One of Rotary’s core values is diversity; “we must reflect every part of humanity. Diversity ensures that Rotary represents all voices and speaks in every language. That includes age, sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity and abilities.”
As RI President Barry Rassin, who was addressing the opening session of the Hamburg Convention, went on to the gender part of Rotary’s diversity mantra, there was a thunderous applause, particularly from the women in the mammoth, packed hall at the Hamburg Messe, the venue. The delegates continued to clap and cheer as he said that it was imperative that “more women join Rotary and attain positions of leadership. That is why, this year, the Rotary Board has set a goal to increase the number of women in Rotary and in leadership positions to 30 per cent by June 2023. We are committed to taking action to reach these goals, and I hope we can attain them sooner.”
And to prove that this was no pipe-dream, Rassin went on to say that during the 2020–21 Rotary year, six women will serve on the RI Board for the first time ever. “That represents 31 per cent of the Board. And right now, we also have our first chairwoman of The Rotary Foundation (Brenda Cressey).”
The convention saw participation of nearly 27,000 people from about 170 countries.
Another core value of Rotary was leadership, and this was more than attaining positions of responsibility. As leaders in humanitarian service, Rotarians should share their experiences through mentoring. “This past year, I have been inspired by the incredible leadership displayed by Rotaractors around the world.”
As he called out to Rotaractors in their designated area — the Inspiration Lounge — and one senior leader after another continued to call out to Rotaractors on subsequent days, a participant sitting behind me exclaimed: ‘This truly seems to be a Rotaractors’ Convention!’”
As the youngsters responded with clapping and cheers, Rassin added: “Hamburg, if you didn’t know, is the true birthplace of The Beatles, a band that changed the face of popular music while they were all in their 20s. Rotaractors are Rotary’s rock stars. They inspire us with big dreams and even bigger actions. I call on all of the greying Rotary leaders, who have given so much to this organisation through the years, to take heed of what Rotaractors say and do. They are Rotary’s future.”
His first convention
Wondering aloud how many Rotarians were attending a convention for the first time, Rassin said: “I will never forget my first convention. The Rotary convention was taking place in Las Vegas, so I thought why not have fun in Las Vegas? What I experienced instead was life-changing. What I knew about Rotary before that convention was all about my club and district and the great work we did. But it did not prepare me for the stories of incredible service Rotary does every day around the world, and the impact we have on billions of lives.”
He added that the Las Vegas convention was the beginning of his “dedication” to Rotary and had brought him to the topmost position of the organisation. While the messages he heard there were powerful, “it was the people I met… and the stories we shared… that really stuck with me. As Paul Harris once said, ‘whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves.’ ”
No magic formula
But there was no ‘magic’ behind those results; they came from “our continued commitment and values.” The next four days’ programme, he added, would be filled with “inspiring stories that underscore the Rotary ethos of diversity, leadership, fellowship, integrity and service.”
These, said the RI President, were more than mere words for Rotarians, being the guiding principles “that define our culture and action.”
Teamwork was another important part of Rotary; “by working together, we open up unlimited potential. It’s our fellowship that transcends all boundaries and makes Rotary a force for peace worldwide.” But if Rotary wanted to be a leader, then it had to embrace another core value — that of integrity, because only that would inspire trust and confidence in the communities that Rotarians work in. “Integrity is about not tolerating bad behaviour. We expect responsibility from our officers and friends; we apply high ethical standards, professionally and privately. In dealing with others, we are fair and respectful, and we use the resources entrusted to us consciously and responsibly.” Only if they acted with honesty and integrity, Rotarians would build trust and be successful in one of their most important missions, which was service to the community.
Keep focussed on polio
Finally, the RI President reminded the delegates that having succeeded in bringing the world “to the brink of polio eradication, now, along with our global polio partners, we’re launching a new strategy to take it over the finish line and deliver a polio-free world.” Despite impressive progress on this front, the last steps to eradication had proved to be the most difficult and sessions at the convention would give Rotarians a better idea of polio eradication efforts and the final-step strategies to reach children in conflict areas.
He was confident that these strategies would succeed but only with adequate resources and efficient implementation. “Your service has brought us this far — and we’ll need you now more than ever to bring this great Rotary mission to a happy conclusion for all the world’s children. We’re in the final mile of the marathon. The last mile is always the most challenging, but the finish line is in sight. This is no time to stop. We can, and must, fulfill our promise to the children of the world,” he concluded.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat