There was both energy and adrenal in the hall as for the first time ever, a mega “gaggle” of some 300 senior Indian Rotary leaders, along with those from Sri Lanka and Nepal, including PRIPs Rajendra Saboo, Kalyan Banerjee and K R Ravindran, came together at one event — Disha — convened by RIDE C Basker in Mumbai in the last week of February.
The meet was an intensive training event for the incoming DGs of 2017–18 and Basker urged the DGEs to make the best use of the “collective wisdom” at the venue, culled from the top leadership such as RCs, RRFCs, RPICs, and their deputies, as well as the coordinators of the two flagship projects — Literacy and WinS.
India has grown faster and higher in Rotary, but the question we need to answer is have we grown stronger.
— RIDE C Basker
He announced that at a previous meet held with the DGEs in Kumarakom, the trendsetters, as he has labelled the incoming DGs, had promised to collect for the TRF a whopping sum of $31 million in 2017–18, which would double what had been collected last year (2015–16). The TRF target for this Rotary year from India is $26.5 million.
This challenge could be met because it was found that nearly 60 per cent of Rotary clubs do not contribute anything to the Foundation. So it had been decided that in 2017–18, every Rotarian will be asked to donate at least $100 to TRF.
Both Basker and RI Director Manoj Desai said that India was doing so well on the various parameters of Rotary such as membership, TRF giving, Literacy, WinS and various community projects that this region — now confined to zones 4, 5 and 6A would soon expand to 4, 5, 6 and 7. This would mean greater clout with two RI Directors from our region.
Faster and higher, but stronger?
But while India was doing so well and there was no doubt that “we have grown faster and higher, the question remains: Have we grown stronger?”
This question could only be answered by what RID Desai had said was an integral part of the Strategic Plan: support and strengthen clubs. “We all agree that the clubs are the most important places for Rotarians to meet and do their best for the community through service projects. So let us touch our hearts and answer if all the clubs are functioning as prescribed or desired by RI?”
If the answer was ‘no’, then “it is not theirs but our fault that we have not properly trained the club officers and presidents who’re going to lead the clubs. So there is some disconnect somewhere that has to be bridged. Otherwise, if you grow fast and high without having a proper footing in the ground, we will collapse.”
He said India had come a long way from the days when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had to go to the US to ask for wheat as we had a great scarcity and had got 12 million tonnes of wheat exported to India from the US. Last year, we exported 9 million tonnes of wheat, we now have $5 billion in foreign exchange reserves and recently put 104 satellites into space at one go.
Our aim is to increase the range, breadth, depth and visibility of our projects so that we can make a difference. What matters is not the path but the disha or the direction.
— PDG Bharat Pandya
Basker added that to strengthen clubs the District Governor was the most important entity, followed by the District Chair. “For the first time, all District Chairs, including those from Sri Lanka and Nepal, have come to one place to be trained. We want all of you to go back and share the knowledge you gain here with your clubs. And be interactive; if you don’t know, ask questions as all the senior leaders of our zones have come here to share their knowledge with you.”
Retention, a big problem
Basker said the biggest problem we have in India is retention; “about 40 per cent of the Rotarians leave within the first or second year, which shows clubs are not able to engage the members, who don’t find Rotary interesting. So how are we going to deal with this exodus and retain every man or woman in our fold? This is a big challenge for the district membership chair.”
Analysis had shown that while 1,500 Rotarians were added, 1,200 of them leave and “we don’t want to know why they leave. We analysed district-wise data for the last five years for their exit which is available. Please study it.” The main reason was that the clubs were not able to engage those who leave through proper conduct of club meetings and good community projects, he reiterated.
It had also been decided to focus more on northern and eastern India, which are still greenfield regions for Rotary, as many towns there do not have a Rotary club, so more clubs can be started in this region. But both the new and the existing clubs should ensure that they do signature service projects in their region after assessing community needs and addressing them. “Only then the community will appreciate you and Rotary’s public image will increase. And you don’t have to run around looking for large projects, as we have two excellent projects in Literacy and WinS; if you can do a project under either, you can get a global or district grant.
How geese fly
Addressing the meeting Disha Chairman PDG Bharat Pandya explained the visual on the screen — that of a flock of geese (gaggle) flying together in a perfect V formation. “By flying thus, they get 70 per cent more traction, and each one is able to see what lies ahead. They honk or make noises to encourage each other. The gaggle “has laid down a path, and the geese follow it year after year, for successive generations.”
Public image can no longer remain a silent service exercise; in the time of selfies, silent service is no good, and we have to tell the world what we are doing.
— RID Manoj Desai
That was what Disha, which had brought together about 300 Rotary leaders from across India on one platform, was aiming for… “working together as a team. Our aim is to increase the range, breadth, depth and visibility of our projects so that we can make a difference. What matters is not the path but the disha or the direction. All of you are the backbone of Rotary in your district, and that is why you are here… to set a direction for the coming year.”
Pandya added that there were two kinds of Rotarians in any team… the Will Work and Can Work Rotarians. “The Will Work guys will work regardless of anything and goal setting will help them reach targets. And under your leadership, the Can Work group can be converted to Will Work, at least to some extent, and the success of your year will be assured,” he added. That was the purpose of the Disha team which had been named Hum hai na.
Disha Secretary Raju Subramanian said it was a unique training event under one roof and at one time.
Addressing the DGEs, RID Desai said that when he was put on the RI Strategic Planning Committee, “I heard there right at the beginning that when the change outside the organisation is faster than that within, we are in danger of becoming extinct. We need to change.”
The changes he had effected in the last 19 months included 34 District visits last year and 28 this year till now. Apart from holding Troika meets of the DG, DGE and DGN, Vision 20:20 seminars were held in the districts. Another important issue was elections and this year 15 unanimous elections for DGs were held. “This is the path India needs to take.”
Even though we were No 1 in membership last year, the DGEs would have to concentrate on getting more women and young members. “And public image can no longer remain a silent service exercise; in the time of selfies, silent service is no good, and we have to tell the world what we are doing.”
Desai said 25 districts had submitted their strategic plans and others are working on it. He had singular praise for D 3292 (Nepal), which had brought out a booklet that looked at strategic planning beyond 2020, to 2022. “It is the best growing district at the moment. They have added 11 more clubs and 624 members, and are doing such wonderful projects. They’ve given two AKS members and last year they gave $1 million to TRF and have promised me this year we will go beyond $ 1.25 million… and all this from a small little country called Nepal!”
Both Basker and Desai reiterated that electronic voting was the best option for elections and promised to take some of the concerns of the DGEs to the RI.
PRID and WinS Vice Chair P T Prabhakar, had the audience listen to him in rapt attention at the end of a long day, by juxtaposing his address on leadership and other nuggets against video clips of popular songs from Hindi movies.
“In keeping with your title, you must set the trends in your respective districts and give the best Rotary year your District has ever seen. Quoting PRIP Clem Renouf, who had said Rotary takes ordinary people like you and me and gives us extraordinary opportunity to do more with our lives than we ever thought was possible, he added, “you will never get such a great opportunity again, so make the best of it.”
The biggest opportunity they had was utilising CSR funds — Rs 14,000 crore in all — to do great service projects. “We are a service organisation, take service away and we become a Gymkhana or a cosmopolitan club, so never lose sight of doing good service projects,” he said.
Prabhakar said that leading the RI world in getting new members, being second in TRF giving, and helping India get rid of polio were no mean achievements. “And we are going to get 4 zones and two Directors; we can truly say we are leading the Rotary world,” he added.
Some of the leadership tips he left them with:
- It doesn’t matter how much you have, what matters is what you do with it. Take the example of Beethoven and John Milton who overcame their physical handicaps to give the world some of its greatest gifts — best music and poetry.
- Attitude is everything. Have a positive attitude.
- Do not be afraid of critics…if you do well, you will get a lot of criticism. Many DGs begin well, but at the first criticism, they become like deflated balloons and stop.
- Don’t be afraid of critics; kuch toh log kahengey, logo ka kaam hei kehna (Kishore Kumar’s famous song from Amar Prem.)
- Learn to handle dissent with a positive attitude.
- Overcome tough times and challenges and march on. Ruk jana nahi, tu kahi haar key. (Don’t stop at the first defeat).
- Management lesson from the Bhagvad Gita: Defeat is not when you fall down, it is when you refuse or fail to get up.
- We do great Global Grants but in one per cent of the grants, TRF funds are not properly utilised. Stop that.
- Basker does not want any election complaints next year.
- Set up a community project of long duration which will be remembered for many years after you give up office. Kal khel mei hum ho nah ho. (Mera naam Joker)
Smashing Literacy goals
PRID and RILM Chair Shekhar Mehta began his update on Literacy by telling the DGEs to make the best of this mega training event. “I haven’t seen a hall which is full of such powerful people!”
We are a service organisation, take service away and we become a Gymkhana or a cosmopolitan club, so never lose sight of doing good service projects.
— PRID P T Prabhakar
He said till now the Literacy project was at a taxying stage but had now really taken off “thanks to great partnerships, and great work at the grassroots level by the clubs. We set tough targets but they just met all of them. We had thought it was a difficult task to train 5,000 teachers, but just one district — 3131— did 10,000 teachers’ training. And 5,000 teachers had been trained in two years.”
Similarly, another target was starting 10,000 E-learning centres, “But Gujarat alone is going to do 35,000 centres with the Government of Gujarat.”
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat
RI manuals in regional languages
Addressing the incoming DGs, RIDE C Basker said that many club presidents had said they found it difficult to read the RI manuals in English. “But this is such a comprehensive book that if the president reads it, he/she doesn’t have to consult anybody. So I decided to translate the RI manuals in all the regional languages.”
The task was completed because of volunteers, he said and thanked PDGs Krish Rajendran and Suri (B Rajan) who translated it into Sinhalese; Gujarati was done by PDGs Ashish Desai, and Marathi by PDG Deepak Shikarpur, Bengali by PDG Angsuman Bandyopadhyay, Oriya by PDG Rabi Narayan Nanda, Tamil by PDG G Olivannan, Malayalam by PDG K S Sasi Kumar and Telugu by PDGs Sam Patibandla and TVR Murti.
It wasn’t an easy job and took nine months to complete but was done and “they sent me soft copies and I got them printed. Now these translated soft copies have become a treasure for RI, and now the presidents and secretaries will know what to do. DGE Asha has sent a mail that every president likes the Kannada version better,” Basker said and urged the DGEs to ensure that the books in regional languages, released by PRIP K R Ravindran, reach the presidents-elect and that they open and read it!
Basker added that another major problem, rather an aberration, he had found was the improper and shoddy conduct of club meetings. “I ‘ve been to some of the clubs where the presidents don’t even know how to conduct an orderly meeting. You bring in a new member, and if you can’t impress him, he won’t stay with you. If he finds everything in order and perfect discipline, he’ll want to stay on. But I find most of the clubs have forgotten how to conduct orderly meetings.”
To take care of this, “we have brought out a 5-minute video clip on Rotary Club Meetings: Dos and Don’ts, with English subtitles. Later these will be translated into regional languages.” The DVDs were given to each of the DGEs and the RIDE urged them to share copies with their clubs and tell them to watch the video clip and conduct meetings in an orderly manner.