Let’s not run behind numbers: RI Director

A section of the regional leaders with RIDN Bharat Pandya, EMGA Sam Patibandla, TRF Trustee Elect Gulam Vahanvaty, PDG Sashi Varvandkar and EMGA Ashok Panjwani.
A section of the regional leaders with RIDN Bharat Pandya, EMGA Sam Patibandla, TRF Trustee Elect Gulam Vahanvaty, PDG Sashi Varvandkar and EMGA Ashok Panjwani.

Membership robbery” — this is how President Riseley refers to our membership growth, and every RI Board meeting includes an agenda with the sub-head ‘India concerns’. It is high time we reform ourselves and become true Rotarians.”

With these powerful words, RI Director C Basker set the tone for the training seminar held at Chennai recently for assistant regional coordinators of Zones 4, 5 and 6A. Expressing his concern over membership growth, he said, “Every year we add 10,000 members and by the end of the year 9,000 members just leave. Let us not run behind numbers. We need genuine Rotarians who care for humanity.”

We may be taking in people who have no idea about Rotary but agree to become members on the insistence of friends.
— RI Director C Basker

Another major issue of concern was surfacing of various instances of misappropriation of funds. “We receive the largest amount through global grants; yet stewardship is a big challenge in our region. As a country we must be ashamed of such dishonesty.”

RCs Rajendra Rai and Ashok Gupta, RRFCs Avinash Potdar and Vijay Jalan, RPICs Ashish Desai and Rajadurai Michael introduced their teams of assistant coordinators. Along with them, the leadership engaged in a two-day brainstorming workshop where they brought to the table their anxieties and challenges in training district and club leaders on the three verticals of Rotary — membership, Foundation giving and public image.

“All lessons that you learn here should percolate to the district and club level,” said RIDN Bharat Pandya. He suggested that committees be formed for each vertical in all the districts and clubs. “Reach out and be in touch with the respective district and club officers,” he added, urging the regional leaders “not to wait for an invitation to make a presentation. Rather, volunteer to educate club members.”

From L: TRF Trustee Elect Gulam Vahanvaty, RI Director C Basker and RIDN Bharat Pandya share a light moment.

When one of the delegates pointed out an instance where a governor demanded $10,000 as contribution to TRF in return for a district assignment, TRF Trustee Elect Gulam Vahanvaty said, “Collecting money for TRF is a good thought, but demanding money in this way is certainly not acceptable. Appointments are not for sale. They are based purely on merit.” On membership, he said that an indiscriminate push for inducting new members only resulted in members leaving within the first two years. “We have to first understand if we are following the right steps while inducting members. We may be taking in people who have no idea about Rotary but agree to become members on the insistence of friends. So we need to address this on a war footing.”

But unlike membership, Foundation giving does not have a downside. “The more we ask, the more we get. We are collecting funds for the Foundation by selling what the Foundation does, and people contribute, because they believe in the Foundation and its activities,” he added.

How did you deal with your regional coordinators? If you have ignored them, nothing much has changed now.
Gulam Vahanvaty, TRF Trustee Elect

Later, addressing the break-out sessions, Director Basker assured the delegates that they had been chosen for their leadership capabilities and performances. “We depend on you now to set our country in order… in terms of membership, public image and Foundation giving.”

He added that a clear focus and definition were needed on the role of the district and many governors did not get this right. Often, instead of working in tandem with RI’s ­priorities — that of making the world polio-free and enhancing club membership, “they seem to have their own priorities. The districts are formed solely to help clubs in advancing the objects of Rotary. But today, instead of the districts supporting the clubs, it is vice versa. There is more of district activities than club activities,” he observed.



The three senior leaders did not mince words on what they thought of dishonesty in utilising grant and other funds and said stewardship issues were both crucial and critical.

Vahanvaty said last year India had surpassed all records. Incoming Trustee Chair Ron Burton had set a comprehensive goal of $380 million for the next year. “The Rotary Foundation counts on us and we have always responded most willingly. In 2015–16 we were second to Japan by a huge margin; last year we were second to Japan by a short head. We will continue to narrow this gap. When we have so much to be proud of in our giving to the Foundation, why should we allow a handful of individuals to give us a bad name?”

It was a shame that in a membership of 150,000 Rotarians in India, a mere 0.003 per cent (50 Rotarians) are “making us hang our heads low. How can we allow such a miniscule number of misdemeanours to bring us so much ignominy? Let’s have a zero tolerance to dishonesty, not because the Trustees want it, but because each of us believe in it.”

From L: PDGs Ravi Mehra (3110), Natarajan Nagoji (3232), Hitesh Jariwala (3060), RIDN Bharat Pandya, PDGs Pramod Parikh (3132) and Jaya Shah (3292).

Referring to clubs with less than 10 members, Pandya pointed out that there are 196 such clubs in India and they exist only for election purpose. He urged the Rotary coordinators to identify them and close them. “We’ll be losing about 2,000 members, but that is not a loss for Rotary. I want you to also concentrate on clubs with less than 25 members. Identify their interests and engage them in Rotary programmes so that they bring in their friends.”

Counselling the public image coordinators to devise programmes to better engage Rotarians, he observed that public image is not only promoting Rotary to outsiders. It also involves taking Rotary to Rotarians. “Seventy per cent of the Rotarians are still unaware of what Rotary does and what a beautiful organisation they are a part of,” he said.



While the Rotary coordinators thrashed out ways to increase “quality” membership and retain existing members, the public image team worked on giving more spotlight to Rotary and the Foundation team brainstormed grants management and fundraising with additional resources from EMGAs Ashok Panjwani and Sam Patibandla.

To a suggestion from a PDG that the governors should be sensitised to take the services of the ARFCs and DRFCs, Vahanvaty made a point: “You all have been successful governors. How did you deal with your regional coordinators? If you have ignored them, nothing much has changed now.” He suggested that the contact details of the coordinators’ committee be included in each of the district directories so that club presidents can reach out to them easily for guidance and support.

The Rotary Coordinators’ session moderated by Rai was an animated one with discussions ranging from dual membership, satellite clubs and women members. A predominant suggestion for attracting more women members included less meetings and more fun and service. “Women get put off with liquor served during meetings,” said ARC Gurjeet Sekhon. ARC Bindu Singh pointed out that the tag “Rotary spouse” is a big deterrent as most Rotarians “consider us just that and not a Rotarian.”

Pictures by Jaishree

Key points

RID Basker, TRF Trustee-elect Gulam Vahanvaty and RIDN Bharat ­Pandya highlighted the following points for the regional leaders to
act upon:

*        District leaders should conduct meetings in regional language.

*        RCs and ARCs must guide clubs to frame their constitution and bylaws and also encourage governors to follow it up with clubs;

*        Data should be updated in Rotary Club Central.

*        Encourage clubs to do service projects based on local community needs and educate them to avail global grants using the Rotary Showcase facility to get international partners.

*        RPICS and ARPICS should develop a media plan to promote Rotary across the country.

*        RRFCs to encourage all Rotarians to contribute a minimum of $26.50 annually to the Foundation.

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