A woman RI president, at long last

Finally we have the answer to the question being asked for a decade now. When will Rotary International see a woman president? Well, the nominating committee answered that one by choosing Jennifer Jones for that magic position in 2022–23. Not only the women members in the Rotary world — upward of 20 per cent, but all Rotarians who stand by gender equity, have erupted into one big celebration. But we have to remember that Jennifer has been chosen for that post not because she is a woman, or to tick off a box, but because she has the capability, the energy, enthusiasm and vision, and above all, the leadership qualities so essential to lead this unique conglomeration of 1.2 million people of such amazing diversity across the world.

In an interview she gave me in Evanston in 2016 as RI director, Jennifer said as much. On few leadership positions for women in Rotary, she had said, “we’ve only been in Rotary long enough to achieve being at the Board table.” It had taken a while because women had to first become club presidents, then DGs, prove their worth through hard work in committees, etc, to then become RI directors. “And now we can see women sitting in the Board not because we are women, but because we’re qualified Rotarians.”

So what do women leaders bring to the Rotary table? Again, let me quote Jennifer, who had stressed on the “nurturing” and multitasking abilities of women. “Women do raise their families, constantly take care of all the needs, whether of parents or children.” Many men do the same, she had added, but women had to strike an interesting life balance. “I run a business, act as a director on the RI Board, but still have to go grocery shopping, clean my house, buy the birthday and Christmas presents and the thank you cards!”

Well, that says it all, doesn’t it?

While Jennifer has her challenges cut out for her role at the helm of RI in a post-Covid world, let’s turn to the present, where this pandemic has hit business and industry, and taken away tens of thousands of jobs in India. For millions, getting a single nutritious meal a day, forget two, has become a challenge. We have witnessed the abject misery and starvation of migrant workers, who were forced to walk back home amidst the lockdown, and also noted with pride Rotary clubs across our zones come forward to feed the hungry… migrants, daily wagers, homeless and other underprivileged.

In this scenario, just imagine the plight of voluntary organisations that depend on the generosity of the community, particularly corporates, big and small. As stated in this month’s cover story, most of these organisations today serve their inmates — orphan or disabled children, elderly, destitute women, etc — just rice and sambar or rice and dhal, for lack of funds. In this scenario, a Rotarian — Hari Kishan Valmiki — from the Rotary Club of Secunderabad is focusing his energy on setting up and multiplying egg banks across India and other parts of the Rotary world. These banks help reach eggs, procured directly from poultry farmers at a subsidised cost, to NGOs to be given daily to their inmates in order to boost their nutrition levels, and hopefully their immunity levels as well.

It is such passion and generosity that keeps the world going…

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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