Describing the service rendered by Rotarians in South Asia and the region’s performance in membership growth and TRF giving “exceptional”, RI President Barry Rassin said at the South Asia Reception at the Hamburg Convention: “You are an exemplary region in the Rotary world.”
He was addressing a hall packed with senior icons from both RI as well India, including Esther, RIPE Mark and Gay Maloney, Trustee Chair Brenda Cressey, RIPN Holger Knaack and Susanne, PRIPs Rajendra and Usha Saboo, Kalyan Banerjee, Gary Huang and Corinna, John and Judy Germ, K R Ravindran and Vanathy, RI General Secretary John Hewko, RI Director C Basker, incoming Directors Bharat Pandya and Kamal Sanghvi,
TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty, several serving and past RI Directors and Trustees and their partners. The RI President said he was coming from the Rotaract Preconvention and found that “our Rotaractors are energised, moving and making the changes we will be talking about this week. From July 1, there have been 1,064 new Rotaract clubs and 577 of those clubs are in your area! I am so proud of the work that you are doing.”
Adding “we can’t thank you enough for what you’re doing”, he said not only does South Asia have “the fastest growing membership in the Rotary world, I also believe that this region can be No 1 in giving to our Foundation. You can do it… you have the generosity, you have the spirit, you have an ability to do things that inspire the rest of the world.”
He added a “special thank you” to Saboo and Usha for “the amazing work they continue to do. He was and will always be my President; and since 1991–92, when he was the RI President, he continues to work with the same energy and spirit to help people around the world.”
Rassin said he had the “privilege” to go with Saboo, some 19 surgeons and 15 volunteers from India on a VTT Medical Mission to Madagascar to work in two hospitals “where they performed 3,500 surgical procedures in eight days. That itself is a feat. But they did it without the normal supplies that a first-world hospital has and transformed that community. We need to give more credit to our VTTs across the world because they are transformational. They are changing lives. You should go with President Raja and watch him in the operating room. The surgeons think he is a surgeon and I was kind of scared that he was going to pick up a scalpel!”
On the direction that Rotary will now have to take, Rassin said now that Rotaract has become a member of RI in the Rotary constitution and by-laws, “a great honour to give our young professionals” Rotarians would have to give them value through both guidance and mentoring so that they enter Rotary clubs after ending their Rotaract journey. “I challenge Rotary clubs across the world to be a flamingo of change, because we need to think differently to remain relevant in today’s world. If we can do that we can accomplish so much more.”
Even though Rotary was the No 1 humanitarian organisation in the world, Rassin urged the need to make it stronger, keep it growing and ensure that the communities get to know about the work it was doing, so that it could attract partners. And, finally, Rotarians could not afford to take their eye off the goal to eradicate polio from the world. Complimenting PDG Aziz Memon from Pakistan, who was at the reception, Rassin said Rotarians in Pakistan were dealing with the challenges of continuing to work to eradicate polio from Pakistan and Afghanistan and needed all support from both the region as well as the rest of the Rotary world. “To end polio is the promise we’ve made to the children of the world and we have to and will fulfil it,” while continuing to work on all the focus areas of Rotary including health, education, water and sanitation, and improving livelihoods.
Describing Rotary in South Asia as “phenomenal” RIPE Mark Maloney said that over the last 10 years, membership in India had grown by 56 per cent; India was now the second largest contributing country to TRF, and “I would put the level of service of Indian Rotary clubs among the best anywhere in the world as an outstanding example of Rotary service. In the past several years, Rotarians and Rotary clubs in South Asia have been an inspiration and together we will all work to connect the world in 2019–20.”
PRIP Saboo recalled that when the South Asia reception was first started, there were hardly 50–60 participants, and about 75 per cent would be invitees, and very few from South Asia. It began as a breakfast meet “which is the culture here. But we realised that South Asians are not “mad” to get up so early, and hence it was later made an evening event. As you can see this big hall is full today.”
He complimented Basker for his “great leadership” and said that along with Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty, had succeeded in addressing “some of our weaknesses”, even though we are the fastest growing region. Referring to the previous evening’s fireworks, Saboo said those were to celebrate Knaack’s nomination as the first ever RI President from Germany. Congratulating him, he added: “While coming here,
I spoke to Sushil (Gupta) and he said I am very happy that Holger is going to be the RI President in 2020–21.”
Addressing the gathering, Banerjee said he was amazed to find that evening “senior representatives from almost the entire Rotary world.” He had missed coming to the last convention as his wife Binota had not been keeping well. “But this time, when she saw me getting a little impatient as the convention date approached, she said, ‘Kalyan, just go. Please go to the convention. I don’t want you here anymore!” And, he added, “as one who always listens to his wife, I said, ‘Ok, I am going’ and here I am!”
He congratulated Director Basker for his “amazing leadership in steering India and the region in a very constructive, creative and dynamic manner. Raja (Saboo) if you have noticed carefully, seems to be getting younger by the day, and I would love to learn how he does it. Ravi (K R Ravindran), the other stalwart from our part of the world, never really walks, he runs; and he keeps all of us running as well. We’ve had tremendous leadership in Rotary in our part of the world.”
Banerjee complimented Rotarians from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh for “the tremendous changes you are making in Rotary in South Asia. That a small country like Nepal has become one of the highest contributors to TRF in our region is awesome.”
RIPN Knaack said he and his wife Susanne were still digesting his nomination as RI President for 2020–21, even as they worked for the success of the convention at Hamburg. “First of all I’d like to remember my good friend Sushil and hope that he finds the strength to fight his disease.” He looked forward to working with Maloney next year and with both Pandya and Sanghvi during his presidential year.
Director Basker complimented the Rotarians from the region for their “dedication” and quoting an anecdote of how innovative thinking can grow any enterprise/project he urged them to continue to think of “new innovations and how to create opportunities. If we shift from a denial to a thinking mode, we can always create and add more value to Rotary, provided we work as a team, are enthusiastic and have passion and eagerness.”
He urged the Rotarians from South Asia not to miss the opportunity that a Rotary convention provides to meet people from across the world, discuss opportunities to do service projects and strike partnerships.
Chairman of the reception E K Sagadevan welcomed the gathering and RIDE Pandya thanked all the senior leaders and participants for making the event a big success.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat
Sushil Gupta was missed
Through the Hamburg session Sushil Gupta, who opted to step down from his position as RIPN recently due to health reasons, was missed. Both at a plenary session and at the South Asia reception RIPN Holger Knaack said that his joy at being nominated the RI President had been clouded by the fact that this had been made possible by Gupta opting out due to ill-health and wished him a speedy recovery.
At the South Asia Reception, PRIP Kalyan Banerjee said that while it was always wonderful to be a part of this special event, the one person he sorely missed that evening was “my old friend Sushil Gupta. By god’s grace, let me say, that Sushil is doing his best to recover. He has had a difficult time but we all hope and pray that he recovers in as short a time as possible.”
South Asia is growing in membership and in TRF has merged as the second highest contributor and in service we don’t take the second place to any other country. “The service projects being done by our clubs in all the South Asian countries is unbelievable and unmatchable.
And with the incoming leadership of Bharat Pandya, Kamal Sanghvi and also Trustee Gulam, I am sure we are in for a great period ahead,” said Banerjee.
A presidential ‘privilege’
Saying he was going to take a little “presidential privilege” that evening RIPE Maloney introduced a “special guest” — his grandson Patrick, “who was visiting our room and we asked him if he would like to come here and he said ‘yes’. As you know I am very keen to make Rotary family-friendly and I thought it was better to start at home!”
He said in the last few months he had the “opportunity and regret that it will not continue, to work with Sushil Gupta. We had developed a relationship and were working together and we wish him the best for a speedy recovery.”
He had also benefitted from working with Director Basker on the RI Board for a year and from the “reserve of wisdom you have in Rotary in South Asia with PRIPs Saboo, Banerjee and Ravindran; over the years they have provided me with guidance and advice and I thank them. I am looking forward to working with the two directors-elect Pandya and Sanghvi and also my very good friend Gulam (Vahanvaty) who is making an impact in TRF.”
Giving an indication of his “regard for the importance of India in the Rotary world”, Maloney said that during the two years as incoming and serving RI President, he would visit India four times. “There is only one other place I will go to more than four times and that is Evanston!”