Do you know what is the RI budget for district governors? It is more than $11 million per year. Some governors in our region get handsome allowances. My own allowance when I was DG in 1991–92 was no more than ₹150,000!
And RRFCs, RCs, RPICs, etc cost about $3 million. Who pays for all these positions? Not Evanston, but Rotarians across the world through their subscriptions. So our members deserve the best; our community, who our members serve, our supporters and our benefactors deserve no less.”
Past RI President and TRF Trustee K R Ravindran gave out these numbers while recently addressing Disha, a training event for incoming district governors and district leaders at Kolkata. “All these stakeholders will measure you not by your muscle but your might; not by the deeds you are capable of, but the deeds you do; not by how many resources you pour into your service, but by how much those resources change the lives of others,” he added.
This huge power and potential of Rotary to make a difference in the lives of people in the community was in their hands, and they all needed to discover and put it to good use, he said.
The office I held as RI President is worth killing yourself for because of the good you can do and because of the almost magical quality this office brings.
While Rotary meant different things to different people, “I am fortunate to belong to a small group of people… about 110 to 112, who have been able to see from the very top the power of Rotary to do good and have a bird’s-eye view of what Rotary means to the whole world. To me, Rotary is both a means to an end, and an end in itself; it is a way to make the world a better place, but it also makes my world a better place, for both my family and myself. It is a way to give of what I have; but what it gives in return makes my own life richer.
It allows me to make my mark on the world —and yet it also has made its own mark, indelibly, inalterably, upon me.
At the end of the day, I get more out of Rotary than Rotary gets out of me.”
The TRF Trustee said that as the CEO of his own company, every decision he made had the goal of maximising benefits for his shareholders, “but with zero compromise on ethics, efforts and commitment. So why should it be different in Rotary?”
Urging all Rotary leaders to apply the same principles to all their members, who were really their ‘shareholders’, so that every decision they took worked to their benefit, he asked them to always remember a principal factor: They place their confidence by sending you to these levels of leadership, they subsidise your travel and your position. If you have an allowance as an RRFC, RC or an RPIC, or a DG, they are the ones who pay it.
Calling upon all the assembled district leaders to use their resources wisely, Ravindran recalled an incident from his tenure as RI President. It was an invitation to attend a TRF event which had been titled ‘A million-dollar dinner’, and for which he had been invited nearly two years earlier as an RIPN, “when my diary was wide open. So I said why not?”
As President, cost cutting was one of his main focus areas and closer to the event, he found he’d have to travel from the east to the west coast of the US to attend the event.
When he called his friend Steve Brown, who had invited him, to ask if he should really make the travel, as it would be rather expensive, he said: “You have to come; we’ve been selling and raising money in your name,”
During the airport transfer “I asked him how much you have raised? He said, it’s a surprise. We’ll tell you tonight.” All the while wondering if his trip would be really worth it, just before he got up to speak Ravindran found it was more than worth his while to make that trip. The amount was over $15 million; $15,420,000 to be precise!
I am fortunate to belong to a small group of people — about 110–112 — who has been able to see from the very top the power of Rotary to do good.
“When I finished speaking, someone got up and said, ‘Mr President, I will match those $15 million plus amount!’
So the take for the night was nearly $31 million, more than what any other country gives in an entire year.”
All this, added Ravindran, was not “because of me, but the office. The words I said were heard in a different way, they were listened to so much more seriously, because I was speaking on behalf of this organisation that commands so much respect. Each of you has this opportunity next year.”
Ravindran told the DGEs: “Each of you has this unique opportunity; each of you is akin to an RI President in your area… everything that you speak is heard as the voice of Rotary. During the year your actions will be watched, commented upon and copied. But when you finish your term will they say I want to be like this man or woman? You can choose to be a role model, someone who others emulate or you can end up as an also-ran, who moved into history as unnoticed, uncared for and utterly worthless, and hence discarded. Did you go on an ego trip or at the end of the day activated your members so that people in your community benefitted? The choice is yours.”
But from his personal experience he could tell them that the “office I held is worth killing yourself for because of the good you can do and because of the almost magical quality this office brings.”
Ravindran recited another anecdote to demonstrate the power and influence of Rotary. As RI President, he once had an appointment to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican; he was kept waiting for two hours and then told that as His Holiness was extremely busy, their meeting had been postponed to the afternoon. But as he had to take a flight to Korea the same evening, “extremely disappointed, I said sorry we cannot wait and left, quite dejected.”
Two days later, he got a message from the office of His Holiness that he regretted missing the appointment and “now he invited me to come back with as many of my friends as I liked. But perhaps he didn’t expect me to return with some 10,000 Rotarians from 63 countries. We filled the entire St Peters Square that day. But he didn’t do this for me, he did it because of the respect he has for Rotary as an organisation and because he thinks it’s an organisation worth supporting and blessing.”
He also learnt that day that the Vatican Children’s Hospital, one of the best of its kind in the world, was working with Rotarians in Cambodia through telemedicine.
And in a world where Rotary commanded such huge respect, “when you do something wrong, even though it is only a drop in the ocean, these drops manage to tarnish our prestige. We all know about fictitious clubs, clubs created for awards, or as vote banks. So please ensure your clubs do nothing to tarnish Rotary’s good name.”
He reminded the leaders that the previous evening, during the TRF seminar, stewardship issues were raised, such as dishonesty in dealing with TRF, money taken from beneficiaries, spurious vendors, husband-wife managed accounts, used equipment being passed off as new, misuse of RI allowances, and the like. “These things need to stop, as they cause us disrepute,” he added, conceding that these were not confined to India alone and as President, he had also taken action against a DG in Japan. The angry DG filed legal action against RI in Chicago, which is very expensive to defend, but the difference was that “the senior Rotary leaders in Japan encouraged and supported me and said: ‘Fight this man, we will support and fund you. We don’t want such people in our country.’ That’s the kind of attitude we need!”
I know I am not popular
K R Ravindran told the assembled district leaders at Disha that to safeguard the reputation of Rotary, which is “derived from our integrity, honesty and goodwill, as leaders, sometimes you will have to make unpopular decisions. That’s what I expect you to do. Each of you must feel this power of Rotary to do good… this power to reach every child that we have already demonstrated in polio.”
But to retain that reputation and power of Rotary, they would have to act against unethical behaviour. He had acted as RI President and delisted two Rotary districts — one in India and one in Russia; “I know I am not the most popular man.” But popularity was of little consequence to him; respect on the other hand was perennial and that’s what one must try to earn. If the interest of the organisation required, they would have to take unpopular decisions.
Ravindran also urged the leaders assembled to never put Rotary before their family or business. “I have always adopted the simply philosophy — first my family, next business and Rotary only after that. Except for the time I was President and lived in Evanston, I’ve strictly followed this, and think you should do the same. If you neglect your business or profession, even your members will not respect you, because you’ve got where you are in the first place because of your business or profession.”