If ever the Rotarians of a tiny country such as Nepal, devastated by the earthquake of April 2015, needed a shot in the arm to realise their objective of building over 1,000 high quality low-cost shelters, along with water and sanitation facilities, and primary schools complete with toilets, at a cost of some $8 to 9 million, it came from none other than the visiting RI President K R Ravindran.
Addressing the Rotarians of RI District 3292 (Nepal and Bhutan) at a Rotary Foundation dinner hosted in his honour, Ravindran assured DG Keshav Kunwar and his team: “Don’t worry, the money will come. Yes, a $9 million project is big but not impossible because we have done it in Sri Lanka after the tsunami. We raised $12 million in 10 months, and you can do it too.”
But, he warned the Rotarians that to achieve this objective they will have to strictly follow a plan, smartly market their project across the world, keep their accounts meticulously and be totally transparent. “Because both your and Rotary’s reputation is at stake.”
Giving invaluable tips on how to implement such a mammoth project, Ravindran said the challenge before Nepal was immense … rebuilding 600,000 destroyed houses and tens of thousands of schools was a national challenge. Of course the Rotarians could only do a small part of this reconstruction and rehabilitation work. Just as Rotary can’t set right all the wrongs in the world. “I get calls asking what is Rotary doing about the refugee problem in Europe. How can Rotary solve the refugee problem in Europe when Governments of countries such as the US or Germany can’t do it by themselves? So sometimes the demands on us are huge. And yet we take the position that even though we can’t rectify everything, what we can do, we will do.”
Complimenting D 3292 for taking up the challenge of such an ambitious project, Ravindran said the first crucial thing was to find partners who were as dedicated as them and with the same interests and passion. “Partners leverage us; you’ve done the right thing to team up with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce.”
While doing a project worth $8-9 million, a crucial thing to remember was “to work as a team not worrying about who gets the limelight. This is not the time for politics or ego trips, but for all of you to put your shoulders to the wheel, think of your country first and start the work.
You may be small but you are mighty. I want you to remember you have 1.2 million Rotarians across the world supporting you,” he said.
But an important aspect was to market their project across the world. “People are looking for good CSR projects, but you have to market it well. You can’t sit back and expect people to think all the time only about the Nepal disaster, because calamities happen all over the world and people move on and Nepal is forgotten.”
The demands on us are huge, but we say that even though we can’t rectify everything, what we can do, we’ll do.
The RI President assured Nepal’s Rotarians that it was his and RI Director Manoj Desai’s job “to take your message to the rest of the Rotary world and tell them these are people worth helping, as they’re projecting Rotary’s image positively through their work. I’ll support you, I’ll talk about you at the Seoul Convention, and spread your message to the world. But I want to see action on the ground, the structures coming up, the accounts and perfect transparency. If you do that, funds will just pour in. People are looking for good CSR projects, but they want to help people they can trust their money with and you need to prove that by what you do, not what you speak.”
What was even more important was the support of TRF. When you have the endorsement of TRF, apart from the funds concerned, it means that it has confirmed the acceptance of the project and the stewardship angle has been correctly handled. It means they are saying that these are good people and doing great work. Otherwise you won’t get money from the Foundation because they are so strict now. So if you get money from TRF, it says to the rest of the world this is a good project worthy of support.
But, he cautioned, even if TRF puts “all its resources behind you, it still cannot satisfy all of Nepal’s immediate needs; the Foundation is a relatively small entity.” But the value of the work it did was far beyond the money it spent, “because the money that we spend through our Foundation is leveraged around the world, as it is here in Nepal, by the great muscle of Rotary … by the individual Rotarians, by our clubs, and more importantly, the power of our personal connections. Because we are a global network, that is organised locally, we can do the kind of work that you are doing here in Nepal.”
Ravindran added that Rotary had the ability to deliver humanitarian aid on a unique model — a model that bypassed much of the administrative expense and inefficiency of international NGOs. “We command the respect of governments, of international organisations and agencies. We have local actors already in place in 34,000 communities, in all but a handful of nations. Rotary has no need to hire locals to negotiate the language, the customs, or the government; we don’t enter a situation as foreigners to overcharge or take any advantage. And that is an advantage that we use very effectively, to deliver service that cannot be matched by any other organisation.”
He added that he had a very special relationship with Nepal; “we are connected by two wheels, or chakras. One is of course the Rotary wheel and the other is the dharma chakra, because it was from your country that the message of Buddha came to my country.”
Unless you report the details of the great work you are doing on Rotary Club Central, how will the rest of the world know about it?
– RID Manoj Desai
Both the RI President and RI Director Desai were all praise for D 3292 for raising an “astonishing” $800,000 for TRF despite the debilitating earthquake and the crippling economic blockage. And they were launching a Major Donors Club, with 27 members that day.
Addressing the meet RI Director Desai complimented the Rotarians for their record collection which was “phenomenal, considering their previous best was only $333,000. And knowing your potential, I am revising your goal to $1 million! And I will come back again to Nepal to help you achieve that goal.”
But Desai didn’t have to wait too long for the goal to be realised. Before a toast could be raised for the TRF dinner, an Arch Klumph Society member had been found, exceeding the $1 million mark. The RI Director lauded DG Kunwar for the Major Donors club with 27 members, and complimented senior leaders in Nepal such as DRFC/PDG Basu Dev Golyan, and PDG Tirtha Man Sakya and others for working closely with DG Kunwar.
He also praised the district for being “peaceful and vibrant,” and provided valuable insights on how to proceed with the post-earthquake reconstruction and rehabilitation work. Desai recalled that after the 2001 earthquake, he, along with senior Rotary leaders such as PRIP Rajendra K Saboo and PRIP Kalyan Banerjee had met the then acting Gujarat Chief Minister Suresh Mehta, to tell the government that Rotary would work with it on relief and rehabilitation. “He asked us: ‘After the cyclone, you had committed six villages. How many did you actually build?’ Before we could say anything the Secretary said: ‘Only two sir.’ That was a slap on our faces.
The CM next said: ‘This time do you really mean business or not?’ And that was another slap which I haven’t forgotten.”
So, added Desai, the Rotarians tightened their belt to do something really special. “The Gujarat media had predicted that by this earthquake, Gujarat would be thrown back by 10 years, but Gujarat started running again in five years. Rotary rebuilt 11 villages and 142 schools. I am telling you all this because much is expected from you.”
A $9 million project is big but not impossible; we have done it in Sri Lanka after the tsunami. We raised $12 million in 10 months.
– RI President K R Ravindran
He lauded them for not only collecting $800,000 during “such a period of crisis” but also adding over 400 new members, five new clubs and chartering a Major Donors club.
But, pointed out Desai, despite doing such “phenomenal work, which includes 15 Global Grants and over 30 in the pipeline,” the district was lax in updating its details on Rotary Club Central; its updates were only 30 per cent till date. “Unless you report the details of the great work you are doing in Nepal, how will the rest of the world know about it? So I urge you to do that straightaway.”
DG Kunwar thanked President Ravindran for his concern and solidarity when the earthquake hit Nepal last year. “Under your leadership a new era has begun in Rotary; discipline and action have become the two buzzwords. You are a result oriented, tough taskmaster, and your message right from the Chennai Institute — Perform or Perish — has reached all Rotarians.”
In response, Ravindran quipped, “You say I rule with an iron hand; you should look at RID Manoj, he rules with iron hands and feet also. He was exactly the type of partner I was looking for!” He added that when senior leaders work “with your money, we have the responsibility to deliver. You have entrusted us with your faith and your hopes.”
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat