Business as usual not possible after pandemic: Holger Knaack

Those who think that after the Covid pandemic it will be “business as usual”, are wrong, as “ that will be impossible,” said RI President Holger Knaack, at his inaugural address at the Taipei virtual convention. Rotarians will have to adapt to and embrace change, and think about the opportunities this pandemic has brought, along with challenges. “For Rotary clubs, this means thinking strategically and considering how we can build on the experiences of the past year. We have all seen just how valuable virtual meetings can be. International meetings are now routine. Exciting new service projects can be planned and executed in real time across the world, and we can collaborate together like never before.”

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One challenge could be fundraising in this environment, “but that too can be managed, if not enhanced, by the use of technology, as people can see now their donations in action. All of this immediate interaction is leading to new ideas and problem-solving.”

Knaack said that for Rotary and Rotarians, “this has been an important year.” The optimism of Africa being declared wild polio-free, had been followed by Rotarians’ commitment to ending polio being greeted by the news that until early May, there were just two cases of wild poliovirus worldwide. Apart from their commitment to end polio from the world, Rotarians across the world were also looking forward to taking up work on Rotary’s new area of focus — the environment. Work would also continue to take “Rotaract to a new level this year, with higher visibility in the Rotary world than ever before. Also, two countries — Africa and Australia — as well as many clubs will be celebrating their Rotary centennial.”

The RI president said another opportunity given by the pandemic was virtual club meetings, “which are appealing to younger people. Even before Covid-19 began to spread rapidly around the world, I spoke about the importance of Rotary adapting to the changes around us to stay relevant.” That change included virtual club meetings. “For most younger generations, clubs built around shared meals don’t fit with their lifestyles. This was not an experience they had growing up, and certainly did not fit with their busy social calendars.”

In his opening conversation, filmed outdoors in his home town of Hamburg, and which gave the feel of a physical, real time meet, he shared that Suzanne and he “don’t have children of our own, but we have hosted about 40 youth exchange groups.” In a lighter vein he added that Suzanne says this improves their tolerance levels!

RI President Holger Knaack in conversation with Sasha Hingst, news anchor and member of RC Hamburg, in front of the 325-year-old German Academy of Arts, in Hamburg.
RI President Holger Knaack in conversation with Sasha Hingst, news anchor and member of RC Hamburg, in front of the 325-year-old German Academy of Arts, in Hamburg.

Knaack said that it cannot be denied that Rotary clubs are “ageing”, and Rotary is counting on Rotaract to help bring the average age down. He said he is often asked what he says when a youngster asks him to describe Rotary. He tells them that it is a service club, but much more than that. “It helps foster international connections, networking and enables friendships around the world, apart from giving the opportunity for personal growth.”

The pandemic had brought great devastation and far many lives had been lost, including many “people important to us. We must continue to honour those who have passed and do whatever we can to bring this devastation to an end as soon as possible.”

He was happy that Rotarians continued to play a crucial role to “help the world cope with the pandemic, and we are stepping up across the globe with vaccination campaigns that can help bring it to an end. I want to thank all the Rotarians who have done so much to help us cope with these difficult times. Nothing can override our sense of loss, but we cannot ignore the ways the pandemic has forced us to make positive change.”

This change had allowed the forming of a “new closeness through our use of technology and our commitment to mutual care. The time and distance between us has shrunk dramatically. Instead of speakers at a podium, everybody’s face is right in front of us. We speak to each other directly, face-to-face, and this has helped us transcend cultural boundaries,” Knaack added.

Instead of speakers at a podium, everybody’s face is right in front of us. We speak to each other directly, face-to-face, and this has helped us transcend cultural boundaries.

Of course, “we have missed hugging people, casual chats over coffee, and our in-person meetings. These things are important and will return in due time. But we’re also getting better at the casual parts of virtual and turning it into more opportunities for unscripted thinking and planning.”

The lessons learnt in the last one year would help Rotary “become a more modern organisation. We need to use this opportunity to welcome younger men and women and more diverse groups. This is how we will expand our reach. And the technology will continue to evolve. Our comfort will continue to grow. The technology will become more user-friendly, exciting, and engaging, and we will become better at blending the live world with the digital one.”

Always an espouser of new technology, Knaack urged the attendees to use the “technology of this convention to have an engaging learning experience and fun” by attending breakout sessions, engaging in chat rooms, and making new connections.

He extended a warm welcome to Vietnam, the newest country with Rotary’s presence.

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