TRF: Towards a second century

As The Rotary Foundation has begun its second century under the leadership of Trustee Chair Paul Netzel, Past RI President and past Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, who dreamt big during the TRF Centennial to set a goal of $300 million — and surpassed it to cross $304 million — recalled TRF milestones over the last few decades.

TRF Trustee Chair Paul Netzel clicks a picture of PRIP Kalyan Banerjee and Binota as TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta and PDGs Rajkumar and John Daniel look on.
TRF Trustee Chair Paul Netzel clicks a picture of PRIP Kalyan Banerjee and Binota as TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta and PDGs Rajkumar and John Daniel look on.

Addressing a GETS session at the Kuala Lumpur Zone Institute, he listed the challenges he had to encounter during his year at the TRF helm thanks to his wife Binota having to undergo a second kidney transplant surgery after 17 years. The surgery led to some unexpected problems unconnected with the transplant itself, “which kept her in hospital and kept me running around. At one point, around the halfway mark in January 2017, I had wanted to hand in my papers. But then, good friends like you convinced me that if that happened, the rest of the year, with an unprepared replacement, might go even worse and spoil the Centennial year completely. And so, I stuck to the job and everyone around the world rose to the challenge.”

On the eve of the Atlanta Convention, a clear picture emerged; “thanks to the generosity of Rotarians, full support from the staff, and amazing, unexpected gifts pouring in from all over the world, we were able to surpass our goal of $300 million when the Rotary year ended,” Banerjee said.

He said a century back, when RI President Arch C Klumph first proposed an endowment for doing good in the world, “he made a modest proposal that had great consequences. It 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.”

In the 2015–16 Rotary year alone, our Foundation awarded almost $100 million in global and district grants, $4 million for Rotary Peace Fellowships, and $114.7 million for polio eradication.”

With a war raging in Europe, 1917 hardly seemed an auspicious time to start raising money. The postwar climate was worse; soon, the market crashed, the world economy collapsed, the Great Depression began, and with World War-II looming, “it wasn’t surprising that Rotarians didn’t rush to adopt Arch Klumph’s grand idea.” But not easily discouraged, he refused to give up; “it was said of Arch Klumph in 1917 that he was a dreamer of colossal proportions.” But TRF had surpassed even “his most colossal dreams by providing $3.7 billion for its vital projects across the world.”

Banerjee said Rotarians should remember that TRF started with just $26.5 in 1917, which in today’s valuation comes to about $550, “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.”

TRF awarded its first grant in 1930 for $500 (about $7,000 in 2017 valuation). “Contrast that with some of our more recent figures. In the 2015–16 Rotary year alone, our Foundation awarded almost $100 million in global and district grants, $4 million for Rotary Peace Fellowships, and $114.7 million for polio eradication.”

PRIP and past TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee.
PRIP and past TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee.

While these were all very impressive numbers, the one number that won’t be ever known is “the number of people whose lives have been improved, transformed, or saved through the work of our Foundation,” he added.

Here are some numbers Banerjee listed:

  • 16 million people are walking today who would have been paralysed by polio without Rotary’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
  • 1.5 million — the number of lives saved by Vitamin A given with the polio vaccine.
  • 268 patients received life-changing surgeries during a recent global grant medical mission from India to Rwanda.
  • 423,795 people received free healthcare at Rotary Family Health Days in Ghana, India, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda in 2016.
  • 41,850 scholars funded by TRF over the past century. The programme was started “because we believed that time spent studying and living in another country would expand a young person’s world view and imbue him/her with the Rotary ideals of service and tolerance.
  • 1,067 graduates of Rotary Peace Centers programmes are today working for peace throughout the world as diplomats, journalists, teachers and even police officers.

Banerjee laced his speech with anecdotes of peace scholars and ordinary persons helping Rotary carry out extraordinary projects. Such as Fatima Begum donating her lifetime savings — ₹85,000 — kept for Haj pilgrimage after her only granddaughter Munni was killed in the Kutch earthquake in 2001 and urging Rotarians to use the money towards the homes they were rebuilding in the devastated city of Bhuj.

Even though Arch Klumph had never told Rotarians how exactly to do good in the world, trusting Rotarians to figure this out themselves, one thing he was clear about was what TRF shouldn’t do. And “that is 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 had inspired the early Rotarians to build TRF from the ground up: “not in brick and stone, but in lives, health and 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.”

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