A million dollar dinner

From left: TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta, Lalitha Subramanian, TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, Sharmishtha Desai, RID Manoj Desai and DG N Subramanian.
From left: TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta, Lalitha Subramanian, TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, Sharmishtha Desai, RID Manoj Desai and DG N Subramanian.

The Rotary Foundation has decided to introduce a special scheme for its Centennial year (2016-17) called the AKS Centennial Family Circle Celebration, wherein an AKS member — anybody who gives a quarter million dollars or more to TRF — can honour a family member, be it a child or children, parents, grandparents, siblings, TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee announced at a TRF dinner in the capital.

But the gift to TRF has to be made between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017. “So if you’ve been thinking of a way to pay a tribute to a beloved family member you can do so during this year,” he said.

The first of the four Black Tie dinners planned by Rotary India to honour all the Indian Rotarians becoming AKS members, District 3011 and 3012 came together to honour 5 new AKS members and 45 major donors (those who’ve donated over $10,000 to TRF) through a gala dinner. The five AKS members are PDG Ramesh and Nanda ­Aggarwal; DGN Subhash and Babita Jain, Deepak and Reena Gupta, Suresh Jain and Navdeep Chawla, and Rajesh Gupta who has moved on to the Chair Circle level.

Complimenting 3011 and 3012 for being two of the most active districts in India, Banerjee congratulated them for being “first off the block to make 2016-17 a special year, not only because this is the 100th year of TRF, nor because you have a fellow Indian in the hot seat of TRF Trustee Chair, but because this year Rotary in India has pledged to raise $26.5 million for TRF, and when we do that, and I have no doubt we’ll do it, we’ll have celebrations we’ll never forget.”

A tiny beginning

Tracing the history of TRF, he recalled how the then RI President Arch Klumph had in 1917 made the momentous recommendation that Rotary should accept endowments for the purpose of doing good in the world. “He did not have a Rotary Foundation in mind at that time; it’s amazing how TRF developed after that. A month later, that endowment received its first donation, not at the Convention where he mooted the idea, but later… $26.5 from RC Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Think about it; only $26.5, and now our Foundation has $1billion just in assets, and 100 years after Arch Klumph made that suggestion, our Foundation has provided $3 billion for projects and programmes across the world.”

How did that happen? How did Arch Klumph’s modest proposal grow over 100 years to become a leading humanitarian organisation that had led efforts to eradicate polio from the world, provide clean water to millions of people, eradicate poverty through education and economic development?

All this happened “thanks to increasing and generous support of Rotarians like you. Not long ago India was known as a benefactor’s country; we received much more in the form of grants than Indian Rotarians contributed to the Foundation. Which was good because Indian Rotarians were identifying urgent needs in our community and partnering with international Rotary clubs to meet those needs. We were the No 1 country in the world in doing matching grants.”

There is no limit to the good you can do; go back to your clubs and make sure that every Rotarian contributes something to our Foundation.
Kalyan Banerjee

Though not contributing too much money in eradicating polio, Rotarians in India helped big time to “carry out an impossible task… helping to make India polio-free. So no one can say Indian Rotarians were not doing their share of good in the world,” added the Trustee Chair.

India emerges No 2 in TRF

With improving Indian economy, contributions to TRF improved. “I am proud to see India coming from the 4th donor country in 2014–15, to No 2 with a contribution of $15.3 million, for the first time. Last year we were No 2 in the world, after US, ahead of Japan and of course Korea, with which we have been competing for a long time. Congratulations to Indian Rotarians for making it happen.”

Not only this; another feather in India’s cap was that District 3190 was “the topmost giving district of the whole world in 2015–16. Isn’t that something that we can truly be proud of?” It was in competition with D 3140, which became No 2, “but both have contributed, for the first time, more than $2 million each.”

Banerjee explained that there are six different recognition levels within the AKS, all the way up to the Platinum Circle which recognises those who give $10 million. “In India we have only Rajashree Birla as a member of the ­Platinum Circle. Of course few can afford to make a gift of $10 million. But whatever you can afford to give, do know that our gifts will be used by our fellow Rotarians for the single purpose of doing good in the world.”

(From left) DG Sharat Jain, Sharmishtha Desai, RID Manoj Desai, TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta, Vinita Gupta and Lalitha Subramanian with AKS donors DGN Subhash and Babita Jain (centre).
(From left) DG Sharat Jain, Sharmishtha Desai, RID Manoj Desai, TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta, Vinita Gupta and Lalitha Subramanian with AKS donors DGN Subhash and Babita Jain (centre).

But, he added, in his thinking, what was important was “not how much you give, but that you believe in our Foundation and the work it does. Give something, anything, whatever you wish and whenever you can. Let the Foundation become our first choice of giving. It does not matter how much — $10, $1,000 or even Rs 100 a month. But just as we pay our electricity bills or house rent, let’s set aside something for our Foundation on a regular basis. It will be less than the three cups of tea that we have every day.”

Reiterating that there was “no limit to the good you can do by your gesture of giving and the spirit that drives it”, he urged the major donors in the packed hall to “go back to your clubs and make sure that every Rotarian in your club contributes something, particularly beginning this year.”

It was surprising to find that worldwide, only 30 per cent of ­Rotarians have ever contributed anything to TRF. “Just imagine, 70 per cent of Rotarians worldwide have given nothing ever to the Foundation!”

Banerjee also urged every club to start a new Centennial project. “The time and size of that project is not important. It can be big enough to continue beyond a year or small enough to finish in a month… but let each one of our communities benefit from a project.”

Addressing the meet, TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta thanked the two Districts — 3011 and 3012 — for their gift of five AKS members. He said, “Last year we had eight AKS members from India, and this year, till now, only two ­Districts have given us five; this number is likely to grow manifold.”

TRF changed Rotary’s perception

Gupta said the great work being done by the Foundation has totally changed the perception of Rotary from a luncheon club to a service conglomerate serving the needs of humanity. “Recently CNBC named 10 organisations which have changed the world and Rotary was one of the 10, rubbing shoulders with UNICEF and the United Nations Foundation. TRF has undergone a paradigm shift, ­particularly in undertaking large service projects that are changing the world.”

Today the TRF has in its kitty “almost a billion dollars” and Rotarians across the world were adding more money so that “Rotary clubs like yours across the world can undertake projects worth a billion dollars… you need to celebrate this as $1billion is nearly Rs 7,000 crore.”

Today Rotary clubs across the world are doing projects worth $1 billion… you need to celebrate that.
Sushil Gupta

This being the Centennial, the target for TRF was $315 million this year, “$40 million more than what we collect annually. In addition we have reached the goal of $1 billion for the Permanent Fund, a year before our target for 2017 and encouraged with this, we have now set a new target of $2 billion for the Permanent Fund by 2025.” Add to that funds raised for Rotary Peace scholars, and a target this year of raising $125 million for water and sanitation focus areas.

Next, said Gupta, “we are going to tap into CSR funds that the corporates have to set aside from their profits; it’s a legal requirement. This year we’re targeting $2 million, but I am sure we can get more than that from the CSR funds which we will use for our humanitarian programmes.”

RI Director Manoj Desai said this was a “million dollar dinner” and thanked Banerjee for mooting the idea of four AKS dinners in various parts of India because for various reasons many AKS members were not able to travel to the US for induction. “As Kalyanda always says, people give to people not to organisations; you have to ask and they will respond.”

Indian Rotarians’ journey had moved from $31 per capita to $67, and now “we are creating the new normal… a small place like Wardha in Gujarat has given us two AKS members. The new normal for India is that we are No 1 in membership, No 2 in TRF and definitely No 1 in public image.”

DG N Subramanian of District 3011 and DG Sharat Jain of D 3012 thanked the Rotarians present for making the two districts proud; RRFCs Kamal Sanghvi and Raja Seenivasan and EMGA Ashok Panjwani attended the dinner.

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

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