With Paul Harris, the Rotary Founder making an appearance (through Hologram on a giant screen of course), the 107th RI Convention of RI President K R Ravindran got off to an interesting start at the sprawling KINTEX facility about an hour’s drive from Seoul’s city centre.
Describing it an “incredible event” (after all over 43,000 delegates had registered for this Convention), Paul Harris comments that he has been to many conventions but it looked as though half the Rotary world was there. Admitting that “this is my first time in Korea,” he adds, “Being with Rotarians, having fun, sharing views, making new acquaintances, we’ve always called it fellowship!”
Addressing the opening session, Ravindran related the story of a king’s falcon who refused to fly as he was too comfortable on his perch. After trying all tricks, the King asked a farmer to help; he achieved the objective by just chopping the branch! Similarly, Rotarians would have to leave their positions of comfort in order to fly … “to fly your farthest, you have to say, I am going to leave the things I know.”
We are grateful to have Rotary in our country, as a community with Rotary is better off in every way than one without it.
— Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
He said being an RI President was not just an honour; it was also a responsibility. “From the day I was nominated, I approached the job of running Rotary, as I would the running of any big business: striving to keep our costs low, our productivity high, our operations efficient; and focusing on increasing value for our members.”
And what he sought from Rotarians was also asked of both RI leaders and staff. His efforts had yielded not only “substantial fiscal savings but also new and creative ways to give Rotarians good value for the cost of their membership: such as Rotary Global Rewards.” These allowed concessions on everyday transactions done via their smart phones; Rotary Rewards has had over 80,000 visits with over 13,000 redeemed offers already in less than one year. “Whether you’re shopping online at Marks & Spencer, visiting Walt Disney World in the US, or buying electronics at Harvey Norman in Australia, it’s worth looking first on Rotary Global Rewards.”
A demanding vocation
Yes, Rotary was indeed a demanding vocation — it sought members’ time, energy and resources. But to grow the organisation, “it had become increasingly clear that the traditional Rotary model, of weekly meetings and meals, may not be a viable proposition to the professionals of all ages we most need to attract. And so your Board proposed, and your Council approved, increased flexibility in how we meet, and in the types of membership — giving clubs more autonomy to make the choices that will work for them.”
These changes had been done with an eye on the future, “in which the business of Rotary will be conducted on a level more ambitious than ever before,” Ravindran said. In order to drive Rotary towards “greater efficiency, building our resources, doing the most with what we have — in order to see that, you have to step outside those walls, and like the falcon, you have to fly.”
This, concluded Ravindran, was the “privilege I have had in this Rotary year. Of flying above the landscape of Rotary, soaring over its fields and its mountains, its rivers and its valleys. In dozens of countries, hundreds of projects, I have seen the countless ways that Rotary has been A Gift to the World.”
This Rotary year I’ve had the privilege of flying above the landscape of Rotary, soaring over its fields and mountains, rivers and valleys, in dozens of countries with hundreds of projects.
— RI President K R Ravindran
The amazing projects he saw during his year as President included:
- In Nepal, a year after their devastating earthquake, the first fruits of a partnership between Rotarians and their government will result in 140 new schools, and hundreds of homes, to replace those destroyed.
- In Chile, several children would have productive and fulfilling lives, because of the Rotary disabled children’s centre.
- In the Himalayan State of Uttaranchal in India, post the devastating 2013 floods, Rotary had stepped in to rebuild 32 schools in remote and inaccessible areas where building materials had to be carried, brick by brick, on workers’ backs.
These projects showed not only compassion, but also generosity, ingenuity, creativity and skill. They showed what we can do in Rotary — when we approach the business of service, with our full attention, our full expertise — and a full heart.
He concluded by saying that when he took up “this job” 11 months ago, he was convinced that Rotary must be run like a business. To those who said “but Rotary is not a business, I said, yes, it is. But it is a business like no other.
Our business is literacy, health, livelihood, hope … life itself — and to so many of those we help, our business is miracles.”
When Rotary helped in the formation of UN
Addressing the opening session, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a Korean politician and statesman, said the partnership between Rotary International and the United Nations is “invaluable, as our common objective is saving lives.”
Thanking Rotarians for “the remarkable work you do all around the world,” he said Rotary often helped UN reach its goals. “Our two organisations have a long productive history; Rotarians even helped with the founding of the United Nations.”
Ban Ki-moon cited Rotarians’ presence at the San Francisco conference in 1945 that led to the birth of the UN and the efforts of former Rotary International President Allen Albert in forming the UN. He was a passionate defender of human rights and human understanding.
Thanking Rotarians for the monumental work they had put into the efforts to eradicate polio, he urged them to continue till the goal of Zero Case was achieved. He recalled his attending “so many Rotary events. I will never forget taking part in the Centennial celebrations in Birmingham. We arrived to see the flags of over 150 countries and friendly Rotarians. I find the same sense of excitement today in Korea.”
United Nations and Rotary have a long productive history; Rotarians even helped with the founding of the United Nations.
— UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
More than its numbers, the strength of Rotary lay in the way “Rotarians use their time, funds and energy to help our world. You have made a monumental contribution towards eradicating polio. The UN is proud and grateful for your contribution in ending this debilitating disease,” he said.
The UN Secretary General added that when RI launched this campaign in 1985, “over 350,000 children were paralysed by polio every year. Individual Rotarians have generously contributed an astounding $1.2 billion. They’ve engaged donor Governments to donate an additional $6 billion. Thanks for your noble contribution and congratulations for ending polio by 99 per cent.”
He sent out the grim reminder that but “for your efforts, some 16 million people, who would otherwise have been paralysed by polio, can walk now. And about 1.5 million children are alive today thanks to PolioPlus.”
What was more, “over the next 20 years, polio eradication will save over 50 million lives. We are all anxiously waiting for Case Zero; till that comes we have to redouble our efforts. I have personally, along with my wife, immunised children in Angola, Indonesia, India, Nigeria and other countries.”
He concluded by urging the gathering to “keep up the fight, continue to raise your voice, hold your governments accountable and campaign hard, till we end this disease.”
Picture credit: Rasheeda Bhagat and www.rotary.org
When Ravindran was classified “unskilled labour”
RI President K R Ravindran described for the Convention delegates his recent experience as a volunteer in a medical mission led by Past RI President Rajendra K Saboo, in which 20 specialist doctors from India brought in both their skills and equipment to perform some 400 surgeries in one week.
When he volunteered his service to one of these experts, he asked what experience I had. To suitably impress him I said, “I run a multinational business and I’m the President of Rotary International.” He thought for a moment, and said, “All right, we will put you down for unskilled labour.” But spending that one day pushing wheel chairs and moving patients in and out of surgery, he felt proud of being a Rotarian. For who else but Rotary could do a project mobilising resources and skilled personnel and meeting needs in an African country, asked Ravindran.
When a war was stopped for Polio
Addressing the opening session Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had the record audience spellbound when he announced that if Sri Lanka did not have a polio case for the last 20 years, it was thanks to the efforts of “your President K R Ravindran.”
Saying it was a matter of great pride “for us in Sri Lanka that you’ve chosen someone from our rather small country to head your great organisation,” he went ahead to give details of how “we ended polio in our country at the height of an armed conflict and terrorism.”
Back in 1995, a few Rotarians, got together with UNICEF and approached the Sri Lankan Health Minister saying they wanted to do an NID (National Immunisation Day). Rotary had pledged to bring in $1.5 million and looked for the rest from the Government to vaccinate the whole country against polio in one shot. The officials agreed and said all the children could be vaccinated except for those in the north and the east as the Government did not have access or control of those areas at that time.
“But for the Rotarians this wasn’t acceptable as Rotary money could not be used for vaccinating only half the country. The health ministry officials looked at the crazy Rotarians and said: ‘In case, you haven’t noticed, there is a war going on here, and we don’t have control over those areas, so what do you want us to do?’ Your President Ravindran answered them saying don’t worry about it, we’ll take care of the war.”
A sceptical health minister said: “Ok, go ahead; if you can stop the war, then we can vaccinate the whole country.”
Two months later Ravindran returned with a letter delivered to his and the UNICEF office by the LTTE which said we will lay down our weapons if the Government will lay down theirs. On the NID, a ceasefire came into being, the weapons were laid down on both sides and the Rotarians, UNICEF and Red Cross representatives and Government health workers went with a white flag in the north and east “where none would have dared to go and they gave us a polio-free Sri Lanka,” said Wickremesinghe, amidst thunderous applause.
Rotarians have come forth to help during several natural disasters; after the 2004 tsunami, the Rotarians, under the leadership of Ravindran, built 25 schools and later a maternity hospital. “We are glad to have Rotary in our country, as we have seen that a community with Rotary is better off in every way than one without it,” he added.
Convention Co-Chair and RIPN Ian Riseley said this was Rotary’s 107th Convention and it was a pleasure to organise it in Korea, “a vibrant and dynamic country, world leader in technology, which retains a sense of history in an atmosphere of cordiality.”