Member engagement crucial, essential

RI President Jennifer Jones
RI President Jennifer Jones

RI President Jennifer Jones and her husband DGN Nick ­Krayacich, along with RI ­Directors Mahesh Kotbagi and A S ­Venkatesh, were in Pune for Lakshya and a two-day event organised by
RI districts 3131, 3132, 3141, 3142, 3170 and 3030.

Addressing the college of governors of the six districts, Jones emphasised retention of members. “Last year president Shekhar requested ‘each one bring one’, and for the first time in over six years, we finished with net growth. Now we need to keep those numbers. ­Members walk in through the front door, only to walk out through the back door. We have been having 1.2 million members for more than a decade. We brought 1 million members in and also lost 1 million members, and so we stayed static. We are good at growing Rotary but we have to work on keeping our members.”

Quoting an Interactor, whom she met in Australia a couple of years ago, who said to her, ‘Jennifer, if you want responsible children, you need to give them responsibilities,’ she said, “if you want responsible members, you need to give them responsibilities. When people fall in love with our organisation they will not walk away.”

Urging district leaders to do meaningful service projects she recalled her brother Dave’s remark while helping her prepare for a media interview. “He said, ‘In order to live in the kind of society that you want, you have to help build it.’ We are the people who can change the world, and make a ­difference. Let’s assess our communities’ needs and make them stronger.”

Jones poignantly narrated her interaction with a customs officer in the US when she was DG in 2007–08. “As I live in Ontario, Canada, I had to cross the border several times to visit Rotary clubs in the US which was part of my district. As I did this one day, I met a customs officer who asked me the regular questions such as my citizenship and other details.” When she said that she was going for a Rotary meeting he wanted to know what is Rotary. “When I told him the whole gamut of what we are doing including our work in polio, HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, he said, you mean to tell me that there are that many people in the world who have that much extra time on their hands? And I said, No sir, there are that many people in the world with no time on their hands. With tears in his eyes he said, what you are doing is incredible work. Please thank the people involved in such work. So here I am to thank you for all that you do. Also, thank you for your generosity.”


A tete a tete with club presidents

Earlier, the RI president met the club presidents of the six districts. Putting them at ease, she said, “As you started this new journey you would have had butterflies in your stomach, you’d be a bit nervous about what is in store for you as you move ahead. You know what, I am a little nervous too. But rest assured, we are going to have great opportunities.” She herself had loved leading her club. “The hardest thing for me was ending the year and sitting back again. I could have done that role year after year after year.”

She recalled the deadly 9/11 attack that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in the US when she was club president. “It was 9 am and I was watching television and saw the first plane hitting the first tower. I was devastated. When I lived in Manhattan, I used to go up to the top of the tower to watch the sunset. Then moments later the second plane hit.” Her club was scheduled to meet for lunch that afternoon as was the norm. “We all met to share the experience and be together to show our solidarity. All of us stood facing the American flag and sang their national anthem with gusto, with tears streaming down our faces. That day we realised that in our organisation we exist without borders or boundaries, and what happens to someone, somewhere else, also happens to us. That’s the gift of our great organisation. It brings us all together — different cultures, different religions — all into such a big harmony. We represent the best of our world in what we do.”

Monica and DG Anand Jhunjhunuwala (RID 3030), Malini and DG Sandip Agarwalla (3141), Sandhya and DG Venkatesh Deshpande (3170), DGs Anil Parmar (3131) and Rukmesh Jakhotiya (3132).
Monica and DG Anand Jhunjhunuwala (RID 3030), Malini and DG Sandip Agarwalla (3141), Sandhya and DG Venkatesh Deshpande (3170), DGs Anil Parmar (3131) and Rukmesh Jakhotiya (3132).

Talking about the Covid pandemic, she noted, “When the world stepped down, we stepped up. We were able to reach out to our communities and do things that others couldn’t, even governments — such as providing PPE, oxygen concentrators, and various other things. That was profound. We even jumped on to virtual platforms to stay connected. But nothing can take away the joy of being together face-to-face.”

Club leaders should make their clubs attractive for all members. “My husband Nick’s club meets twice a month. They have a service project one week, and a social meeting the other week. This way all the members are happy and engaged. We must find meaningful engagement for all our members, and make it an inclusive experience for them.”

The ‘empowering girls’ focus of past president Shekhar Mehta very much aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, she noted. “We have seen Rotary clubs across the world explode with initiatives for empowering girls which we will continue this year and next year under president Gordon (McInally) too.”

Talking about DEI, Jones said, “We need to hear from all genders, cultures, races and sexual orientation.” She recalled an interaction with her club’s past president Mark Vafer who has a hearing deficiency but is an expert lip reader. “When I am talking to someone in his presence, I have to make sure that I am facing him so that Mark understands what I am saying. This is all about inclusion, how we can accommodate people of varying needs. Mark for instance can bring a different perspective on disability. Similarly, when there is a visually impaired person in a club, he may need assistance. Likewise a member who has difficulty climbing stairs. So when we are talking about diversity, equity and inclusion, we must also consider all such aspects too.”

She added that she is not such a huge fan of gender-specific clubs. “A well-rounded club should include everyone — working together in harmony, not isolating. I’d encourage us to be warm and welcoming to the entire population.”

Krayacich, replying to a question from a Rotarian’s spouse on how he handles the pressure of being the spouse of the world president, said, “Honestly there is no pressure. I view this as an honour and a privilege. Your support is crucial for the success of the club. I have been club president twice and I enjoyed great support from my partner.”

Jones felicitated the AKS members. Kotbagi and Venkatesh complimented the DGs for the district performances in service projects, membership and TRF support.

Pictures by Jaishree


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