Of hope, opportunities and the “second sex”

When RI President-elect Holger Knaack unveiled his theme at the International Assembly — Rotary Opens Opportunities — the first recall was of RI Director Bharat Pandya’s pet mantra on Rotary being all about “hope and opportunities”. As Rotary Club of Calcutta celebrated its 100th birthday bang on the New Year, he once again reiterated that “hope is what the community has in Rotary… that it will do something to improve their lives and make the world a little better.”

Our RI Director was totally in sync with his incoming President when he said that Rotary gives opportunity “to you and I to fulfill that hope to make our world a little better place.” Knaack expressed a similar thought process when he said that Rotary wasn’t just a “club for people to join”. Rather, it was “an invitation to endless opportunities,” and a Rotary membership creates pathways for members to improve their lives and the lives of those they help through service projects. “We believe that our acts of service, big and small, create opportunities for people who need our help,” Knaack said.

In addition, Rotary also creates leadership opportunities and gives members the chance to travel the world to put their service ideas into action and make lifelong connections. “Everything we do opens another opportunity for someone, somewhere.”

Consider the essence and depth of the profound statement Knaack has made through his theme, and then elaborated upon it. Rotary provides opportunities to both its members and the needy people in the community who get a helping hand from Rotarians. If you consider its impact in totality — the opportunity got by a Rotarian to do good through her service, plus the opportunity to become a leader, travel the world, make new friends and connections, and, in addition, give opportunities to those it helps to improve their lives and livelihoods. You don’t need to be a mathematician to see that this is not an addition but a multiplication of opportunities.

Isn’t ‘opportunity’ a wonderful word? It encompasses so many wonderful and positive qualities… hope, strength, hard work, success. This is exactly what the ‘second sex’, as the French intellectual Simone de Beauvoir titled her famous book published way back in 1949, referring to women, seeks. Interestingly, the famous French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, who remained her partner for 51 years (she told him “don’t be silly” when he proposed to her) until he died in 1981, had once told her that she had a “man’s intelligence” and for a long time she accepted it as a compliment, until she began to consider what it implied. It implied, she’d write later, that “humanity is male and man defines woman”!

The finer points on intelligence apart, a topic suitable for a heated debate from any platform, it is opportunities that those who have been deprived or left behind require. And women certainly belong to this group. As women’s membership in Rotary increases, a goal pursued by senior RI leaders across the world, and more leadership positions open out for women within Rotary, as is happening, slowly but surely, the focus on women’s empowerment, within and outside the organisation, is bound to sharpen. The world is already seeing sterling women’s leadership in Germany’s Angela Merkel and a different kind of leadership in New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern.

May their tribe increase…

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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