The success of the literacy projects done by Rotarians in India — be it setting up happy schools, training teachers or spreading e-Learning, “has shown us how much we can achieve if we put our hearts and minds, and passion, into the work we do,” said RIPN Shekhar Mehta, addressing a felicitation event in Chennai organised by RI District 3232.
“This gives me a new thought; that Rotary should do projects which are 10 per cent of what the government can do. I am aware of what I am saying; already we are doing more than 30 per cent in the E-learning area. So if the GoI is putting up one crore toilets, then we should do 10 lakh, and that is possible. My own club, (RC Calcutta Mahanagar), one singe club, is putting up 10,000 rural toilets.”
If the GoI has a target of creating 100,000 check dams, “let’s do 10,000. If you divide the number by 40 districts, we can do it. How many organisations have the courage to say we will do 10 per cent of your job?” He added that earlier that day he had visited a wonderful lake restoration project done by RC Madras, as well as a happy school, an exemplary project too.
If the government is putting up one crore toilets, then we should do 10 lakh, and that is possible.
Urging Rotarians to do bigger and bolder projects, he said that once Rotary starts doing this, there won’t be any problem in the government accepting Rotary as a preferred partner in various service areas. Apart from the government, Rotarians should also start looking at other partners; for instance, the Literacy team had struck a big partnership with the Brahmakumaris; “there is huge strength in partnerships,” he added.
“The needs in our country are so huge… I have learnt that when you set high goals and people laugh at you, you are on the right path. Jis jis pe yeh jag hasa hei, itihas usi ne racha hei (It has been proved that history has been created by those who have been laughed at and ridiculed). Urging them to dare to dream big, Mehta asked the gathered Rotarians to just imagine the courage of the man who had got up and said 30 years ago that we will eradicate polio. Of course, Rotary hadn’t worked alone in eradicating polio from most of the world, it had come so far along with great partners. And Rotarians and Rotary clubs had also done thousands of eye surgeries, built a large number of toilets, restored water bodies…. “all this, because we Rotarians think from the heart.”
But they also had an amazing network, talent and skills; “add to that the fact that each of you sitting here is a leader in your community… a leading doctor, lawyer, chartered accountant or businessman… in our zones we have 1.5 lakh Rotary families. We are leaders in our society and we are 100 years old, so we cannot do small things. But make your programmes structured, such as Literacy is, and with a certain uniformity and standards, and you can achieve whatever you dare to dream.”
Congratulating the senior leaders of RID 3232, Mehta said, “This is an excellent district… in the last 5–7 years you have doubled your membership” and even in TRF giving, it had been giving over $1 million for the last several years. “Add to this the outstanding service projects you do, as I could see from the two projects of RC Madras that I visited this morning, and you are right there at the top.”
Thanking PDG ISAK Nazar who had put together the event, and DG G Chandramohan, Mehta said he was overwhelmed by the “love and affection” the Rotarians of RID 3232 had showered on Rashi and him, “which is evident from this hall which is overflowing on a Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. What hospitality you have shown, as other Rotarians all over India had done too. We can in no way pay back the love and affection that is being showered on us. But at the same time, the moment you do this, it places extra responsibility on me.”
I have learnt that when you set high goals and people laugh at you, you are on the right path.
He added that the day he was nominated RI Director, “I felt I am not worthy of it, but will have to become worthy. So that night I wrote down what I need to do to become worthy of all the good things that were being said about me.” He was doing the same now, so that he can at least make an attempt to get nearer to the description of himself at these events!
Recalling his long association with Mehta, RIDN A S Venkatesh, who is from RID 3232, said that when the Literacy programme was conceived “nine years ago, for almost two years, every week, I was in Kolkata… I am not joking. In the initial days itself it became evident that he is a tough taskmaster. The beauty of working with him is that he sets almost impossible targets, gets you to believe they can be achieved, and then guides you to achieve them. That is the kind of leadership he provides.”
Mehta was a very hardworking person, and Venkatesh got a taste of it one night when his phone rang at 1.45 a.m. “It was Shekhar, and he says: ‘Venky, are you sleeping?”
But “when you work with him, you find that he thinks large, sees how far you can go and then ensures that you go that far.” But much more important than his hardworking side was the personal care he and Rashi gave to those who worked closely with him. On every visit to Kolkata there would be food sent from Mehta’s home for all of them; “both of them make you feel like a part of their family.”
And when flights were late and the lunch hour was missed, packed masala dosais were there to greet him, he added. “Now of course he has become a leader of the world and the Rotary world is lucky to have him as their leader. I am doubly fortunate that I will be serving on the RI Board with him.” Then, injecting wee bit of sarcasm he added “I’m sure I will have a very comfortable time serving as a Director on the Board under him.”
Congratulating Mehta, PRID P T Prabhakar, who was on the RIPN nomination committee, recalled how the competition Mehta had faced was really tough, the last four shortlisted for the RI President’s role “were all world class, brilliant leaders, but Mehta took the cake; his answers at the interview were the best. He said I expect Rotary to get the Nobel prize, even before we make the world totally polio-free, because look what we have achieved in the last 30 years in eradicating polio from most of the world.”
The beauty of working with him is that he sets almost impossible targets, gets you to believe they can be achieved, and then guides you to achieve them. That is the kind of leadership he provides.”
— RIDN A S Venkatesh
DG Chandramohan gave a quick recap of the major projects done by District 3232, including the ‘pink auto’ project that is making waves, as it is empowering women by giving them livelihood through owning and driving their own three wheelers. In all, the project aims to benefit 200 women.
Describing another ambitious project he has launched, the DG said he has requested each Rotarian of the district to donate 2 dollars, and then approach 100 of their family members, friends, clients, etc to each give another 2 dollars. “By the end of this Rotary year, as we have 5,000 Rotarians, we hope to collect $1 million and present it to you (Mehta) so that it can be given to TRF.” This money would then be grown through the TRF, and with global grants a higher amount would be used to do better and larger community projects, he promised the RIPN.
Chandramohan got a commitment from all the assembled DGs that they would make this a successful scheme to collect funds for TRF.
PDG Nazar welcomed the gathering and said that it was his leadership skills and immense hard work that had reached Mehta to the topmost position in Rotary.
DGE S Muthupalaniappan congratulated the RIPN, who was then felicitated in a traditional way.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat