The Atlanta Convention, where The Rotary Foundation celebrated its 100th birthday of doing good in the world, and which took such long years of planning, was a unique birthday celebration in more than one way.
Attracting an attendance of over 40,000 Rotarians from every imaginable country in the world, it was meticulously executed. Of course, the most precious feather in its cap was getting the iconic Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates to attend, and impress him sufficiently to pay encomiums to Rotarians. At the huge hall bursting at its seams in the sprawling Georgia World Congress Centre — where you had to walk over a km to get to the general sessions — Gates enthralled the audience with a speech that showcased his humility. Deciphering the tone and tenor of his frequently applauded speech, which gave almost all credit to Rotarians the world over for getting so close to Zero Polio, the new buzzword, those not in the know couldn’t have guessed his colossal contribution and support for the polio eradication programme.
Except for a few brief moments when he mentioned the numbers. He brought the house down when he announced that if Rotary sticks to its goal of raising $150 million over the next three years, he would match each dollar raised by two, and “together we will raise $450 million towards ensuring there is zero polio!” This would take the “the total amount raised by our partnership since 2007 to nearly $1.5 billion. That’s just amazing.” Add to this the money pledged by Canada, Germany, European Commission, Japan, UAE, etc, with its partners, Rotary will be raising $1.2 billion over the next three years to wipe polio off the face of the earth. But, telling the overwhelmed Rotarians that money was only one part of the polio story, Gates acknowledged the “phenomenal work done by Rotarians” in the last 30 years, particularly in high-risk conflict zones to immunise the children of the world against polio.
Another high point of the Convention was the stirring speech made by TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, who took the assembled Rotarians on a trip down memory lane when he recalled how the “colossal dreamer” Arch C Klumph’s humble beginning of an endowment fund with just $26.5 had few takers in a world grappling with the great depression and hurtling from one world war to another. He would be amazed to know that 100 years down the line, the same Foundation, “thanks to the generous support of Rotarians worldwide, has provided $3.7 billion for its vital projects and programmes,” he said.
For Indian Rotarians, the South Asia Reception is a high point in any Convention, and it gets attendance from most RI world leaders. Surely, or at least one would like to think, the delicious Indian food on offer is only one part of this story, and the world leaders patronise this event to recognise and encourage the great humanitarian work being done by Indian Rotarians. What made this Reception even more special this year was it being Banerjee’s 75th birthday, and in the absence of his wife Binota, it was delightful to watch the other tall figure in Indian Rotary, PRIP Rajendra K Saboo, and wife Usha, fuss over the birthday boy, engulfing him in the warmth of their wishes and the affectionate display of camaraderie.