It was said of Arch Klumph in 1917 that he was a dreamer of colossal proportions. But I believe that our Foundation can surpass even his most colossal dreams. How gratified he would be to learn his struggling creation has become a world-class humanitarian organisation! And perhaps he would be more than a little amazed to know that in its first 100 years, thanks to the generous support of Rotarians worldwide, The Rotary Foundation has provided $3.7 billion for its vital projects and programmes.”
With these words TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee wowed the huge gathering of Rotarians at the Atlanta Convention, and continued to draw applause with a speech that was packed with passion, nostalgia and anecdotes of ordinary people helping TRF to rise to dizzy heights in doing good in the world.
Beginning his speech with a simple “Happy birthday”, Banerjee recalled how 100 years ago, President Arch C Klumph first gave a modest proposal to start an endowment to do good in the world, which had great consequences and set in motion “a far-reaching series of events that would transform not only Rotary, but also the lives of millions of men, women and children in every part of the world.”
Arch Klumph’s legacy lives on in every Rotarian who has carried out a grant project, hosted a scholar, immunised a child against polio, or made a contribution to TRF.
Bad time to raise money
With war raging in Europe, 1917 wasn’t the right time to raise money; the postwar era was even worse. The equity market crashed, the world economy collapsed, and the Great Depression began. “With a second world war looming, it was all about to go from bad to worse. So it is not surprising that Rotarians didn’t rush to adopt Arch Klumph’s grand idea. But this remarkable man wasn’t easily discouraged. He absolutely refused to give up, because recent events had made it clear that the world desperately needed an organisation dedicated to doing good.”
TRF started with just $26.5, which even in 1917, wasn’t a princely sum. Coming to around $550 in today’s value; “just about enough to buy a smart phone, but hardly sufficient seed money for a Foundation with the ambitious mission of doing good in the world.”
Down memory lane
Going down memory lane, Banerjee said TRF’s first grant of $500 (equivalent to $7,000 today) came in 1930. Contrast this with the fact that in 2015–2016 Rotary year alone, the Foundation awarded almost $100 million in global and district grants, $4 million for Rotary Peace Fellowships, and $114.7 million for polio eradication, he said, amidst thunderous applause.
Though these were important and impressive numbers, “the one number we will never truly know is the number of people whose lives have been improved, transformed, or saved through the work of our Foundation.”
TRF’s work has exponential benefits, said Banerjee. “Every grant project, every vocational training team, and every scholarship and peace fellowship sets off a ripple of good that we can neither predict nor measure. And so, it is virtually impossible to quantify the full power of our Foundation. And even if we could, numbers alone would never tell the whole story.”
For example, a Liberian baby is healthy and thriving today despite being born to an HIV-positive woman. A Foundation-supported vocational training team taught local health care workers techniques for preventing mother-child transmission of the HIV virus, and this training is now giving many infants a chance for a healthy life. Or the Honduran women who have started small businesses with help from a Foundation- supported microcredit project. He displayed the pictures of Remigia Dominiguez, who heads a weaving cooperative, Dona Santiago who runs a small store and Dona Ninfa, who sells vegetables at a local market.
“Each of these women can now provide food and clothing for their families, and buy school uniforms and supplies so their children can be educated. And they can contribute to the local economy and strengthen their community. Providing hope and confidence in the future is what our Foundation does best,” said the Trustee Chair.
Arch Klumph never told Rotarians how to do good, but he was very clear about what The Rotary Foundation should never do — and that is to build monuments of brick and stone.
And this comes in the form of multiple doses of polio vaccine, or nourishing soy milk that makes learning easier, or providing clean, accessible water or simply having a small new home through global grants, he added.
Banerjee then related the story of the massive earthquake in Kutch, Gujarat, in January 2001, when he rushed to the spot in 24 hours and found “utter devastation and death and despair everywhere”. Along with the local Rotarians, while devising a programme for rehabilitation and rebuilding, he saw a grandmotherly woman holding a small bag in her hands walk in. Fatima Begum had lost her only son and his wife in a road accident five years earlier and was left alone with Munni, her eight- year-old granddaughter. Two days earlier Munni was killed in her school as the quake devastated the region, and she said, “today I have no one left to live for. I had planned to go to Mecca for Haj, but now, I don’t think I can go. But I hear you Rotarians, are going to build some homes and a school here. Well, here is some money I had saved to travel but I want you to use it to help rebuild our lives.”
After she left, a Rotarian counted the money in the bag and found about Rs 85,000, close to $1,500, in today’s value. Four months later, as the Rotarians built 40 low-cost shelters and repaired the school, on the dedication day suddenly Fatima Begum showed up and said she wanted to say something. She was given a minute, and she recalled her little donation and said, “Today, for the first time, since that terrible day, I am happy and my mind is at peace again. Yes, I could not go to Mecca but my Mecca is right here. And then she sat down on her haunches on the stage and wept and so, I confess, did most of us present there that day,” said Banerjee.
Second century begins
He added that as TRF entered its second century, such success stories “will inspire us to take on new and even bigger challenges. And the example of Arch Klumph, that inveterate dreamer of colossal proportions, will always be there to urge us on.”
Of course Klumph had never spelt out exactly how TRF should do good. “He trusted Rotarians to work that out for themselves. But he was very clear about what The Rotary Foundation should never do — and that is to build monuments of brick and stone. Instead, he envisioned his creation as a living, breathing entity, one that would, in his words, ‘work upon immortal minds… engraving something that will brighten all eternity’.”
His words inspired Rotarians to build the Foundation “from the ground up: not in brick and stone, but in lives, in health, in hope. And his legacy lives on today in every Rotarian who has ever carried out a grant project, hosted a scholar, immunised a child against polio, or made a contribution to our Foundation. And it lives on in the many millions who have benefitted both directly and indirectly from the good we have done in the world.”
Giving the audience one final number — $300 million — that was its fundraising goal, the highest ever, during the TRF Centennial year, Banerjee said, to a huge ovation, “Well, we are well on our way to meeting it. As of today, we have reached the $270 million mark, thanks to the generosity of Rotarians and the fundraising efforts of our clubs and districts. We still have two weeks left to meet and even exceed our goal — which is something I believe we can do if every one of you carries an important message back to your club about what you have seen and heard this week… the incredible good that our Foundation is doing.”
Numbers that tell the Rotary story
- 16 million people, who would have been paralysed by polio are walking today thanks to Rotary’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
- 1.5 million lives saved by the Vitamin A that is given with the vaccine.
- Many more million people have received, and continue to receive, vaccines and treatment for other diseases through the polio vaccine, thanks to the delivery infrastructure established with Rotary’s partners.
- 268 patients received life-changing surgeries during a recent global grant medical mission from India to Rwanda.
- Many more local doctors and medical students in Rwanda received training in new surgical techniques, who will now be able to treat hundreds of patients more effectively.
- 423,795 people received free health care at Rotary Family Health Days in Ghana, India, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda in 2016. In 2011, when this programme started, only 38,000 people were treated in two countries.
- 41,850 scholars sponsored by TRF over the past century to expand their world view and imbue them with the Rotary ideals of service and tolerance.