Making a strong pitch for saving the Earth in his address to the DGEs and DGNs, RI President Holger Knaack called upon Rotary clubs to ‘act now’. An essential part of serving humanity is “taking care of the planet and protecting it from the worst potential impacts of climate change.”
He reminded the delegates about the constant disasters around us — wildfires in Australia and California, storms in Central American and Pacific nations. “Our environment is under attack. And now, the environment is an area of focus for Rotary. It is high time for Rotary to act. And it is so important that we emphasise environmental concerns in our programmes and service projects,” said Knaack. Young people including Rotaractors want Rotary to take clear positions on ecological issues and “want us to show leadership with vision and solutions.” Recalling the pandemic months of 2020, he said, this has been “building for quite some time. Terrible pandemics have been predicted for years. And the transition to a digital, online world was well underway until Covid made it a necessity.”
New global village
But Rotary clubs across the world have faced these challenges by showing greater care for each other. “Our clubs have taken on an important mentoring role for members with businesses who are struggling through the pandemic. And we have learned that renewed focus on each other is often an important service work that we can all do.”
Rotary clubs have endured a troubling period, but “we are surviving this crisis to become stronger.” Many have lost their jobs and businesses. Life has become more difficult for people everywhere, and more people than ever need help. “We have been forced to give up so much — not just simple handshakes but our entire way of life.” But this has not just been a year of loss. It has also been a year of new opportunities. “Social media and online connections have become more important. Now, we are all used to meeting virtually,” he added. A new global village has emerged with new social rules. People who normally would not look each other in the eye as they spoke have now become accustomed to doing so on zoom meets, he noted. “Today, physical distance is required. But we are now getting to know a whole new closeness.”
With new vaccines and treatments in 2021, he hoped the world would start to return to closer to normal. “But it will be a different normal and we have no choice but to embrace this (digital) age. Going forward, we will need to prepare carefully for unanticipated events. Adapting to the future also means connecting truthfully to ourselves,” he explained.
In Rotary, the five core values of service, fellowship, diversity, integrity and leadership form the basis for the organisation. “If we do not embrace all the values all the time, then it is just talk,” said Knaack. Rotary International has formed a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force and taken strong steps to ensure that “Rotary meets and exceeds the diversity goals that we have established”.
Rotary is not just a club that you join. “It is an invitation to endless opportunities to service.” This was most notably evident in Rotary’s historic project to end polio, which made Rotarians’ lives richer and more meaningful, “with friends around the world based on our core values,” Knaack added.