An Innovation: 9 Presidents’ Joint Installation

RI President K R Ravindran and Vanathy and DG C R Raju and Shanthi with the incoming club presidents.
RI President K R Ravindran and Vanathy and DG C R Raju and Shanthi with the incoming club presidents.

At a glittering and first ever joint installation of nine Rotary Club Presidents in Chennai, on the suggestion of RI President K R Ravindran, the latter urged them to use each day of their term purposefully. “With good imagination anything is possible. July 1 is an important day when you and I will be completely transformed. We have a choice; to perform great deeds, with ambition and responsibility and say at the end of the year that we did a good job. Or just let the year go by and say I was also President … but with nothing left to show five or six years later.”

Quoting Martin Luther King he said the new leaders could decide if they want to walk in the light of “creative selflessness or the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

$2 billion organisation

Touching upon the mammoth size of Rotary as an institution, the RI President said: “It’s a great organisation of immense proportions and immeasurable achievements. We have 1.25 million members; this is the highest level of membership in over 15 years.” Moreover, today it had an “investment portfolio of over $1 billion; that is Rs 6,000–6,500 crore. Our endowment funds have reached the same figure; another Rs 6,000 crore or so. We estimate that the work we Rotarians do is also worth another billion dollars. We are a huge organisation by any standards.” But that was only money. “If you look at our polio work for 25 years, the end is very close and we are now talking in terms of months and not years. Success is just around the corner. We can’t afford to give up.”

Ravindran urged the Presidents to marvel at “building this organisation in a world of bewildering contrasts. A world of ruthless dictatorships, a world of great democracies; a world of advanced IT, a world steeped in superstitions and spirituality, a world of immense wealth and stark poverty. Across these worlds we’ve built an organisation and forged a united group of members who have crossed all these borders and differences.” All these dreams of friendship were possible because “many of us placed the needs of many over the wants of a few. You chose to give your fortune or part of it away instead of clinging to it. You made the correct choice.”

Reiterating his belief that Rotary should be run like a business, he said that it can’t be just “volunteers doing some work in their spare time. We must insist on the same quality and transparency, and same efforts to keep costs low and efficiency high as we do in our daily businesses or professions.”

Appointments on merit

Ravindran made it clear that all appointments during his tenure will be made strictly on merit. Making appointments on the basis of “who we know and who our friends are” is not the way we run our businesses. We get the best person and give them the job. We don’t give it to our friends because they will ruin themselves and ruin you. So I am asking why can’t we do that in Rotary.”

He had done that at the highest level giving up the right to appoint TRF Trustees, the biggest positions an RI President gets to fill. Defining parameters and the regions, he appointed a committee and told it to “find the best persons. The committee came out with the best people and I said appoint them.” He even went a step further. In the July issue of The Rotarian (also in Rotary News), two pages had been devoted to the various committees and the vacancies existing in those committees. “Any of you can apply; you will not need my or anyone else’s influence to get a position … it means that I can’t do you a favour. I can tell you I will be one of the most unpopular Presidents, but we will get the best people into leadership positions to manage Rotary like any business should be managed.”

Cutting costs

In an endeavour to cut costs he had reduced RI Board meetings from five days to three, said spouses will not attend board meetings, and had asked President’s representatives to cut costs. “If we start at the top, everyone falls in line. I’ve told the management that I’m looking at a cost cutting of at least $3 million this year; if you ask for $3 million you might end up with 1 or 2 million. If you don’t ask for anything, you won’t get anything.”




L to R: PDGs Krishnan V Chari, J B Kamdar and A S Venkatesh.
L to R: PDGs Krishnan V Chari, J B Kamdar and A S Venkatesh.

Rotary Global Rewards

Ravindran drew a huge applause from the gathering when he disclosed that from July 1 Rotary Global Rewards would be launched in a bid to give value to Rotarians. Through a phone app they would be able to get discount from 300 service providers and establishments like hotels, and that too at 10 per cent discount below their lowest published rates. “This will more than compensate you for the money you pay each year to Rotary and the discounts you get will cover that amount 10 times over if you really use this.”

But there’s a hitch, he added. Clearance of all dues; or else the member could not enter into My Rotary, which was essential to connect to this app. Another advantage would be that not only would Rotarians get a discount, a small percentage would also go to TRF when they used this app. By the end of the year, Ravindran added, the network of establishments giving such discounts would go up to 1,000, “making Rotary membership really worthwhile because our slogan is that the good that you do will come back to you. This will also get us new members who often ask what is in it for me. Though we don’t want them to join Rotary only for this. But it will help us retain members because if they leave they lose all these discounts.”

No Politics Please


Touching on a thorny issue, RI President K R Ravindran said irregularities and problems in elections “in this part of the world is ruining our reputation and India’s reputation. I am telling you that Manoj (Desai) and I will be absolutely ruthless on this issue. I ask you why on earth would you need anybody to tell you who to vote for or to nominate? I will set up a system where if anyone outside the club interferes in the election process I will ask that person to be taken out of Rotary. If he is a PDG, I will get his Governor’s title removed. I intend to be a very unpopular President; I have nothing more to aim for. This is going to be my stand. I hope I am making myself absolutely clear. Electioneering is not for us. It is for politicians. Then you must join the congress, DMK or whatever. Even in your club if someone tries to influence you, be smart and be good Rotarians. I am telling you all this because I am absolutely clean. I will never speak for anyone or indulge in any form of electioneering at any time. So I can afford to take this stand.”

He also urged them to embrace technology. “Your presidential citation is completely online. You will know whether you’re getting it or not getting it. You do not need influence; you do not need to talk to me or to (DG) Raju. Even if Raju wants to, he cannot help you. You have to perform.”

He also warned the Presidents to keep their focus on performance as KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) had been put in place and even RI Directors would be measured on their performance. RID Manoj Desai would seek answers from the DGs and the DGs from the Presidents. “We can’t say we are volunteers doing part-time work because there are 100 people lining up to take up my job and 300 to take Raju’s job,” he added.

Ultimately results would come “if the effort we put into our professions or business in working for our shareholders and stakeholders, employees and families, is put into our Rotary work.”

Membership was important because 90 per cent of TRF funds came from members. “If membership comes down, the money for TRF and your projects comes down.” But he cautioned them not to get members just for the sake of numbers. “We want members whose company we enjoy, who like us live a normal, decent life and also want to do some good.”

Sustainable Legacy

His mission was to create a “sustainable legacy” for Rotary. Once polio was eradicated, the infrastructure Rotarians had established and partnerships they had forged across the world needed to be used for other health problems, such as ebola, for instance. “Our health infrastructure is a legacy that we must leave behind.”

Congratulating the nine Presidents for their joint installation and starting the meeting on time, “something that is unheard of at events here,” he said the joint installation would save them not only time and effort but also nearly Rs 10 lakh. “There is much more we can do than just entertain ourselves. Use this money wisely and for good projects, but also know that money is the easiest to raise and the smallest part of your project. With good imagination anything is possible.”

He left them with a final thought to reflect upon … how they were blessed in various ways. They had an opportunity to lead and give back what they had received from Rotary. “You are blessed because in the midst of morally bankrupt people in the world, we have in Rotary people with integrity and moral fortitude. We are blessed that in an age of crime, war and natural disasters, in Rotary we have people who have stood against all kinds of pressures and made a difference.”

Addressing the meet DG C R Raju asked all the nine clubs to jointly adopt a village and turn it into a model Rotary village. “This is the way you can leave an impact on the community. I am already seeing the bonding between the nine presidents and your yearning to do good work,” he said.

He also urged them to concentrate in the coming year on increasing membership and strengthening clubs. “For nearly 20 years Rotary’s membership has been around 1.2 million. We add new members but the number is static, somewhere there is a drain; you have to plug the drain.”

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