She loves challenges
When asked if her profession — microtunnelling — isn’t a bit unusual for women, Pinky Patel smiles and quips: “I’ve always loved challenges.” Well, getting into the ranks of the too few and far between women who have made it to the post of district governor in Rotary in India must have certainly been one such challenge. Another challenge she is giving herself is to get an additional 1,000 members in her district which has 102 clubs and over 4,300 members. And hidden in this challenge is yet another challenge; she wants at least half of these to be women members!
Pinky’s priorities this year as governor will be Literacy, women’s empowerment and health and hygiene for women. She joined Rotary in 2001 “because I wanted to do something for society, which individually I couldn’t have done.” Asked what kind of reception she got from her club members when she joined Rotary 17 years ago, and that too as the first female member of her club, she says, “Initially, they were a little apprehensive, but that lasted for a very short time.” Interestingly, she adopted a smart strategy to get “accepted” quickly by the male Rotarians. “I would attend the club meetings regularly, arrive on time as the meet began and left immediately after dinner… I gave the men the space I thought they needed.” Her strategy worked and “they accepted me once they realised that I am not a woman who thinks she should be treated in a special way. I remained the sole woman member of my club for four years!”
So what has Rotary given her? “Oh Rotary has given me a lot of things; a platform to work for society and my personality is totally transformed. I am so much different from what I used to be, with much more patience, certainly more confidence and better management and leadership skills.” Rotary has also taught her, she adds, to look at things from other people’s viewpoint.
So how difficult was the ascent to the post of district governor? “Honestly, I didn’t really find it all that difficult. See, once a woman doesn’t have the attitude that just because I am a woman I should be treated differently or given more attention, then people accept you easily… and are very positive and friendly.”
Her TRF target? “I have set a very high target for myself and my district; I want to collect over $1million, a figure we have not touched so far, but I am confident I’ll do it.” she says. And that, because “I am a woman and find it easy to ask for money I will simply tell the Rotarians: Please give me the money; I need it!”, is her parting shot.
On the “miracle path”
He joined Rotary in 1992 with the sole objective to do good for the community. “From my childhood I have grown up imbibing my family values to do good to mankind.” His objective for his year of leadership is as clear as it is ambitious… “to do something that will take me to the miracle path, which means something strikingly different.”
Shashi Sharma is constantly asking himself: ‘Can I do something that is remarkable on the TRF front in such a way that we create a world record?’ The ‘world record’ he hopes to create is through a stunning goal; collecting $7 million to help TRF do more good in the world. Last year, he adds, his district had collected $2.5 million, and he is confident of almost trebling that amount. Asked how he’ll do this, Sharma smiles mysteriously and says, “I have a strategy in place which will help us achieve this goal, and this will be the highest amount ever collected by a district in the world for TRF. I told you; I want to make miracles.”
On increasing membership too, he has already devised a strategy, “particularly keeping in mind the concern that when we talk of membership in Rotary I see that people are not loyal to the Rotary movement. So we will have to change both our strategy and dialogue on that front, and I am confident of doing that.”
Coming to projects, this governor wants to “do projects that have both sustainability and visibility in all the six focus areas of Rotary.” He is clear about one thing though; “whatever we do, my ultimate objective is that we should leave a mark. Already our district is doing remarkable work in paediatric heart surgery. My goal is that if we have done over 400 paediatric operations, we should take the number to the four-digit mark.”
With strategies in place for both TRF collection as well as sustainable projects, Sharma has also created a focus team to look at forging partnerships with corporates for CSR spending, for after all Mumbai is where some major corporate headquarters are located.
“I believe that unless you are focused and unless you delegate and empower, the results will not come. Planning meticulously is my forte, I have all plans in place… and I want to make a real difference to the community, Rotary and myself.”
Reviving water bodies to help farmers
I joined Rotary with a vengeance but transformed into a true Rotarian only when I led my club as president,” says Rajagopalan. When a friend suggested his name in 1998, the then governor rejected his application as there was already someone under the same classification. “At that time, that rule was strictly observed. But I persisted and won my membership.” He was a Rotaractor in 1971, and a Jaycee member till 40. After a four-year stint abroad, he returned home and joined Rotary.
His passion for agriculture and empathy for farmers have resulted in a project to clean water bodies and canals so that the farmers can have sufficient water for their fields. “Our region is a drought-prone area and it is so painful for me to see the parched land in most of the areas,” he sighs.
He is proud of the Golden Heart project that screens and facilitates treatment for children with cardiac disorder. “Begun in 2012, we have treated 620 children so far and are working towards a goal of 3,212 children — representing our district number,” he says.
Rajagopalan is happy to have got a global grant sanctioned for providing a solar plant for Amar Seva Sangham, a non-profit that works for the differently-abled. He is confident of striking a partnership with Zoho Corporation for channelising their CSR funds for community projects.
His target for TRF contribution is a little above $500,000. “Thirty Rotarians have committed to become Major Donors this year and that makes the target achievable.”
He has an ambitious plan to increase his district’s membership from 4,000 to 10,000. But retention is a big challenge, he says, and attributes the reasons to ego-clashes within the clubs and lesser engagement in club projects. “Money is also a deciding factor. Rotary is becoming expensive by the year,” he laments.
The district has 350 women in its five all-women member clubs. His wife, Vasuki Devi, is a member of RC Courtallam Shakthi, an all-women member club. “Women Rotarians are more enthusiastic in Rotary projects. They did such marvellous work for people after the Ockhi cyclone had wreaked havoc in the region,” he says. He feels alcohol after club meetings is a major deterrent for women from joining Rotary.
Celebrating his silver jubilee
Having joined Rotary in 1993–94, he is serving his 25th year as a Rotarian. “I feel really wonderful to be a governor this year,” says R V N Kannan, as he spells out the various programmes he has lined up for the year.
So what has Rotary given him? “Rotary has given me several valuable friends. When I had a health setback in 2009, Rotarians were there by my wife’s side, giving her mental and physical support, more than what even relatives could have done,” he says with a smile.
He wants each of his clubs to adopt a village and concentrate all programmes in that village. “By the year-end, we hope to create as many ‘Rotary Happy Villages’. The clubs will identify the needs of the villages and plan their work accordingly,” he adds. He is happy to share that global grants have been sanctioned for the project. International and inter-district friendship exchange programmes, RYLAs and ‘Peace Missions’ to SAARC nations are some of his other programmes.
Under a programme called Vanavil (Rainbow), all the clubs will do seven common projects during the second week of every month. This is one way of promoting better relationships between clubs, he thinks.
Kannan wants to increase his district’s membership by 10 per cent and add more women members. He has set a target of contributing $1.75 million to TRF.
Sarala, his wife, is a member of RC Madurai Malligai, an all-women’s club and is “a pillar of support and strength” for the DG. “As a Rotarian, she is inspiring the club presidents’ spouses to get involved in Rotary programmes and set an example for the club members,” he adds.
Wiping out new cases of Thalassaemia his goal
He wants this to be the perfect “FM year” for District 3142. To my puzzled look, Ashes Ganguly responds, “In Mumbai we refer to Foundation and Membership as FM!” Towards that goal, he wants to increase the 3,200-odd membership figure in his district by 15 per cent or an additional 500 members, getting “one woman member for every seven new members.”
On the Foundation front, his target is $1 million.
Ganguly joined Rotary in 1998, after being impressed by a Rotary meeting he had attended in Raniganj, about 18 km from Kolkata, along with some friends, when he was studying at IIT Kharagpur. Later, when some of his friends joined Rotary, he followed suit; “at that time, I didn’t know much about Rotary, but slowly got involved in my club’s activities and was given various responsibilities,” he says. In 2006–07 he became president and that year raised a sum of $10,000 from his club for charitable projects.
Asked what Rotary has given him, the DG smiles and says, “First and foremost, patience… and how to deal with different kinds of people and take them along with you as a team.” Next he learnt that one’s own vocation — he is the current president of the Indian Analytical Instruments Association — is not the be all and end all of everything. “Rotary gave me an opportunity to make friends with a much wider circle of people; today thanks to Rotary I have good friends who are doctors, lawyers etc.”
During his year as governor, one of his major projects will be greening his district. “We will plant at least 200,000 trees.” Next, he wants to ensure, through a passionate campaign on spreading awareness about the need to prevent thalassaemia “that not a single new case of the disease will be reported from RID 3142 after a year.” Towards this objective, a massive awareness campaign will be organised in various groups, particularly college students. The Rotarians will educate youngsters that there is a dire need to avoid consanguineous marriages to prevent this disease and take other precautions to stop new cases.
In another project visually-challenged students will be given computer literacy through the “virtual eye” programme and made fit for gainful employment. For this particular project he already has plans to team up with one corporate. “In all, to implement the projects I have planned, we will need around ₹ 8 to 10 crore, but we will raise the money and forge partnerships with corporates to get their CSR funds.”