At this moment Rotary is at the crossroads and we need to step up and work to take our organisation in a little different direction towards the future. We’ve been there for 113 years and we need to plan on how we are going to be around for another 113 years. If we don’t do that and plan strategically what we should do to be a strong organisation in the future, then we may not get there.”
With this introspective note, RI President Barry Rassin kicked off the Rotary Zone Institute for Zones 4, 5, and 6A in Chennai with the theme Passion to Serve.
It is shocking that in the last two years 300,000 Rotarians have left Rotary. Each of us needs to ask why are they leaving Rotary. What is it that our clubs are doing wrong? Is my club giving value to every club member?
He said for so many years Rotary’s membership was stuck at 1.2 million. In the last two years 300,000 people had joined Rotary and another 300,000 had also left. “That’s shocking and each of us needs to ask why are they leaving Rotary. What is it that our clubs are doing wrong? Is my club giving value to every member? Are we the best thing happening at that day and time in our community? How do we truly represent our community?”
He then drew the attention of the RI officers present at the Institute to the cover picture of the July edition of Rotary News, which carried “two individuals (Rassin and spouse Esther) along with seven flamingos. “In that picture, six flamingos are looking in one direction and the seventh is pointing in the other direction. It is trying to go through the crowd in the other direction. That is the flamingo of change. I must now ask you to be the flamingo of change.”
To be that flamingo of change, they would have to think differently “on who we are, where we are going and what we need to do. How do we convince our clubs that to go in a different direction will be better for both Rotarians and Rotaractors. This is the challenge.”
To be the flamingo of change, Rotarians would have to ask themselves if “we are being transparent and accountable. Is every club in our district showing the numbers as they should be showing? Are we staying away from any perception of misuse of funds or any other kind of misuse? Let not a few people harm the amazing reputation that you have.”
Urging those assembled to take victory and defeat in their stride, Rassin said, “When I first put in my name for RI President’s post, I lost. I had to take a deep breath of disappointment and then congratulate the person who got there. When we lose an election, we need to be the better person, the person who congratulates the winner.”
Rotarians in these zones were lucky to have the kind of leadership they had in Director C Basker and other senior Rotary leaders. “The service projects you do in your zones, the literacy programme covering the country, health projects and the water and sanitation programme are among the best.” He had the privilege to see one such WinS project in Chandigarh, where the children “were so happy to show me how they wash their hands. I asked one of them why he was so happy and he said they were having so much fun singing and washing their hands together. And when I go home I’m going to teach my family how to do this. Such impactful projects are changing behaviour in your region; be proud of what you are accomplishing.”
To be the flamingo of change you have to think differently on who we are, where we are going and what we need to do. How do we convince our clubs to go in a different direction, which will be better for both Rotarians and Rotaractors.
Then there was the tremendous achievement on polio; despite scepticism Indian Rotarians had helped India become polio-free. “Many said India would be the last country, but you proved them wrong and did everything that you had to do to make it faster than others said could happen. That is due to the leadership you have and I thank you for that.”
Referring to Director Basker’s inaugural address Rassin said, “You are number one in the Rotary world for membership growth and number two for Foundation giving. Last time I was here I challenged all those I came into contact with saying I believe you are going to be number one in Foundation giving. You have already shown growth this year by the incredible and very generous benefactors we are going to honour today (RC Bangalore Orchards President Ravi Shankar and Paola), truly humble, wonderful people.”
But it was with the growth of Rotaract in these zones that Rassin was most impressed. “The increase (in reporting) from 9 per cent to 72 per cent is a fantastic growth in a short time. Did you see the Rotaract News that just came out? On Page 9 there is a box that shows how many Interactors and Rotaractors you have.” The two interesting numbers were that while there were 257,000 Rotaractors worldwide, those reported were only 145,000. For the 110,000 unreported Rotaractors around the world, “about whom we don’t have information, all of us are at fault and RI is looking at fixing this at the international level.”
Rassin urged every district to collect that information “so that we can bring our Rotaractors to an equal position with Rotary. They are the future of Rotary and if they join us regularly they will help to reduce our average age. We desperately need our young professionals to see us as relevant for their lives in this day and age. Right now they don’t; so I urge Rotary clubs to ask if we are really representing our communities which our bylaws ask us to do. We should be the microcosm of the entire community and not just a small section. So please identify these young professionals. The opportunity for us to grow is massive if we really work hard and focus on this goal.”
The RI President added that there was an expression in Africa that “when you pick up a rock you touch the past, when you pick a flower you touch the present when you touch a life, you change the future. Imagine how many lives your clubs and districts have touched and changed. You’ve made our world a better place not only here but in countries around the world. You have a strength individually and collectively that no other organisation has. Ensure we use that strength to make change.”
Rassin then proceeded to relate a heartrending story of Daniel, a boy in Haiti, whose life was saved as two Rotarians came together to ensure his heart surgery was performed in time. A few years ago, when he sat on the investment committee of RI with other senior leaders, another member, Greg Paul, told him he was trying to help this child with a heart ailment who had been given only a few months by doctors. “He told me I am trying to get him to the US for his surgery but can’t get visa. Can you help? I told him we have a Gift of Life programme in Haiti and can do the surgery there itself. So please get me the medical records.”
It was a Wednesday morning, the surgeon, who visited once or twice a month, happened to be in Haiti, saw the medical records by Thursday and said yes, the child’s problem could be fixed and his life could be saved. But as he leaves on Friday night the surgery would need to be done latest by Friday morning. “I got back to Greg saying I need that child Daniel by Thursday night so that the surgery can be done. Daniel, his father, mother and another person got onto a motorcycle — not a Harley Davidson but an ordinary scooter — to drive for 90 minutes to get to the hospital… the child who had been given a few months to live made that journey on a scooter.”
He reached in time, “the surgeon did his job and everything went well. We moved on, as we always do as Rotarians, to some other work on hand.”
A few months later he got a mail with a picture of Daniel “with a foot-long scar on his chest. But he had a big smile on his face. He wrote:
“I know you helped me, you saved my life. Thank you.”
To save such lives “all we have to do is talk to each other, reach out. I give Daniel’s thanks to you… on his behalf I thank you for all the children you have helped, are helping and will help in the future by providing education, literacy, water and good hygiene, eradicating conflict…”
Pictures by K Vishwanathan