; India doesn’t need that.”
Complimenting Indian Rotarians for membership growth, he said, “You’re doing very well and showing the world how to grow Rotary, but you have to do it in a sustainable, sincere and honest way. We don’t want to cook up the numbers… we are a frontier organisation. We don’t need money in Rotary. We care for Rotary money. So what is the sense in having members who are not real? For what purpose? Politics? Power? What kind of power? The power that we have derives from inspiration and motivation and has to be solid, concrete, true… otherwise it will confront the first question of the Four-Way Test: Is it the truth? If it isn’t the truth, it doesn’t interest me, or (RI president) Gordon or (RIPE) Stephanie.”
Only recently, he had attended a meeting in India about a district split. “And we had to take a very tough decision on a district in this part of the world. The membership, since the district was split, plummeted from 8,950 to 7,200, a loss of 1,700 Rotarians in one single year. You know what we did? We cancelled the split. That district will no longer be split. We revoked the earlier year’s decision. If it’s not sustainable, it is not going to happen,” said RIPN de Camargo.
What is the sense in having members who are not real? For what purpose? Politics? Power? What kind of power? The power that we have derives from inspiration and motivation and has to be solid, concrete, true.
Many people had asked him about his vision. “I wouldn’t say it’s my vison, it’s our vision. Our vision is to make our institution strong and we have an outstanding asset that no other institution has — you. The most valuable asset in Rotary is not TRF or its money, but members. You people make the magic happen at the club and community levels, at the small cities level…. not so small in India though!”
The biggest challenge before Rotary was to embrace change and grow the organisation and its impact. “So how are we going to do this? In a few ways; first of all, innovation… doing new things. We are people of action, we not only think, we do things. So we will have to be not only creative, but also innovative.”
An example de Camargo gave was embracing new format clubs. One of the questions he was asked by the chair of the nominating committee that selected him as RIPN was: ‘How will you use new format clubs to enhance diversity in Rotary?’ He had thought very hard on this topic; did they know how many members the satellite clubs of Rotary had? “Only 9,000; that is 0.75 per cent of 1.2 million members. We have a huge opportunity but we have to think outside the box.”
He recalled how during his year as an RI director (2019–20) he had “dared and challenged my club, which is a very old (75 years) and traditional club with 105 members, to charter a satellite club. They opposed the idea as they thought satellite clubs were second grade clubs. And because they were opposed to that, I made a stronger point to charter it. They finally acceded and chartered a club which is my wife’s club with 45 members. So my club’s membership went up from 105 to 150!”
It’s “just a change of mindset. We have to accept change or change will kill us. And change will happen to Rotary, no matter what we think. The communities surrounding us, the cities you live in, are all changing.” From his first visit to India in 2007 to his fifth visit now, he had found that “India is evolving rapidly. Is Rotary following that evolution or not?”
Thanking RI President Gordon McInally for allowing him, a president-nominee, to attend an institute he himself was attending, de Camargo said that by doing so, McInally was sending out a very strong message on ‘continuity’ and its importance in Rotary. “And it is much more than that. I am being made to participate in and engage closely with very important Rotary committees. I am made to do that now, and not one or two years down the line.”
He disclosed that “this year I have participated in five institutes and I must acknowledge this is possible only because of President McInally, who thinks beyond himself and says that for the good of the organisation, whenever and wherever you are invited, you come along and we will walk alongside each other. He is setting an example for directors, district governors and club presidents. That’s the Rotary spirit.”
We have to change our mindset, and accept change or change will kill us. Change will happen to Rotary, no matter what we think. The communities surrounding us, the cities you live in, are all changing.
McInally’s example was very important and should be followed down the line in Rotary hierarchy. It was a clear message for the directors, DGs, DGEs and DGNs. “The governors of 2023–24, 2024–25 and 2025–26 are present here. To me you are one team, a Rotary team. If governors of 2025–26 have different ideas from their predecessors, that is fine and healthy. But you have to work together. Don’t destroy your predecessors’ work just to enhance yours! Rotary is not about this.”
He gave the example of the year when he was DG in 1999–2000, and “my district beat the record for TRF fundraising.” However, he did not give that year a single cent of his own money, but reserved his becoming a Major Donor for his successor’s year, with one condition… “he would have to beat my numbers for TRF. That is the spirit and Rotary recognises such a spirit. They see you not by what you have achieved but what you help others to achieve,” he added.
As for the year 2025–26 when he would be RI president, de Camargo said, “That is not my year. I cannot own 2025–26. The Greek god Cronos owns the time. We don’t; we are just the subjects of time, we do not control it. I told the DGNs that our mission starts now; we don’t want the glory of 2025–26, it is only a fleeting, a very short-lived glory. The organisation calls for a joint effort. If we have to deliver results in 2025–26, we have to start working now!”
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat