What a wonderful sight it is to see nearly 700 people in this auditorium. It has been months now and all of us were itching to meet and greet each other… we have been zoomed out, zooming from one online meet to another. It is great to meet so many old friends, make new ones and chat with them over coffee,” said RI President Shekhar Mehta at the inaugural session of the zone Institute Mahabs 21.
Thanking RI director A S Venkatesh and institute chair PDG M Muruganandam for putting together an in-person institute for over 700 people at Mamallapuram on the outskirts of Chennai, he said: “We can imagine what a challenging task it must have been to put together this meeting during a pandemic. But zone institutes are great fun; you meet people, share thoughts, learn a lot from them, understand challenges and how people overcome them, and listen to wonderful speakers.”
Looking back at over five months of his tenure at the helm of RI, Mehta said: “It’s been an outstanding journey, where we have seen lots of ups and downs… it was a delight for Rashi and me that finally on Aug 15, our Independence Day, we were at Evanston and had the great honour of seeing the tiranga (Indian tricolour) fluttering on the 18th floor at the RI headquarters in Evanston. Wherever we went we could see the Indian flag.”
Look at the 400-bed hospital PDG Sagadhevan built in just 45 days in Erode. There are so many Covid stories that many of you have created… the work that we do is just outstanding.
– RI President Shekhar Mehta
Recalling his mantra “grow more, do more”, Mehta said “as I go around the world, I find this phrase has become very popular, along with ‘each one, bring one’, perhaps even more popular than the theme itself, but I am happy that across the world Rotarians are working to grow more and do more. But this audience can give a lesson to the rest of the world about growing more and doing more.”
Having always been inspired by Bernard Shaw’s famous words ‘You see things; and you say Why? But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’, when it came to “growth in Rotary, I said why not a 1.3 million membership? Many people would have laughed at that, but by now I have learnt in Rotary that when people laugh at me, I am on the right path.”
Mehta said that this region was leading the world in membership growth. “In the last 10 years, the average membership growth here has been around 4,000 a year; but in the first 5 ½ months of the Rotary year you have already done what it would normally take four years; you are 16,000 members plus. I am sure by year end we will add 20,000 extra members.”
Along with addition, retention was of course important, but then obviously those who brought in more members would also like to retain them by engaging them in various activities of Rotary.
He was happy to note that as Rotary grew more across the world “we are able to do more. And it is this region that writes the story of “do more”. Whether it is TRF projects and programmes or giving more to the Foundation, or service activities, there is no other place in the world in Rotary where so much work happens than these zones put together; India, Sri Lanka, Nepal; these are the jewels in the crown of Rotary. What outstanding work happens here.” (See box).
Mehta said that many years ago, while watching a programme on NDTV with Coca Cola and Sachin Tendulkar in a ‘support my school’ full day telethon, “I was amazed and wished that someday Rotary would have a programme like that. A few years later I got an invitation from NDTV for a similar programme and PRIP Kalyan Banerjee and I went to their studio. Saurav Ganguly and Ranveer Singh were there. Later I learnt that while Coke and Sachin had done over several years 600 schools, that one single year Rotarians in India did 1,300 Happy Schools. That is the networking power of Rotary in this region.”
This audience from our region can give a lesson to the rest of the world about growing more and doing more.
– RI President Shekhar Mehta
When the pandemic hit, Rotary was already working on the literacy programme and the plan was to go to 25 states in six years, but the PM made an announcement on giving E-learning to all children at home. “I wrote to the PM, got a response in just five days and in the next 45 days we signed an MoU with the GoI and today the largest content shown to 100-million plus children in India is that developed by RILM, beamed on 12 different E-vidya channels of the government; after every episode it says presented by RILM.”
Hundreds of millions of children will grow up hearing the name of Rotary, said Mehta. “We gave them more than 2,000 episodes, and if it were a serial, it would run for 10 years all. All the content was prepared in six months.”
On adult literacy too Rotary has made a commitment to the government and we will meet this goal through partnerships with organisations such as the Brahmakumaris, Gayatri Parivar, and seven different universities across India with which Rotary has forged a partnership. “All of this can happen when you have big dreams.”
In water too, “we have just signed an MoU to set up 200 check dams with Amla Ruia (a social activist known for her work in water harvesting) in Mumbai, where Rotarians will only have to give 20 per cent of the funding; 80 per cent will be put up by them. RID 3011 DG Anup Mittal has already got funding for 150 check dams through a GG.”
Mehta then complimented PDG Sagadhevan for building, during Covid, a grand and sprawling 400-bed hospital over an area of 70,000 sq ft in Erode in just 45 days, raising ₹20 crore for the project.
There are so many Covid stories that many of you have created… the work that we do is just outstanding. Two months back we wanted to work on diabetes and in just one day all of you came together to do a check-up for one million people, and one lakh people who didn’t know they had diabetes were identified. DGs, hats off to you.”
The Vision Spring project is aimed to give one lakh spectacles to children with defective vision and 250 clubs in India have already signed up for it. “When I met PM Narendra Modi, he said go and serve the world. For India, if you can, please work for the nutrition of women and girls. I’m happy to share that we are on the verge of signing an MoU with UNICEF on the Anaemia Mukt Bharat programme of GoI and UNICEF.” It will start with a pilot in UP for 10,000 girls.
There was so much uncertainty, apprehension, and doubts, in both the delegates and the organising committee members if this Institute would happen. But Muruga and his team made it happen.
– RI Director A S Venkatesh
The RI president added that he had represented Rotary at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow and “committed on behalf of Rotary to put up mangroves in 10 countries, including India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria and Seychelles.” Empowering girls had caught the imagination of the entire world and projects to do so are happening everywhere. In India, so many clubs including his home club of Kolkata Mahanagar was implementing the Veerangana project, which trained girls in self defence. “We’ve all agreed that 10 per cent of the GGs we do, will be in other countries,” he added.
Addressing the inaugural session, institute convener Venkatesh spelt out the challenges of putting together an institute during a pandemic such as the one we are facing now. “There was so much of uncertainty, apprehension, fear and so many doubts, in both the delegates and the organising committee members if this would actually happen.”
Add to this the unprecedented rains and flooding in Chennai and the challenges of holding a huge event for some 700 participants in resorts with huge open spaces such as at the official venues chosen, and the uncertainty only grew. “But I trusted my chair Muruga and the institute team, and the almighty, without whose blessings we couldn’t have met here in person.”
Several organising committee meets had to be held only online; “these were the travails we went through. But finally, it was all worth it, when I see the huge number of people who have come, the smiles, and greetings in person… when I see all that and meet friends across the region, I feel it was worth all that anxiety.”
Venkatesh admitted that he had indeed taken a big risk; “supposing we could not hold the institute in person, who would bear the loss was the big question. The clear answer was that RI wouldn’t do that!”
He explained that the beautiful city of Mahabalipuram, a 1,300-year-old port city, was chosen, “because all of us take great pride in the legacy of Rotary. I say jokingly at all forums that even today we are basking in the legacy of PolioPlus… and the eradication of polio from so many countries. So let’s all look forward to fun and laughter, meeting and greeting which we haven’t been able to do for so long. But let’s observe all the Covid protocol, rededicate ourselves to what Rotary has always stood for, change our lives and that of those around us wherever we can.”
Institute chair PDG M Muruganandam (RID 3000) detailed the meticulous planning the entire institute team did, “not wanting to compromise on anything when it came to giving all of you a wonderful time and experience. In a very short span of just 100 days, we’ve tried to put together the best we could. Please enjoy your time here.”
Mehta presented the Covid Warrior Award to TN Health minister Ma Subramanian in the presence of RI’s Covid Task Force chair PRIP K R Ravindran, Venkatesh and Muruganandam. The minister recalled Rotary’s active participation in the medical camps conducted in 155 divisions of Chennai in 2006 when he was the Mayor. “We went into the Limca Book of Records for the record number of medical camps then,” he said. He thanked the Rotarians for the various Covid relief activities and Covid care centres they set up across the country and acknowledged Rotary’s role in polio eradication in India and across the world.
Snapshot of Rotary’s work in India
Giving a quick sample of the service done by Rotary in India over the last 10 years, RI President Shekhar Mehta said:
- We have done over 2 million eye surgeries at over 50 eye hospitals that we have established in India
- Over 20,000 life-changing and life-saving paediatric heart surgeries on children
- Set up more than 30 blood banks.
- Given away 25,000 shelter kits every time a disaster takes place in India
- Set up over 20,000 rural toilets in an amazing contribution to Swachh Bharat
- More than 25,000 schools given E-learning programmes
- Over 70,000 teachers given training under the TEACH programme
- 50,000 children were sent back to schools.
- Made a commitment to then HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar a few years back to set up in 5 years 5,000 libraries; completed in 3½ years.
- Over 3,000 Happy Schools done.
Inshah Allah… for a polio-free Pakistan
RI President Shekhar Mehta said that often when he talks about the need for Rotary to get involved in nation-building in India and give the GoI a helping hand, many people are sceptical, “but I have been inspired only by our polio programme. We have played a major role in a health programme of the world.” Eradicating polio in more than 125 countries… “the only other disease apart from small pox, is a major feat. Trustee Aziz Memon keeps telling me that 45 more days and probably we would have seen the last case in Pakistan (where no cases have been reported till now this year). Fingers crossed, Inshah Allah Aziz, on that day I will be with you.”
When Rotarians take up a challenge, anything is possible, because that is the power that we have;160,000 in this region. The Indian PM would be very happy to get 150,000 people of this calibre unleash their power for the task of nation-building,” he added.