Another magical RI Convention in Singapore

It felt like a mini-United Nations alright; with over 14,000 Rotarians from 151 countries converging on the city-state of Singapore in May 2024 for the International Convention, an annual gathering of Rotary held in different parts of the world each year.

Held in a different city each year, Rotary’s conventions serve as a hub for members and participants to connect and learn from each other and a range of experts on how to take action to address issues in their communities.

The energy and the vibrations at this convention, as any other Rotary convention held in the past, were both magical and infectious. At the opening session, as there was a flag march with Rotaractors waving the flags of over 200 member countries, the colourfully dressed delegates erupted into lusty cheering, whistling and widespread applause.

TRF Trustee Vice Chair Bharat Pandya and Madhavi.
RI Director Anirudha Roychowdhury and Shipra.
PRIP K R Ravindran and Vanathy.
TRF Trustee Chair Barry Rassin and Esther.

The pre-opening session ABBA numbers proved magical yet again and as their songs filled the air, a few hundred Rotarians spontaneously got up from their seats in the huge auditorium at the sprawling Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre and started jiving and dancing to the Swedish band’s mesmerising numbers.

The choice of music clips at most Rotary International events is excellent and RI President Gordon McInally’s Convention was no exception. The opening session was wrapped up by the soulful melodies of British popstar Calum Scott, whose presence and speech reiterated that the most talented and brightest of people can suffer from depression and mental disorders, but with proper care, counselling and treatment, these can be overcome.

RID 3250 PDG Sanjay Khemka with young participant.
RI Director Raju Subramanian and Vidhya.
Seated, from R: PRIP Kalyan Banerjee, Esther and PRIP Barry Rassin, RI General Secretary John Hewko, Heather and President Gordon McInally, PRIP Shekhar Mehta and Rashi. Standing, from R: Susanne and PRIP Holger Knaack, Margaret Hewko, Juliet and PRIP Ian Riseley, PRIP Mark Maloney and Gay, PRIP Ravindran and Vanathy, PRIP D K Lee and Young, PRIP Jennifer Jones and DGE Nick Krayacich.
RI President Gordon McInally and Heather.

Through four days, and pre-convention sessions, events, special lunches and dinners, over 100 humanitarian service projects done by Rotarians all over the world were shared. Many of these were displayed through short and snappy videos on the giant screen, House of Friendship, and the speeches of world class speakers, who talked about all the focus areas of Rotary and how the organisation’s work was constantly endeavouring to make the world a better place.

“Rotary conventions are about bringing people together to create meaningful connections and to inspire each other to help create a more healthy, hopeful, and peaceful world,” said McInally. He expressed his excitement in “reconnecting with so many friends from across the globe in Singapore to celebrate in the joy we bring through our work, and to learn how we can continue to help people and communities thrive in the future.”

A colourful rangoli at the House of Friendship.
PRIP Mehta and Rashi.
PRIP Mark Maloney with his daughter Suzanna Faith Greer.

RI President Nominee Mario de Camargo acknowledged how a Rotary Youth Exchange programme he had participated in 1974–75 in the freezing winter of Minnesota, US, had changed his vision of life, and paved “the way for me to become the first RI president coming from the ranks of the Youth Exchange programme.”

Incoming RI President Stephanie Urchick said she couldn’t over-emphasise the importance “of belonging. In fact, I would go so far as to say that belonging is The Magic of Rotary. My challenge to you is to consider making changes to the experience that your club offers its members to help more people feel like they truly belong.”

RIDN K P Nagesh and Uma, and PDG Madhav Chandran and Sujatha with Rotaractors.
Singapore’s traditional Lion Dance.
RIPN Mario de Camargo and Denise with PRIP Jennifer Jones (centre).
PRIP Knaack and Susanne.

TRF Trustee Chair Barry Rassin warmed the hearts of every Indian Rotarian present in Singapore and beyond, when he announced that this year’s Programs of Scale grant for $2 million has been awarded to promote sustainable farming in India by conserving water and shoring up different water sources in rural India.

Over the next few days Singapore, the global economic powerhouse and the hub of innovation, continued to pulsate to the presence of 14,000-odd participants for this conference, with many of its hotel rooms fully booked, and as usual, the demand for rooms sending the prices galloping up.

TRF Trustee Aziz Memon and Samina.
A Rotaractor proudly holds the Indian flag on the stage.
RI Director Muhammed Faiz Kidwai and Uzma.
RIPN De Camargo and Denise.

The House of Friendship was constantly buzzing with visitors going around the various stalls, making new connections and friendships, and promises to do more for making the world a better place, even as the dark shadows of the violence and conflict in Palestine and Ukraine loomed large, leading most of the speakers to touch upon how working for peace was more important now than ever.

While big projects were discussed and big dreams were dreamt, what also touched the heart were small details that had gone into the planning of this mega event. For instance, take this announcement in the main auditorium: ‘Attention, lights during this general session may potentially trigger seizures for people with photo sensitive epilepsy. Viewer discretion is advised.”

Vanathy Ravindran, Vinita Venkatesh and Phyllis, wife of RI Director G B Chew.
PRIP Ravindran (centre) with PRID A S Venkatesh and Vinita.
PRIP Banerjee with Juliet and PRIP Riseley.
Margaret Hewko vibing to an ABBA number.

But at the end of the day, the one constant and crucial message that came out of this mega event was the need for innovation, immediate, imaginative and even revolutionary steps, to increase Rotary’s stagnating membership, which was actually decreasing in some parts of the world. All the senior leaders agreed that there was no magic wand to fix this problem, and each club would have to think out-of-the-box to address this critical issue.

Addressing one of the general sessions, RI General Secretary John Hewko quoted Albert Einstein on the need to have vision to solve any major problem, “We must revolutionise our thinking, actions, and have the courage to revolutionise relations among nations of the world.”

President McInally and Trustee Chair Rassin present the ‘Rotary People of Action Award’ to RID 3300 PDG Bindi Rajasegaran. RI General Secretary Hewko is on the left.
An LGBT+ Rotary Fellowship stall at the House of Friendship.
Rotarians of Nepal at the House of Friendship.
From L: RID 3291 DGE Krishnendu Gupta, RID 3192 DGND Ravishankar Dakoju, Vanathy, PRIP Ravindran, Simran Gupta and Paola Ravishankar.
A Rotarian with his toddler.
A jewellery stall at the House of Friendship.

To do this, Einstein had added, “It is impossible to apply methods and measures which at an earlier age might have been sufficient.” So new thinking and new tools were going to be needed at various levels to keep the organisation robust and vibrant.

While welcoming the audience, Hewko said as it was a truly global audience, he wished he could speak many more languages than he did. But wait… he might just be able to do that, he said, as his image was beamed on the screen, saying in Hindi: Singapore me aap ke saath hona ek anand hei (I am happy to be with you here in Singapore). The image went on to say the same in French, Korean and Chinese. Predictably enough, an AI tool had been used for this!

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat and Rotary International

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