Women Have Strengthened Rotary RI President Gary C K Huang stresses the importance of inducting younger people and women into Rotary.

Having grown up in a large family with “six strong women — my mother and five sisters,” he could vouch for the popular Chinese saying: ‘Women can hold up half the sky,’ said RI President Gary C K Huang, addressing the DGEs at the RI Assembly in San Diego.

Speaking at one of the membership sessions, he said 70 per cent of Rotarians are 50 or older “with wide business and community contacts. We need to maximise our strength with this core group of members as our strong backbone.” But at the same time Rotary has to target younger people “who will bring in energy and fresh ideas to the organisation. They are our future. I would also like to see more female Rotarians.”

He recalled how during the Rotary Day celebrations at the White House last October, a dozen Rotary women of action had been honoured. “Some powerful and very touching stories” had been related about some of them mentoring women in business, providing health services to those in need, counselling battered women, volunteering in schools, preventing trafficking of women, mentoring challenged children in Russia and offering medical care in Africa and Latin America.

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He said over the last few years, while membership in many areas was going down, it was heartening to see the number of women in Rotary was going up. About 2,40,000 women Rotarians “worldwide have greatly strengthened our organisation bringing unique perspectives to Rotary,” and now comprise 20 per cent of the total membership.

Gary urged Rotarians to ask their own family members to join Rotary. He said in October when he visited District 7360 in the US, he noticed a woman who served as a remarkable host, working “quietly and efficiently helping DG Jason Piatt to ensure everything was smooth.” It turned out that she was his mother, and had been helping Rotary for many years and from the time Jason’s father was in Rotary.

Surprised that with such dedication nobody had invited her to join Rotary, he asked her: “Are you ready to join? She was thrilled and accepted. Over the past few months I have personally recruited several such remarkable women.”

Don’t be afraid to ask

He urged Rotarians: “Don’t be afraid to ask; sometimes all it takes is to ask.” He had found that even the most qualified people were happy to join. Recently when Congressman Ed Royce came to a reception in California to honour Rotary for polio eradication, “he said so many nice things about Rotary.  I asked him, why are you not a Rotarian and he said nobody ever asked me! I said I am asking you now. I will even give you my pin. He said ok and is now a Rotarian.”

Gary added he thought the Congressman was just being polite and would not take his membership seriously, but was later happy to learn “Congressman Royce has paid his full dues. I was told when you see him next, you can call him Rotarian Ed Royce!”

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Similarly in Zambia, a Deputy Mayor had accepted his invitation and joined Rotary. “I just learnt that he is now the mayor and a likely presidential candidate.” In Turkey when he met the Mayor of Istanbul, he said he loved Rotary because he used to be a Rotaractor 20 years ago. “So I asked him why he wasn’t a Rotarian and he
said … ‘no one ever asked me!’ I said I am asking you and will give you my pin.”

The same story was true for the youngest minister in Italian government. The 39-year-old woman was very impressed by Rotary’s work in public health. So how come she wasn’t a Rotarian? “Nobody ever asked her. You know where the story ends. I lost another pin!”

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Added Gary: “No matter where you come from, there are many people in our communities who want to be Rotarians. I want you to ask them to join Rotary. Maybe some will say ‘No,’ but  I don’t want them to say they aren’t Rotarians because nobody ever asked them.”

Just like the rock musician Amanda Palmer, who has written a book The art of Asking — her Ted video has been seen over six million times — Rotarians too should make a habit of asking people to join this fantastic organisation. “All of us are proud of Rotary because we believe we can make a huge positive impact in this world. Great things don’t happen by themselves, they happen when we work hard. The light of one candle may be feeble but when other members of the community join hands, Rotary will be lit up and the neighbourhood will be much brighter. Let’s do it.”

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