I vividly remember at the outgoing RI President K R Ravindran’s Seoul Convention, 2017, incoming RI President John Germ’s speech… made at the South Asia Reception hosted by the then RI Director Manoj Desai.
After complimenting Rotarians in Zones 4, 5 and 6A (India, Sri Lanka and Nepal) for doing so well on membership and giving to The Rotary Foundation, Germ dwelt on Rotary’s future, and the huge challenge before it to induct young members. He said wryly: “The average age in this room could be 65, or 70; we can’t afford to keep aging this organisation.”
He added that he was coming from a meeting with a group of Rotaractors. “They don’t believe Rotary respects them as individuals or as an organisation and only looks at them as labour, not as equals. We should be embarrassed that they feel this way about us.” So he asked them what could Rotarians do differently to help Rotaractors and pat came the answer: ‘Treat us as equals.’ “And we should do that because this organisation will help us to grow and prosper,” added Germ.
Well, at the Atlanta Convention earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet the bubbly President of the Rotaract Club of Birmingham, Jeris Gaston, a smart young woman, who is into wealth management. Started in 2003, unlike most Rotaract clubs in India, all its members are professionals. With its motto being ‘Learn, Socialise, Serve’, the club is targeted at youngsters in the 25–35 age group who are out of the universities and are young professionals. The objective is to groom them for leadership roles. Its mother club — RC Birmingham — offers a mentorship to the Rotaract club, pairing selected Rotaractors with their Rotarian mentors. About 10 Rotaractors are also allowed to attend RCB meetings. Also, when the Rotaract club was started, it was decided that RCB would encourage it by its members nominating their young sons and daughters, or young professionals from their organisations, to this club, to give it a firm footing.
While RI has to worry about the missing smart, educated, professional women from its membership, this Rotaract club has some of the who’s who of the young population in Birmingham, and its gender ratio is 50:50, compared to that of RCB being a staid 80:20! As for the Rotaract club’s board, “most of our board members are women,” grins Jeris. Arguably this is the largest community-based Rotaract club in the world with 290 members. A few years ago it set up its own foundation, which has raised, hold your breath, over $1 million, and prides itself in doing some of the best literacy and learning programmes in Birmingham, pushing young people to go for university education.
The nice thing about being young is that while the seniors see problems and limitations, the young see opportunities and challenges that beckon them. As we at Rotary News come out with a quarterly issue of Rotaract News, I wish you to aim for the stars, and explore new avenues. Set up your own foundations, plan projects that are so huge and so life-changing that it will leave many Rotary clubs gasping for breath. And then go ahead and execute them… without ego, without conflicts, without lecturing anybody, but with efficiency, transparency… accounting for every rupee that you have raised. And then come to us… with your beaming beneficiaries, and tell their stories which we will be only too happy to report.
Good luck, and god speed!