In an era where many Rotary districts are ridden with the problem of one PDG trying to stab in the back the new DG or vice versa, it was interesting to watch through the Rotary year 2014–15, the bonhomie and synergy between Vivek Aranha, District 3131 Governor and his IPDG Deepak Shikarpur. One reason for the District scoring so many highs, be it in TRF contributions or membership growth.
At the 2014 Chennai Institute, Pakistan’s PolioPlus Chair Aziz Memon described how Pakistani Rotarians were struggling with polio immunisation as their health workers were being shot dead by the Taliban. Mobile phones were required by these workers for more effective and safer work. The scheme would cost $10,000. In 30 minutes the session ended, by which time Aranha, Shikarpur and two other Pune Rotarians were at the dais to announce they would fund this scheme!
So what is the secret behind this perfect understanding, I ask the two as we dig into idlis at the Pune Youth Club. “First of all, the two of us get along very well,” says Aranha, adding, “and I think we do community service in the right sense of the word. We don’t put the names of any Rotarians in any project that our district does … no director, no governor; only District 3131. So people feel there is no personal agenda involved and this attracts new members.”
Shikarpur adds that all the “challenge areas of Rotary” such as increasing membership, getting women and younger members have been successfully tackled by their District. “And if our projects have worked well it is because we work with each other. If we had decided not to help each other, many of the projects would have fallen through.”
Spelling out the larger projects, Aranha says that 1,000 e-learning centres were opened in 2014–15 and 800 were opened in the previous year. Tata Technologies helped in a big way through their CSR initiative. Around 2,000 toilet blocks were constructed and 40 dialysis machines set up in the district where many people get the service free of cost; the middle classes pay only Rs 500 per dialysis. Mammography vans have been set up; “one goes to rural areas, and we’ve gone beyond our district and given one van to Vijayawada and the screening is done totally free of charge. Under the Happy Village project we’ve done 50 villages this year.”
And these PDGs have gone beyond D 3131; “we’ve given aid to RC Culver City in San Francisco for a literacy programme. We’ve reached out to the people of northeast India by giving mobile medical equipment and ambulances. We’re setting up a computer centre in Jaffna which will be inaugurated soon. We support PRIP Raja Saboo in his medical missions in Africa with large sums of money. We gave mobile telephones to Pakistan’s polio workers.”
The district has recently set up a free dialysis centre in Kasargod in Kerala where harmful chemicals are used for farming, and kidney disorders are on the rise.
RC meet on a train
Another feather in their cap is that every Thursday 40 Rotarians hold their club meeting on the Deccan Queen, a train that commutes between Pune and Mumbai. “This is a very big PR exercise because the train has 100 commuters and only 40 are Rotarians. The other 60 non-Rotarians learn a lot about Rotary, and the Rotary banner is on the train,” says Aranha.
Giving an example of how continuity helps, PDG Deepak Shikarpur says during his year the RI concept/programme of reconnect was tried out by the district, “the only district in the world to try it. Like a college’s alumni, it is an organised campaign to bring back old Rotarians who had left.”
For this he needed data of the people who had left, but had to put up quite a struggle to get it. “The data of those who leave rests in Evanston and there is privacy over it. So I told them you give me info only for my district, I am not interested in other districts.” It took him eight months to get this information. He was also helped by the fact that the IT back office of RI is near the Pune airport “where more than 60 people work. If you send a question to the US, it comes here but most Rotarians don’t know this as they don’t interact with Rotarians by design.”
When the chief information officer Peter Marcos visited Pune, Shikarpur convinced him on why he needed the data and got it. “I wrote to each of them saying we are missing you, please return. These are my plans for the year as Governor.” And he followed this up by giving specific lists to the presidents during club visits and asked them to invite them back.
Shikarpur says he was “shocked to know that in five years 2,000 people had left.” As a result of Operation Reconnect, 500 people returned in his year and another 500 during Aranha’s year, as some people took time to decide.
So why do people leave Rotary?
Apparently there are a few standard reasons. One is financial; second a fight within the club; third, I was ignored; fourth illness and the last but not the least, politics within the district. “But emotionally, after 2–3 years, those reasons become invalid. I also found that heart of hearts, after leaving they were missing Rotary but there was an ego problem. So I said I will invite you, you don’t wait for club president. Some said I don’t want to return to the old club, give me another, so we gave that choice.”
Vivek Aranha adds that another problem is that in larger clubs leadership positions are difficult, so by shifting clubs, an opportunity opens up.
Shikarpur adds that the club struggled for two years because RI objected saying you can’t have such a club meet as the train goes through two districts. “So Vivek found a solution saying the meeting will be held only when the train is in our district!”
Another achievement is that 33 new clubs were opened during his tenure as DG, adding 1,500 new members and helping India emerge No 1 in membership growth. (Membership grew in India by 25,000 during 2014–15).
Adds Shikarpur: “And we’re getting more women and young members — RI’s challenge areas and all our new clubs are young!”
So how did they achieve that? “Through proper marketing. In the last week of June, one of the world’s largest clubs was chartered here with 406 members. The average age of that club is 30 and it has 200 women!” D 3131 has also chartered a women entrepreneurs’ club — RC Inspira.
Shikarpur adds that you have to convince people in the right manner to join Rotary. In 2013–14, the district took up the gated community project, and talked to people in Magarpatta, the satellite township of Pune. “They have 30,000 people there. Our efforts paid off and they started a club inside.” That during Aranha’s period as Governor three more clubs were started in the same society is proof that co-operation and joint work by PDGs pays rich dividend.
So will they continue to work together in the future too along with the new district leadership? “Of course. He is the image co-ordinator and I am the Assistant Rotary Coordinator (ARC) for next year, the post Shikarpur had in 2014–15, and I’ve promised to help him in his image boosting efforts,” says Aranha.
Adds Shikarpur with a smile, “It’s a mutual admiration society … Governorship will come and go and it has gone now for Vivek, as it did for me the previous year, but what has remained is our friendship.”