For thousands of Rotarians across the world, particularly those who’ve made it a point not to miss a Rotary Convention, it must have been a heartbreaking moment… to watch the Honolulu Convention sessions online from their homes. And RI President Mark Maloney expressed this sentiment when he began his opening session statement thus: “Although we had intended to livestream convention events from Honolulu, never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate that our entire convention would be only online. But as has often been said, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, and as we continue to cope with the Covid-19 crisis, the world needs our optimism, our leadership, our compassion, and our connections as never before.”
For him and spouse Gay, the past 33 months had been a remarkable Rotary journey as he had served as nominee, elect, and President of RI, travelling on virtually “every airline in the world, circumnavigating the world twice and moving between the northern and southern hemispheres.” But they had spent the last three months at home, “an unexpected stretch of 90-plus nights, unheard of for a Rotary President.” As the entire world had put people’s health above everything else, RI too had to take some “difficult decisions including the cancellation of the in-person convention in Honolulu.”
But ever innovative, Rotarians across the world had embraced the challenges posed by the Covid pandemic; “we have cared for those most in need in this crisis. With a remarkable array of energy and resourcefulness, we have taken care of one another, shared our resources and stepped forward to make a significant difference.”
Reiterating that even though unable to greet Rotaractors in per son, “Rotary continues to celebrate Rotaractors as full partners in the Rotary family”, Maloney said, “we had hoped to hold the most family- friendly Rotary convention in history. Instead, we are at home connecting with our families as never before; taking care of all generations; and responding to the essential needs of our families — health, education, and support.”
One dream — to hold the most environmentally-friendly convention in Rotary history — had been realised. “We are holding a Rotary convention like no other with no air travel, no hotel rooms, leaving a remarkably small carbon footprint!”
The RI President said that during his year, his emphasis was on growing Rotary, adapting to changes, so together Rotarians could achieve more. He was delighted to note the manner in which Rotary clubs had made “such a huge impact around the world during this crisis.”
On the need to form new and innovative clubs to grow Rotary, Maloney said the 2019–20 governors had attained new milestones in the formation of new clubs this year. The challenge now was to create and offer members “new club experiences and extend our reach beyond regular meetings focused on meals.”
He once again underlined the need to “balance Rotary and family commitments. We must continue to open doors to families at events at every level of Rotary. Families provide the strong base from which we reach out to the community. And, as this pandemic has illustrated, we treasure our families above all.” No Rotarian should be ever asked to choose between Rotary service and the family. It was also important to “build the path to Rotary leadership for those who remain actively involved in their professions.”
Maloney said Rotarians can be proud that not only during a crisis, but for all time, “Rotary offers something no other organisation can match — an existing infrastructure which allows people from all over the world to connect in a spirit of service and peace.” As Rotarians continued to do the work necessary to rid the world of polio, “our decades of work in polio will help address the coronavirus pandemic as an added value. The PolioPlus infrastructure will be critical once a coronavirus vaccine is ready. But make no mistake, we will rid the world of polio. And we are hopeful that Africa will be certified polio-free in the near future.”
This year, on June 26, the UN celebrates is 75th anniversary and Rotarians could be proud that the UN Charter was an accomplishment facilitated by many Rotarians. “Whether we are working toward clean water, better health, improved education, or economic stability for the world’s least privileged — Rotary shares the United Nations’ commitment to a healthier, more peaceful, and more sustainable world,” Maloney added.
Addressing the opening session UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that since the chartering of the UN 75 years ago, “we have worked closely to bring people together and find solutions to their problems.” He acknowledged the work done by Rotary in “eradicating polio, strengthening communities around the globe, alleviating the suffering of vulnerable populations and building a safer, healthier, and more peaceful world.”
Today, as the world “faced a global pandemic, the most severe economic crisis for generations, and an acute climate crisis, the most vulnerable are those facing the greatest risk. Now, more than ever, we need to work together to find solutions to the weaknesses of our societies by reducing inequalities, supporting and strengthening the resilience of communities and charting a path to a better world through the Sustainable Development Goals. The UN is with you,” he added.
In a video titled “People of Action” the opening session brought voices from New York, San Francisco, Italy, Kenya, Portugal, Mississippi, San Diego, Tokyo, Netherlands, Honduras, France, Nepal, Romania and Pakistan highlighting the outstanding relief and community support work done by Rotarians across the world.
These Rotarians talked about helping charities and hospitals, healthcare professions, distribution of food and even “tulips to thank our local healthcare professionals”, production of facemasks and other protective equipment, setting up of handwashing stations, pantries and so on. While the Rotarian from Italy, one of the worst affected countries, talked about donating “new technology” to 28 hospitals, and “40 tablets for sick people to keep in touch with their families via video,”, the one from Honduras highlighted the plight of the under- privileged who lacked even the most basic facilities and were helped by Rotarians.
Convention Chair Celia Elena Cruz de Giay addressed the opening session.
History of Rotary and the UN
For those Rotarians who have been hearing for years about the connection between Rotary and the UN, the virtual convention had an interesting presentation. Here is a short account:
In 1944, nations around the world stared in horror at the devastation of World War II. But even as the battles raged, global leaders planned for a new era, and a post-war organisation for peace. RI, long-committed to global cooperation and peace, had been raising awareness of a United Nations — publishing articles and pamphlets to encourage the discussion.
In June 1945, the eyes of the world were on San Francisco, as delegates from 50 countries gathered to sign the UN Charter. As they gathered, delegates read about the end of the war in Europe. At the invitation of the US Secretary of State, RI sent eleven Rotarians to serve as consultants to the delegation from the United States, including two past Rotary presidents: Allen Albert and Tom Davis.
In fact, there were other Rotarians and honorary members from around the globe; some as official delegates for their nations and others as consultants. Ezequiel Padilla served as chair of the delegation from Mexico. Carlos Romulo represented the Philippines and would later serve as President of the 4th Session of the UN General Assembly.
There was a triumphant ceremony, as representatives signed the Charter for their nations.
Joseph Salem, from Lebanon, was just one of the Rotarians who signed the Charter on behalf of their countries.
US Secretary of State, E R Stettinius was a signatory for the United States. He later described the invitation to Rotary International as “a recognition of the practical part Rotary’s members have played and will continue to play in the development of understanding among nations.”
Rotary’s participation in the UN Charter Conference was just the beginning of a humanitarian- focused collaboration that continues. Both the organisations, said the presentation, “serve as examples of global cooperation as they lead efforts to promote peace, development, and world health.”