It’s a tortuous and bone rattling journey full of potholes and long stretches of broken road. As his driver negotiates the Innova through the horrendous stretches between Dehradun and Chandigarh where we are headed, David J Hilton, DG of District 3080, seated in the front, has more reason for discomfort.
He is being asked some tough questions by RI Director Manoj Desai, for whom the trip has been even longer and tougher — from Mussorie — where he has just completed a think tank meeting — to Dehradun, from where we are headed to Chandigarh. Here he will be conducting his 11th District visit which has four components — meeting the Troika (DG, DGE, DGN), Vision 20–20 seminar, projects visit and COG.
He is armed with a file where information got from RI is neatly tabulated. Tough questions are being asked of DG Hilton on membership, why some clubs in his district have shown a poor growth, why can’t his Presidents induct more women or younger members. How many of his presidents have connected on Rotary Central and updated their projects. “Eighty eight per cent,” Hilton smiles. But Desai, after a brief congratulations, wants to know about the remaining 12 per cent. They are mostly rural clubs, says Hilton. The RID says this is the most common excuse but his experience has shown that many rural clubs are the first to connect to Rotary Central!
As the interrogation proceeds and the sun goes down, the driver, obviously not amused at his boss being quested thus, snaps on the light to help Hilton read the figures from the file he’s holding.
But when it comes to projects and ideas, Hilton has an ace, or two, up his sleeve. He has just returned from a medical mission to Malawi, “a life changing experience for me” with 21 doctors from 10 specialties and seven volunteers. The Mission, led by PRIP Rajendra K Saboo, did 300 surgeries, and thousands of medical interventions, with a couple of children requiring heart surgery referred to the Fortis Hospital in Chandigarh where D 3080 runs a Heartline project. During his year, three more such medical missions are planned — to Ethiopia, Dimapur and Rwanda.
Desai gives full marks to Hilton for this excellent humanitarian project and seeks new ideas from him on his plans to meet the major objectives of Rotary International and Rotary India. Hilton has another ace coming up. To further the literacy mission of Rotary India, he has already initiated a dialogue with the Council for the ISCE Board which has approximately 2,000 schools under it. An educationist by profession, he runs a school in Dehradun and is also Secretary of the Association of Heads of Anglo Indian Schools in India. “If this MoU is signed, we are looking at children from nearly 2,000 schools getting involved in RILM work.”
Later, Desai will have separate meetings with Hilton, DGE Raman Aneja and DGN D C Bansal to discuss issues pertaining to the District and look at long term goals and continuity in achieving them. The burden of Desai’s song at all these meetings is membership, funds for TRF — next year being the Centenary year this is even more important — and improving Rotary’s public image. He will also emphasise the importance of strategic planning that will help achieve the Vision 20–20 target. Apart from meeting the troika, as he calls them in every district, the RID is also available, but through prior appointments for 10 minutes, to any Rotarian wanting to discuss an issue or voice a grievance. Here too such an appointment is sought, and given.
Change in mood
By the time we reach Chandigarh it is 8 p m. After a 30-minute break to freshen up, we meet for dinner. Desai has changed into a casual shirt and having shed his suit and tie, the RID’s mood has changed too! There is no evidence of the punishing 7-hour road journey on terrible post-Monsoon roads. Wife Sharmishtha Desai is there as also Aneja and spouse Meenu, Hilton and spouse Patricia. Over some great thin-crust pizza, risotto and white wine, the RID regales us with Rotary anecdotes. “On our 25th anniversary Sharmishtha asked me what will you give up for me, and I said all coloured drinks. So I can’t have Coke, Pepsi or whiskey.” The previous year the smart woman had similarly made him give up coffee! “He used to drink 6 to 7 cups a day and that was bad for his health,” she whispers to me.
Desai is busy pulling the youthful Aneja’s leg on his looking younger, slimmer etc. There is banter, laughter, camaraderie. Listening to Desai’s stories, my fatigue from the punishing road travel from Mussoorie to Chandigarh melts away. I had earlier asked to be excused and wanted to crash but the RID had sternly told me I’d feel hungry in the night! That he would next day ask me to watch my weight is another story!
Desai has District visits lined up and wants to complete all the Districts by the end of the year. How does he manage such punishing schedules, I ask him. Soon, he will visit RI District 3180, where another 7-hour road journey is required to reach Shimoga! “It’s a job I have undertaken and want to execute it to the best of my ability, incorporate strategic planning and long term vision into it, so that we work toward the three core Rotary objectives with total clarity and a well thought out plan on moving forward.”
The Vision 20–20 seminar hosted the next morning by RC Panchkula about 12 km from Chandigarh, is packed with 432 participants; PRID Yash Pal Das is present with several PDGs. Hilton unveils some of his plans for the District, how they have to meet Rotary’s three main goals on membership, TRF donations and Public Image. In the last two years the D 3080’s contribution to TRF had gone down because of the natural disaster in Uttaranchal, where Rotary had rushed help and is now building 35 schools; 14 will soon be handed over to the Government and the remaining completed by December. But this year it has to meet its goal of raising $500,000 for TRF; with 3,300 members, this was doable if each member donated only $100.
Delivering his address, Desai held the audience spellbound speaking in Hindi and packing his speech with some of the best Urdu couplets I’ve heard. The underlying message delivered through a couplet that instead of squabbling over contentious issues, if all Rotarians put their hearts and minds together to work for Rotary’s core objectives, they would help India emerge much stronger on the global platform, goes home.
Divide to multiply
The RID disclosed that at the recent Udaipur retreat for senior Rotary leaders during RI President K R Ravindran’s visit, PRIPs Rajendra K Saboo and Kalyan Banerjee and other senior leaders had decided that “we will have to divide to multiply.” While there was a norm that an RI District should have a minimum of 1,100 members and 35 clubs, there was no such ceiling for the top. Why should India have districts with 6,000 or 7,000 members? These districts have to be split. Delhi had already done so and Calcutta and Chennai will follow suit. “My goal is to have 50 Districts in two years. The number of RI districts would remain at 535, but think of the big picture. If we have 50 districts, and can get four zones, we can have four RI Directors.”
Desai added, “Look at what India has achieved on the membership front. Last year, of the 20,000 additional members Rotary had added, India’s share was 63 per cent. This is no mean achievement and it is time for India to claim its rightful position in Rotary,” he added.
But for this dream to be realised, each Indian Rotarian would have to work hard and take care of each of his three children — Membership, TRF and Public Image. He also urged them to send short 90 second video clips on their projects, which would be shown at the Jaipur Institute. Hilton said he’d send two clips of their medical missions, and schools.
Showing slides of the pyramids and Taj Mahal Desai said these were the results of a vision. “But unfortunately there is no vision statement at this hour in RI; and we all know that without vision there is no performance.” And that was the reason why the performance graph in various clubs and districts were zigzag, when they had to go only up.
“How can you have a group of brilliant professionals and business people, the elite, coming together and have the graph go down? This is not acceptable.” His Vision 20–20 was to take all the focus areas of Rotary such as water, sanitation, mother and child care, literacy, diversity, and leadership and “work together … do a really big project and think of continuity … that is why in every District I meet the DG, DGE and DGN, because continuity is very important.”
Vision 20–20 has two meanings — to see with complete clarity and achieve goals by the year 2020, he added.