RI President Elect Mark Maloney reached his Rotary leadership milestones at a rather young age; becoming the President of his club (RC Decatur, Alabama) at 31, District Governor at 34 and RI Director at 44. A practising lawyer, he has decided to set apart five days a month for his law practice and strongly believes that if Rotary converts volunteer positions into full-time commitments, younger professionals / businesspersons will not come forward to take up leadership roles in Rotary. Maloney’s connection with India goes back some 21 years. In Kolkata to participate in some Rotary events in February 2019, the President Elect took some time off for a freewheeling interview with Rotary News.
You’ve been coming to India for 21 years, how has India and Rotary in India changed during this period?
The change in both during those 21 years is dramatic. India has always been a great democracy since its Independence and that has not changed. But in terms of the economic and business advances, the construction and growth of cities and modernity, India has made great leaps forward.
Coming to Rotary, India is our fastest growth area. In the last 10 years, membership in India has grown 56 per cent, and while many projects are funded with money coming outside of India, now it’s the No 2 country in TRF giving.
Talking of TRF, your response to a single Indian, D Ravishankar, contributing $14.7 million.
Well, it was unbelievable, but what was even more unbelievable was that depending on who you listen to, he has given away between 70 to 85 per cent of his wealth, a remarkable figure. One thing that strikes me about Indian Rotarians is how service is just a part of their lives. They go to their businesses and professions and do their jobs, but at the same time they give time for service projects. In the US and the West, we mostly do short-term projects, but here in India, projects such as The Gift of Life, Healthy Little Hearts… they go on for years. In Surat I visited six projects and some of them run without continuing Rotary involvement, but in others the Rotarians are there monthly, weekly, daily, I don’t know how often, making sure they are running schools or a training or skills centre. It would be a rare exception to have such a project in the US.
I suppose there are more opportunities in India to do longer, lasting projects; the need too is far greater here.
That’s what we like to say when we feel we are not doing enough…. that we don’t have as many opportunities because we have a different social or health structure. RIDE Kamal Sanghvi told me at breakfast that in some villages Rotarians presented sanitary napkin vending machines and I can’t imagine such a project in the US. Somebody used the term ‘mortuary vehicle’; my club was once approached for helping a crematorium project in India and we told the Rotarians that while we understand there is such a need, it is not going to resonate with American Rotarians. If you want support, are there other projects we can help. A crematorium is not any less worthwhile… but this difference is indicative of the diversity of Rotary. And yet in that diversity we are more like each other than we could have imagined.
That’s what we like to say when we feel we are not doing enough…. that we don’t have as many opportunities for service as there are in India!
In gender balance, India is yet to catch up with the world figure of 22 per cent women in Rotary, though this morning we heard that RID 3250 has 37 per cent women. Even in senior leadership, Rotary continues to be an old boys’ network; we are yet to see a woman RI director from India.
Yes, but this is not the only place. We are yet to see a woman director from Africa and Saowalak Rattanavich from Thailand is the only woman director from Asia.
What would you suggest Indian Rotarians do to bring in more women?
In the US, if you made a special appeal to women it would be considered sexist. So you want to approach women the same way you would approach men. We must meet whoever they are in their situation in life… I have this concern about involving younger professionals and ensuring that leadership is accessible to Rotarians who are still actively engaged in their businesses and professions.
As we walked into the restaurant this morning, this group of women wanted a photo with me and everybody was proud that it is an all-women Rotary club. And that kind of makes me cringe; our Constitution clearly says we should not discriminate on the basis of gender and I often wonder, wow, should I get my photo taken thus. But then I want to be friendly and a lot of it is cultural. At the Indian airports there are separate queues for women and men during security check and in commuter trains, there are separate all-women compartments for their safety. So it’s a cultural thing; I have my prejudices and therefore I apply those, but that doesn’t make it right.
What do you think women bring to Rotary? Do they have a different set of skills, are more focused or service-minded? Or do you think this is stereotyping.
I do think it is stereotyping. Women do bring a great variety of skills and so do men. In the US, where would we be in membership but for our women members?
What is women’s membership in the US?
Not much more than the average of 22 per cent.
Do you believe that women’s entry into Rotary has enriched it and made it more complete?
Of course. Rotary clubs are supposed to be reflective of their community and you’ve got women executives, lawyers, doctors, etc, and if you are going to reflect the community, how can you exclude them? For me to suggest how India should address that, I don’t have the background to say that.
In the US, if you made a special appeal to women it would be considered sexist. So you want to approach women the same way you would approach men.
Whether in membership growth or TRF giving India is rocking in the Rotary world. But shortcomings, such as transparency, accounting norms etc have been mentioned. What are the areas where Rotary could improve in India?
Well, stewardship has been an issue but its more an exception; only there are more exceptions in India in this regard than other parts of the Rotary world. How can India improve? That is a hard thing for me to say. The service that is performed here is dramatic… (grinning) maybe they shouldn’t push me around so much for photos! But that just shows their enthusiasm. And far it be for me to tell India… I mean, it’s like people outside the US giving us advice on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and whatever it might be! Well, thank you, but we’ll handle it on our own! We may have our own issues but we’ll take care of them!
In the interview to The Rotarian, you called Rotary the UN of individuals; such an apt description. Has it been used before; I haven’t seen it!
I don’t know.
How difficult was it to zero down on your theme?
Oh, the theme wasn’t difficult. The tie was much harder! To me, connections is what Rotary is all about. Perhaps many individuals who have become Rotary presidents have thought about it for a long time. From time to time it would cross my mind if you ever became president what would your theme be, and I would push it aside because I didn’t want to presuppose that it would happen. So frankly I didn’t seriously start thinking about the theme until I was nominated. I was nominated on the first Monday in August, confirmed on Oct 1, and within a week I had the theme. No matter what you think of Rotary, connection is part of it. I just cannot imagine anyone thinking of Rotary and not associating connections with it. And I do believe Rotary is the first social network.
What kind of a family did you grow up in?
I grew up in a Midwestern “Irish” community, though I am no more Irish than I am lots of other things. Though I say I’m a sixth generation Irish, we have barely any connection with Ireland. When I say community, I am talking of a rural farmland five miles outside of a village with fewer than 900 people and the names were Maloney, Duffy, McGuire, all Irish names. Ours was a family of successful farmers. I had a nice upper middle class childhood and my parents and relatives in their generation were college or university educated. But once again, connection is key in our family. In the US, many people don’t know who their cousins are or have never seen them, but in my family, we know our cousins and our children know their second cousins.
Why did you decide to go for law?
I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 11 or 12. In my earlier childhood I wanted to be a doctor. Then I decided that I was not keen on blood and so I started thinking about law.
I don’t know. Perry Mason, maybe!
Tell us about your involvement with the Future Vision programme.
I was one of the few involved in this programme from the beginning to the end — from Feb 2005 to June 2015. In Feb 2005, I was a first year Trustee (2004–05) and that February we Trustees spent a half-day brainstorming about what we could do to change how the Foundation operates. That was when Carlo Ravizza was the Trustee Chair. Just when I went off the Trustees I was put on the Future Vision Committee, where I served till it was disbanded.
The theme wasn’t difficult. I was nominated on the first Monday in August, confirmed on Oct 1, and within a week I had the theme.
What aspect of Rotary do you enjoy the most?
The people and the connections… connecting with people, and that can mean so many things. Connecting for projects, for friendship, fellowship… to come here and be with folks like Kamal (Sanghvi) and Shekhar (Mehta). I’ve known Shekhar now for 10–15 years, and he invited me to their home in Kolkata. Gay will be very disappointed she missed it because she loves going to people’s homes. In some cultures, you never take people to your home, you entertain them in hotels.
What do you enjoy the most about Rotary in India?
Again, the people, and Gay loves the colours, and I read what she said in the article in the Rotary News magazine (by Jaishree) that you gave me. I enjoy seeing the differences and how things remain the same in India. As I said today in my speech you connect with people who seem to be different but who are far more like you than you ever would have dreamed.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat, Jaishree and Courtesy Rotary International
At a glance
Gay’s role in your Rotary journey:
Gay is a Rotarian in her own right, being a charter member of the Rotary Club of Decatur Daybreak, Alabama. She joined Rotary on March 6, 1996 (I can remember because that is the charter date). She had no desire to join my Rotary club because “there is no Rotary club in the world big enough for both of us,” she said. We can practice law together, but we cannot be in the same club! Some of my best ideas for Rotary (or other things in life) come from Gay. We are really a team. I seek her advice constantly.
Religion: I’ll let other people decide how religious I am in the sense of how well I do, but I will say I am a Roman Catholic Christian and I wear my Catholicism on my sleeve. If you don’t know I am a Roman Catholic, you haven’t been paying attention! Wherever I go, the President’s office sends out travel guidelines and in those I indicate that if I am in a place during the weekend, and if it’s possible, I would like to go to a Roman Catholic Mass. So Bharat (Pandya) and Gulam (Vahanvaty) have been working and at 6.30 am on Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be at such a Mass in Mumbai near the airport. And Gulam arranged, when I was here in November, our attending a Mass in the cathedral in south Mumbai and I also met the Cardinal Archbishop of Mumbai, Oswald Gracias.
Favourite Cuisine: Italian
Movies: I rarely go out to movies.
Reading: I am embarrassed to say I do very little casual reading. I read in my profession the things that I need to read, I read newspapers and magazines.
Travel fatigue: Well, in this position you simply have to travel, so you keep going. Somebody said how do you handle jet lag so well. You just do it, but the worst thing for me is to go into a different time zone and for the organisers to immediately put me on a dais. It’s fine if it’s short and I am not speaking. But I’ve been to places, at district conferences, or Institutes, where they put me on the dais for the whole day! And I am up there going like this (demonstrates nodding off) and Gay is there in the first row saying ‘Keep your eyes open Mark’! If I can be in the front row where the crowd’s not looking at me, that is manageable. That’s the hardest part.
Dream for Rotary; and where he wants to see it in the next 5 to 10 years: My dream for Rotary is that it grows, in terms of membership, the service that it performs and the dollars contributed to TRF. That is what I hope to achieve, and you were correct to say in the next five years. The objectives that I have set forth for this year in terms of growing Rotary, will not be effectively measured on June 30, 2020, but June 2025 or 2030. Because we are trying to change attitudes and that doesn’t happen overnight or in one Rotary year.
Incoming RI President Mark Maloney has four distinct priorities which he spells out clearly.
His first priority is to grow Rotary “by supporting our existing clubs and also growing new clubs with a different attitude, not necessarily in a new community.” He says often people are very happy that Rotary is doing so great in their community. “Sure, it is doing great but there are so many other segments of society that are not included. We have to get those.”
His second priority is to make Rotary more family-friendly. “That’s the way Gay and I have lived Rotary from the very start. I was 31 when I was club president, and at 34 became district governor. We just took our daughters along with us. We have three daughters, two biological, but in the last five years we have acquired a third daughter, a young woman, who due to a tragedy in her family has become a part of our family.”
Maloney’s third priority is to make Rotary leadership more accessible to people who are still actively engaged in their businesses and professions. “The greatest applause that I received in my theme speech at the International Assembly was when I told the governors that it is not necessary for you to visit each club individually. Now that is heresy here in India because the governor is such a rockstar compared with other parts of the world. But that’s so difficult; in the US so many people wait to become governor till they retire because of all the things that we expect traditionally of the governors.”
But he concedes that this is not going to happen overnight. “Some past governors will resist the change to conducting cluster meetings or having the governor come only to certain events. It’s going to take a change in attitude, a cultural change and cultural changes don’t take place that quickly,” says Maloney.
His last priority for his presidential year will be to focus on Rotary’s relationship with the UN, “because it is the 75th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter”.
Of dating, a proposal and flowers
How RIPE Mark Maloney met his wife Gay is an interesting story, which he relates with absolute delight. Classmates at the Vanderbilt Law School in Tennessee, he clearly remembers his first date. “It was on Oct 8, 1977. The law firm where I was clerking, had an office party and I invited Gay to go with me. If you want the full story, I invited her to go and she said no, because she already had another date. But I had never had a woman saying yes to me as promisingly as she said No. She made it clear that she was very interested but had a prior commitment which she had to honour.”
They dated for only six months before he proposed to her. She first took him to meet her family; “I had never been invited to a girl’s home before and so I spent the New Year’s of 1977–78 with her family and then in early February (3–5) she met my parents.”
Maloney admits that this time of the year — mid-February — is a “very difficult time” for him. When he took Gay to meet his parents, “that was the last time we saw them alive. They were killed 10 days later in an automobile accident. This happened 41 years ago, in 1978. So that speeded things up.”
He explains that American law schools have a three-year programme; they were in the second year and still had 18 months to go. “I was not necessarily in a real hurry to propose, but six weeks later I proposed to her by accident. It was not planned. We had just gone out for dinner. I didn’t even have a ring. The conversation just kind of went that way and in fact I was so vague about what I was asking that she asked me to be more clear about what I was asking! We dated for six months and were engaged for 14 months.”
And then comes the romantic side of the incoming President. I interview him on Valentine’s Day and he says: “Since Gay and I are separated this week, I sent her a Valentine card through the mail… and she has already received it. I just didn’t want to hand it to her as I was walking out of the door, so as I was leaving town dropped it in the mail box and it arrived home a couple of days later.”
What is more, two days later, was Gay’s birthday, and he had worked out the details of how she would get not one, but two, bouquets for her birthday. “She will get flowers Saturday night in New York. She returns home on Monday night and on Tuesday, there will be flowers delivered to her in her office. Because normally she would keep the flowers for the entire week but the flowers in New York won’t be able to come to Alabama!”
This is the kind of attention your incoming President pays to details!