Addressing the opening session of the virtual convention, Trustee Chair Gary Huang, described the Covid pandemic as an “invisible enemy” and said that for 44 years during his journey as a Rotarian, he had always looked “forward to the month of June, when my Rotary friends come together from all corners of the earth for the convention, like a mini-United Nations conference. We shake hands and high-five each other, celebrating our fellowship, and renewing our dedication to the global community. But this year the pandemic has hijacked our festival.”
But refusing to be “held hostage” Rotarians had used modern technology tools to gather online from thousands of towns. “We now form an even bigger group than we would have without the pandemic.”
More significant, he added, he was the first leader in RI’s history to address the session in Chinese! Saying that the present pandemic required Rotarians “to not only be compassionate but creative in our outreach,” he said they had done just that. In February itself, TRF had acted fast to help Rotarians protect themselves, their neighbours and communities. Making Covid-19 projects eligible for disaster response grants, “as of June, we have disbursed more than $5.2 million to Rotary clubs. We have also made it easier to use global grants to respond to Covid-19, and so far, almost $14 million for global grants have been used to fight Covid-19.”
Clubs could also use district designated funds and repurpose previously planned activities to support Covid projects, Gary said.
Rotary’s “empathy, generosity and simple kindness” were essential, powerful tools in global recovery from this pandemic. “Rotarians in countries such as Japan, India, US and Italy are meeting online to support each other through fellowship, and brainstorm ways to help their communities. Some clubs invite disease experts to educate members about the virus, while others check up on seniors, leaving groceries and flowers on their doorsteps.”
The Trustee Chair added that today in “our highly mobile and interconnected world, pandemics have become a much larger menace than in the past, threatening our collective health security. They call for broad collaboration.”
TRF required continued support from Rotarians, and it is essential to expand the Arch Klumph Society, which recognises the Foundation’s most generous donors who contribute $250,000 or more. So far, over 100 new members had joined, a 25 percent increase over the same period compared to last year.
Also thanks to the generosity of Rotarians, by April end, TRF had raised over $336 million, including $92.2 million for the Annual Fund, $81.1 million for the Endowment Fund, $134.1 million for the PolioPlus Fund — including a $100 million match from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — and $28.7 million in other contributions. “With your assistance, we can still meet our comprehensive fundraising goal of $400 million,” he added.
While Rotarians’ contributions would help fight the corona pandemic, polio, “which used to terrorise many countries and paralysed the lives and dreams of children”, should not be forgotten, he added.
Quoting Charles Dicken’s famous opening passage “it was the best of times…” in his book Tale of Two Cities, Gary said he could think of no better way to “describe the time we live in now.” But then this wasn’t the first challenge he had seen as a Rotarian over the years; as RI Vice President in September 2001, when he was in the US on an RI assignment, he watched a plane fly into the World Trade Center, destroying it. Two years later, when he was a TRF Trustee, SARS struck many parts of Asia. In 2015, when he served as RI President, “the Zika virus and water issues threatened our convention in Sao Paulo. But for each challenge, we soldiered on, and rallied our troops to turn things around. After each battle, we emerged stronger and wiser. If the experiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia showed us anything, it is that this global crisis can be contained.”
He was proud to see that Rotarians were doing “what we do best — rising above the conflicts, and coming together to form a formidable force.”
Addressing the convention on the second day, RIPE Holger Knaack said that the Covid pandemic had forced Rotarians to watch this convention from their homes. “These are not the happiest circumstances, of course. However, no incoming Rotary President has ever had the opportunity to meet so many fellow Rotarians, and that is a good thing.”
When he had talked about “change and revolution” in his theme speech at the International Assembly in January, “I had no idea that those changes would happen so quickly!”
While the entire world had to “conduct business and maintain friendships differently than ever before, Rotary must continue to respond and adapt. And that brings many new opportunities for us, to innovate and use this moment as a catalyst for change.”
But then change had always been an essential part of Rotary’s mission. Towards the end of World War II, Paul Harris said: “I would like to think that the pioneering days of Rotary have only just begun … kaleidoscopic changes are taking place, many of them without our will … Rotary simply must continue to pioneer or be left in the rear of progress.”
Once again Rotary found itself in “such a moment of crisis and change that Paul Harris had described. It is also a time when we see our focus shifting. We now see that growing Rotary truly means taking care of our members.” Club leaders would have to keep members engaged and eager to stay on, return to Rotary’s most basic commitment of service above self, and stay true to its core values — service, fellowship, diversity, integrity and leadership.
These are not the happiest circumstances, of course. However, no incoming Rotary President has ever had the opportunity to meet so many fellow Rotarians, and that is a good thing.
– RIPE Holger Knaack
Knaack also urged Rotarians to make the most of “the new, strengthened partnership between Rotary and Rotaract. We need the energy, commitment and leadership of young people like never before.” While some might find it difficult to adapt to change, he asked them to “remember, whether your meetings take place over lunch or in virtual space, Rotary is still about making and sustaining friendships for life.”
Also, this pandemic had given Rotarians “new possibilities to deepen friendships with people we might have never met before. Now we can interact with them in Zoom conferences. Now the person who lives across the ocean can be just as much a part of our team as someone who lives down the street. This is a great opportunity for us… to reach across generations and cultures. We all become equal through technology.”
Embracing change also meant “empowering young professionals and more women to take on greater roles and responsibilities in Rotary — and we must increase our membership numbers through diversity,” he added.
In his remarks, RIPN Shekhar Mehta thanked RI and Rotarians “for reposing your confidence in me through the Nominating Committee” and selecting him RI President for 2021–22, something that he accepted with “honour and humility” and fully aware that he would be “stepping into big shoes”.
The task ahead was daunting, given “these challenging times. But as a Rotarian, I have lived through challenges, turning them into opportunities.” The first challenge to Rotary today was membership; “if all of us put our efforts over the next two years and try to get just one new member each, we will surely be able to do it.”
While embracing Rotary’s core values of service above self and those enshrined in the Four-Way Test, “I am equally impressed by the diversity in Rotary in every form. Rotary is truly a kaleidoscope of people, culture and their ethos and they provide an excellent opportunity of fellowship and networking,” Mehta said.
The result of embracing these core values, he added, was that “there is some outstanding work being done by the Rotarians across the world in the six areas of focus and polio eradication from the face of the earth. It fills my heart with joy to know that I volunteer for an organisation which is removing only the second vaccine-preventable disease from the face of earth.”
It fills my heart with joy to know that I volunteer for an organisation which is removing only the second vaccine-preventable disease from the earth.
– RIPN Shekhar Mehta
Rotary’s work in the six areas of focus was equally great. “There are thousands of villages where there is clean drinking water now coming because of Rotarians. The numerous hospitals, clinics, etc that Rotarians have set up for disease prevention are all commendable. Thousands of schools have been converted into happy schools by Rotarians, and hundreds of thousands of teachers are now being trained by us across the world.”
Add to all this the unparalleled work being done at Rotary’s Peace Centres, thanks to which “today we have 1,400 peace warriors doing good in the world.”