It was with a sense of awe that Mark Maloney delivered his presidential speech at the Rotary India Centennial summit in Kolkata. “It seems just like last week that Rotary celebrated its 100th anniversary in Chicago. But it was actually 15 years ago. How many of you were there at the Chicago Convention in 2005? Quite a few, I can see. That small club in Chicago started 115 years ago with just four members; a club so small that today it would not even qualify for a club charter from Evanston!”
And now Rotary Club of Calcutta was celebrating its 100 years, having been chartered on Jan1, 1920. “And soon afterwards, the Marco Polo of Rotary, Jim Davidson, took it upon himself to further expand Rotary’s reach in India.” Davidson travelled 240,000 km in two years, “travelling by steam train and car, canoe and elephant, arriving in Bombay in Feb 1929 with his wife and daughter, intending to start a club there. But it was not an easy task to start a club in this big city of 1.2 million people. Wouldn’t Davidson be amazed to know that Bombay now has a population of more than 18 million?”
Maloney recalled how three attempts to start a Rotary club in Bombay had failed prior to his arrival, but in March that year, Davidson successfully organised a club that would receive its charter on May 8. Next, he organised a club in Delhi, before visiting Rotarians in Calcutta, when N C Laharry was serving as club secretary. “Laharry as you all know, went on to become RI President in 1962–63. It brings me to the most important story of Rotary in India. And that is not your past but your future.” Come July 1, 2021, and Shekhar Mehta would become the fourth Rotary President from India. “I am delighted to be working with Shekhar as part of Rotary’s leadership team. His steadfast efforts at Rotary service projects makes him the perfect person to not only represent India in Rotary leadership but also to point us towards a future with more members and greater impact across the world.”
Looking back at Rotary’s 100 years in India and looking forward to “India’s growing importance in our organisation, we can reflect on the importance each act of goodness in the world that we have all done together. And how those acts add up and change us,” said Maloney.
Sometimes, individual acts of service can seem insignificant in the context of all the needs we have in the world. “But when you multiply all those acts done by all those Rotarians over years and then add them together with the tens of thousands of Rotary clubs around the world, you realise the kind of impact that every one of us can make when we join a Rotary club and decide to commit to service as a way of life.”
In less than a year Mehta would be picking a theme; a phrase that will translate well, will be short enough to fit easily on a banner and one that will not violate any copyright. Above all, “a theme that will speak and motivate Rotarians in many different countries.”
We need to grow Rotary by getting men and women of diverse backgrounds, who are willing not only to join us but also to serve.
The RI President was happy to note that more than one in five Rotarians is now a woman and “we will continue to move towards our 50:50 goal in the years ahead. But we need to grow Rotary by getting men and women of diverse backgrounds, who are willing not only to join us but also to serve.”
It was important to understand that Rotary has never been a one-size-fits-all organisation and “if we have to continue to grow, we cannot allow it to become one; for this both flexibility in our clubs as well as diversity in membership are important. Some clubs might still prefer their traditional lunch meeting. But we need to remain open to the possibility of new clubs doing things in new ways to meet the needs of their members.
Rotary opens doors to new friendships, opportunities and experiences.”
But Rotary service was not a one-way street “in which we only do good to others. There is a tremendous amount of personal development that can come from being a Rotarian… whether it is learning how to hold a meeting, manage a project, speak in public or anything else. There is so much to explore in Rotary and the more you explore the better will be your experience in Rotary membership.”