At a hall filled with enthusiastic Rotaractors and Interactors in Colombo, RI District 3220, RI President Gordon McInally and RI director Raju Subramanian interacted with the youngsters, answering their questions, clearing their doubts, recognising the projects they do and encouraging them to grow the organisation.
“What is widely known is that I joined Rotary through RC South Queensferry in 1984, but I was also a Rotaractor and my personal Rotaract journey began three years earlier in a Rotaract club, and being a Rotaractor gave me the opportunity to join Rotary. And today, I stand before you as the president of RI. Someone once asked me that when I was inducted as a member of my club was it your ambition to become RI president? And I had to confess that I didn’t even know at that time that there was a president of RI!”
But, he added, “there might well be an RI president in this very room and I’d like to think one day one of you will become the leader of our organisation. This is indeed an opportunity in this amazing Rotary family with 1.4 million people in over 200 countries, all with a similar mindset to do good in the world and make it a better place.”
His own personal goal, the RI president added, was to make the world a better place for his own grandchildren and all the children of the world, through the wonderful opportunity Rotary had given him.
But being Rotaractors also gave them personal opportunities to grow as leaders, develop skills and “recognise that we are very different people and to celebrate that.” A big fan of rugby, which he used to play as a young man, he always made a comparison between rugby and Rotary. Various players in a strong rugby team brought very different skills to the table — some could run fast, some were strong and had the ability to hold on to the ball, others could kick the ball long distances very accurately. “But only when these different talents in the team were combined, the team could go on to do great things.”
The same holds good in Rotary; when Rotarians from different countries brought their unique and individual abilities to any work or goal, “together they can do great things. That is why we need not only senior Rotarians but also young people like Rotaractors and Interactors because you bring so much ability and energy into the organisation.” According to the official website Rotaract in RID 3220, the district has over 90 Rotaract clubs with more than 5,000 Rotaractors.
McInally said that as he went across the world — he had already travelled to over 30 countries in 18 months —“many people ask me that you fly from country to country, continent to continent, how come you don’t get tired? And I simply tell them that when I arrive anywhere and meet members of the Rotary family like yourselves, and see the energy of the audience, I get energy from them.”
When I plant something, I want to make sure that plant develops strong roots and becomes established. And that’s what we need to do with our new members.
RI President Gordon McInally
Touching upon his presidential theme of ‘Creating hope in the world,’ the RI president said “I strongly believe this is the year we need hope in the world more than ever before. We are a very disunited world at present but a united organisation like Rotary, which of course includes all of you, can bring so much hope in the world in so many ways.” During his recent travel, he had met so many people who had been given hope by Rotary in different ways.
Recently in Ahmedabad, he had met Satish, who was confined to his wheelchair for most of his adult life; “I met him at a limb-fitting camp organised by Rotary. He came to the camp in his wheelchair, had his limb fitted and could return to his wife and family and provide for them, because of the hope Rotary was able to give him.”
In Pakistan, on World Polio Day he had met Ahmed, a child, and administered to him two drops of polio vaccine. “When I close my eyes, I see those two drops of polio vaccine falling into Ahmed’s mouth, but more important than that, the look of gratitude on his mother’s face. She knew that, thanks to Rotary, Rotaract and Interact, Ahmed would not suffer from a crippling disease such as polio. I know you are also creating hope for the people of your country, and I thank you for that.”
Later, in an interactive session where RID 3220 DRR Sathma Jayasinghe and District Interact Representative Amir Akram quizzed the two senior RI leaders on topics such as the relationship between Rotary, Rotaract and Interact, the process of sanctioning global grants and Rotary’s adaptation and acceptance of the latest technological tools, President McInally said the “relationship between Rotary and Rotaract, after the CoL decision to make Rotaract a part of Rotary was taken, was still evolving but we can be complementary to each other. We all have different talents and Rotaract in particular has a different set of talent and we have to embrace that talent and ensure it can be utilised well to do service. We continue to evolve our relationship, and it will take a year or two before we know where we stand exactly.”
RID Raju Subramanian added that both Rotarians and Rotaractors could learn from one another. “It’s a mutual learning process. Let’s not assume that either of us knows everything. We need to assess each other and work together to make a huge impact on the world we live in. This synergy will create magic, but there must be acceptability on both sides that ours is a life-long partnership.”
Responding to a question from DRR Sathma on adoption of new technology and accepting new challenges and technological tools, President McInally gave the example of the ice lolly in Scotland called zoom. “That was the only zoom we had known till Covid came and told us about the online platform called zoom. I was amazed at how quickly Rotarians adapted to different digital platforms and were soon holding meetings and implementing projects with active participation in online meetings.”
Don’t run after awards; let the awards run after you. If you do good work, awards will run after you.
RI Director Raju Subramanian
He gave the example of a recently formed Rotary club in Scotland called the Passport Club; “many of its members are from clubs that did not survive Covid, but others are new members. They may be a little older than the average age in this room (of Rotaractors and Interactors). My wife Heather is a member of this club and is about to become the club president, (by the way she has been president three times, I have been club president only once!) and when some members first said we’ll connect through WhatsApp, there was protest from many members saying ‘Oh no, we don’t do WhatsApp’. Anyway, the group was started and within a short time it was buzzing and the members are speaking to one another over it… they’ve found it’s a wonderful way of connecting!”
Interjecting RID Subramanian told DRR Sathma: “I think that question should have been put by President Gordon to you and not vice versa. You young people are so technologically savvy and fully aware of the future prospects of so many things. So create impact… not only among the people in your country but across the world, especially among Rotaractors. Rotaract is suffering, even in India, where we lost 40,000 members last year, that’s not a small number. But we are building up the numbers again.”
He added that Rotary as an organisation does so much good in the world, “but so many people don’t even know the major role we have played in bringing polio on the verge of extinction across the world. You are technically so savvy, and should spread awareness about our work using technological tools.”
In response to another question, McInally said engagement and retention of members were very important. “We have to take care of them and make them comfortable when they join, because far too many people join Rotary and leave within a very short period of time… one in 10 people who joins Rotary today won’t be a member after 12 months from now. That is a cruel statistic which means that we are failing them… we are not engaging them.”
A keen gardener himself, he gave the example of the plants in his garden back home. “When I plant something, I want to make sure that plant develops strong roots and becomes established. And that’s what we need to do with our new members. We need to make sure they develop strong roots and get well established in Rotary. That is what somebody did for me 40 years ago when I joined my club. People took care of me, helped and engaged me.”
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat
Don’t chase awards
At the Colombo meet, District Interact Representative (DIR) Amir Akram asked RI President Gordon McInally on how RI would recognise on the global stage the good work they did, giving example of one of their projects. Recently the Kandy National Hospital in Sri Lanka needed blood and had contacted him for his help. “We collected 185 blood bags through an Interact club at a school and passed them on to the hospital. Later I got a letter from the National Hospital thanking Interactors and saying that but for the blood bags they had given so many people would have lost their lives.”
President McInally said, “Rotary recognises and promotes your work and we regularly see Rotaractors involved in district conference, zone institutes and conventions.”
RID Raju Subramanian added: “One advice I’d like to give Rotaractors and Interactors is that don’t run after awards; let the awards run after you. If you do good work, awards will run after you. I had never got an RI presidential citation. The then RI President John Kenny wanted me to create a new club, but I closed down three because I didn’t think they deserved to remain in Rotary. But did that deter me? No. I am sitting here today as the RI director. So what does that piece of paper mean? It means nothing, so let’s not run after awards.”
He also advised the young assembly: “Please learn to work together; that is one thing that is hampering our organisation today. We need to work together, we need to show a united face to the world. Differences may be there, but they must be settled without involving our egos. And once we present a united picture, focus on what we do, and share our stories, I am sure that the movement will grow and you will automatically get recognised.”
Congratulating them “for the fantastic work you do in Sri Lanka in areas such as cervical cancer, schools in Jaffna, etc,” he urged them to “sell you stories. Once such stories touch a person’s heart he/she will surely join our organisation.”