Virtual meetings, the new normal… Rotary e-clubs show the way

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This meeting shows the real strength of Rotary e-clubs. Thanks to the pandemic, today all our Rotary clubs are functioning like e-clubs. But for all of you this is nothing new. You have been meeting like this all along,” said RI President Holger Knaack, addressing the Global meet of E-clubs hosted recently by Rotary E-club of Chennai, RID 3232.

The participation were  80 e-clubs from 28 countries across six continents. “It looks like a Rotary convention of e-clubs. We missed out Antarctica because there is no Rotary club there,” said PDG Raja Seenivasan, mentor for the host club.

“Susanne and I are happy to join you this morning or afternoon or evening,” said Knaack, acknowledging the different time zones across which the Rotarians had logged in. “I chose the theme — Rotary opens opportunities — because it works at various levels. We are gifting an opportunity to people when we give them eye glasses or wheel chairs or micro credit. Rotary is also opening opportunities for us — for a richer, more meaningful life and for me, Rotary has broadened my view and given me several friends. It is also about personal growth. It means becoming a better leader,” he said.

This year, more than ever Rotary has opened opportunities to its members to look at various ways to reach out to people. “You are doing extraordinary work helping people survive this pandemic. Cherish all these virtual experiences you are learning now because this is truly a great step for Rotary,” he added.

The RI Board has also adapted well to the pandemic challenge. “We are meeting every second month, sometimes every month. This is more effective and definitely inexpensive. RI will have many more such virtual meetings in the future.”

Cherish all these virtual experiences you are learning now because this is truly a great step for Rotary
Holger Knaack
RI President

Recalling his visit to Chennai in 2013 when 12,000 Rotaractors had gathered to create a high-five Guinness record, Knaack noted that RID 3232  “has the largest number of Rotaractors — 25,000 in just one district! But we need to attract them to Rotary. Think of newer club models that will fit the needs of younger professionals. One major problem in Europe, Australia and Japan is the increasing age in Rotary.”

To a question from an e-club member in South Greece about getting data from RI about Rotarians who have left Rotary, so that they can be invited to join an e-club, the president said, “we cannot share much data because of Rotary’s privacy policy. But you can reach out to your neighbouring clubs and ask them personally for their members who have left
the club.”

Another member from Italy wanted to know Rotary’s plans for handling Covid vaccine when it arrives and Knaack said that the infrastructure used for polio immunisation could be also used for Covid vaccination. “We have learnt great lessons from polio. We did a wonderful job then and we can do a great one now.” he said.

A special Hello Holger session had the presidents of all 80 clubs greeting and waving to the RI president and his wife Susanne, one after the other. “We had several rehearsals for this session,” said event chair Jayanthi Raja Seenivasan, talking to Rotary News about some of the behind-the-scene moments. “It was a fun experience. Thankfully, we did not face any technical glitches. We had to coordinate with Rotarians from various time zones and they all cooperated so well,” she said, making special mention of an Australian e-club member who “would log into our rehearsal on zoom meet at 1 a m (Australian time) and doze off. He would wake up when his name was called out, say ‘Hello Holger’ and go back to sleep!”

“This is the first time I saw so many e-clubs saying hello to Susanne and I,” smiled Knaack.

Susanne is member of Rotary E-club Hamburg Connect, Germany. “I enjoy my membership here. When Gary Huang became RI president in 2014, he urged the ­partners of RI directors to get involved in Rotary. Holger, a director then, floated the idea of chartering an e-club to cater to younger people and those who could not afford to meet over lunch. We formed our club in Dec 2014 and it has been a wonderful experience ever since,” she said.

Rotary started the first e-club in 2002 — Rotary E-club One, USA — with a foresight that this could be a futuristic model.
V Raja Seenivasan
past district governor, RID 3232

She has been part of Rotary since 1996 “when we opened our home to two 16-year-old boys from Slovakia and Switzerland under the RYE programme.” The couple has hosted 40 youth exchange students at their home until 2013 when Knaack became RI director.

She regaled the audience with anecdotes on how she met Holger. “Both of us went to the same college. He claims to have seen me on the first student assembly. I don’t remember doing that, for, at that time we were just three women against
94 men! “

PDG Seenivasan said, “Rotary started the first e-club in 2002 — Rotary E-club One, USA — with a foresight that this could be a futuristic model. But most people did not realise the potential of e-clubs till the Covid pandemic. And now we all have started functioning through e-meetings, including our Hawaii convention. This meet will highlight the potential of e-clubs in attracting new members.”

As DG in 2013 he had chartered the Rotary E-club of Chennai. In July this year RIPE Shekhar Mehta inducted 11 members from different countries to this club in just a day, he said.

DG Muthupalaniappan congratulated host club president Devaprasad for putting together “this unique and novel global meet of e-clubs. Technology has been an enabler. With this pandemic, traditional Rotary clubs have also taken to virtual meetings. In the long run, this is going to help grow Rotary.” He spoke about the district project Orange which will address avoidable blindness throughout India, starting with ­Chennai, where 104 vision care centres will be set up. TRF has approved seven grants worth $1.7 million for this project, he added.

Host club secretary Shravan Balamurugan delivered a vote of thanks.

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