‘This year, I have been the traveler’: Come join me in Seoul, Korea

K R Ravindran

K R Ravindran

K R Ravindran, RI President 2015 – 16

In life, sometimes the experiences that matter the most are the briefest. They pass in the blink of an eye: a few days, a few hours, a few moments. They are the experiences that illuminate the landscape of our memory, shining brightly even years later. They are the moments in which we see, suddenly, something we had not seen; we understand something we had not understood; we forge a connection we had not expected.

For me, this has been a Rotary year like no other. I have been around the world, traversing countries and continents. I have been to places I had never seen before, and I have returned to familiar places and seen them, as for the first time, through the lens of Rotary.

When you travel for Rotary, you travel with a different sense of perspective and a different sense of purpose. There is an awareness of being part of something larger than yourself. When you board a plane or a train, or leave your home in the dark hours of early morning, you may be leaving for lands unknown – but at your destination, there will be no strangers. There will be Rotarians, waiting and welcoming. There will be work to do, something to learn, and perhaps something to teach.

There will be connections to forge, friendships to build, and memories to carry for a lifetime.

Seoul-300x200-articleThis year, I have been the traveler, and I have been welcomed by Rotarians around the world. A few months from now, from 28 May to 1 June, I invite you to step into my experience: allow me to welcome you to Seoul for our 107th International Convention.

The Koreans have a saying: 사람이 나면 서울로 보내라. In English we would say, “When a person is born, send them to Seoul.” For Seoul is a city of opportunities: a wonderful destination with rich traditions, modern conveniences, and a culture unlike any other. But I ask you to join me in Seoul not only for all of this, but also for the experiences you will have there with your fellow Rotarians.

For a brief moment in time, you will experience Rotary as I have experienced it: in all its diversity, all its warmth, and all its potential. You will be greeted as an old friend by people you have never met; you will share your thoughts, even without a shared language. You will learn with wonder of what Rotary has achieved, and leave inspired to achieve even more.

Before this Rotary year comes to its close, I ask you to do what I have done: to leave your homes, to board your flights, to travel toward the unknown with an open heart and an open mind, confident that Rotary will welcome you. Join me, and your fellow Rotarians, as we Connect with Korea – Touch the World.

Posted in Columnists | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

On the Idea of “Rotary Chats”

Klinginsmith_RayRay Klinginsmith, Trustee Chair 2015 – 16

When I joined Rotary many years ago, the fireside chat was a popular, simple, and effective method of communication among Rotarians. One Rotarian would invite a small number of fellow members to his home (this was before the admission of women in 1987) to talk about the value of Rotary in their lives. The evening would provide fellowship and increase knowledge about Rotary programs, including The Rotary Foundation. In some parts of the world, particularly Down Under, they were called poolside chats, but the concept was the same.

As the 111th anniversary of Rotary on 23 February approaches, I hope you will take the opportunity to spend the evening with some of your Rotary friends, men and women, to talk about Rotary, particularly the Foundation as it prepares for its centennial year in 2016-17. The anniversary falls on a Tuesday this year, and as Tuesday nights are normally not heavily booked for social activities, there are many ways to celebrate.

In today’s world, our chats about Rotary may be held online through social media avenues or in person in homes, restaurants, or pubs. I encourage Rotarians around the world to commemorate both the birthday of Rotary and the 100th anniversary of The Rotary Foundation by inviting some Rotary friends to join together in fellowship and service for conversations about the organization. Just as Rotary grew out of the idea of one individual, Paul Harris, the idea of Rotary chats can be revived by individual Rotarians and clubs in a variety of ways.

Who will step forward to try the idea in their respective clubs this year? If it is you, please send me a note at rayklaw@sbcglobal.net to tell me about your chat. By whatever name and method, our chats on 23 February about Rotary’s founding and the Foundation’s centennial will be good for our Rotary clubs!

Posted in Columnists | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What Can Rotarians Do to Help President Obama Achieve “Common Sense Gun Reform”?

Editor’s Note: In light of my recent “editorial” calling on Rotarians in America to do something about the loss of life in America from guns, President Obama’s remarks on January 5, 2016, which echoes the same theme, should be seen as a challenge to American Rotarians to discuss what they can do to help address this needless loss of life. Listen and view the speech or read the transcript. (John Borst)

January 5, 2016

Remarks by the President on Common-Sense Gun Reform

East Room

11:43 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Please have a seat. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much.

Mark, I want to thank you for your introduction. I still remember the first time we met, the time we spent together, and the conversation we had about Daniel. And that changed me that day. And my hope, earnestly, has been that it would change the country.

Five years ago this week, a sitting member of Congress and 18 others were shot at, at a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. It wasn’t the first time I had to talk to the nation in response to a mass shooting, nor would it be the last. Fort Hood. Binghamton. Aurora. Oak Creek. Newtown. The Navy Yard. Santa Barbara. Charleston. San Bernardino. Too many. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cowboy Ethics and the Rotary Brand

Ray Klinginsmith, Trustee Chair 2015-16

“Cowboy Logic,” as sung by Michael Martin Murphey, has been one of my favorite songs for many years because of its happy music and thoughtful lyrics. It has relevance to Rotary because of its emphasis on honesty and hard work, but I did not fully appreciate its application to our organization until I read Cowboy Ethics by Jim Owen.

Jim was aware that the unwritten Code of the West was a powerful and positive force shaping the ethical behavior of cowboys in the Western states of the USA, and he distilled the code into 10 guiding principles. They are succinctly and aptly stated, and they align closely with The Four-Way Test, one of the hallmarks of Rotary.


Three of the principles are particularly applicable to the PolioPlus program. In the 30 years since the program was launched, Rotarians have remained steadfastly committed to the goal of polio eradication, even though it has taken much longer and been more expensive than anyone originally imagined. But we stuck with it, and now the goal of ending polio is clearly in sight. Along the way, we have fulfilled three of the principles of the Code of the West:”When you make a promise, keep it,” and “Always finish what you start”!

Two other principles have special relevance for The Rotary Foundation as a whole: “Take pride in your work” and “Ride for the brand.” Through their support of Foundation programs, from the first ambassadorial scholarships in 1948 to newer initiatives such as the Rotary Peace Centers and the Future Vision plan, Rotarians have truly made the world a better place. And because Rotarians have “ridden for the brand” through their creative work and generous contributions, these programs have been highly successful, enhancing members’ ability to take pride in their work. Therefore, I do not need to ask Rotarians for their loyalty to the Foundation. Instead, I want to thank them for their amazing loyalty!

Posted in Columnists, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Rotary: Local community vs. World Community – Serve One; Serve the Other


K.R. Ravindran, President 2015-16

There is a story told in my Hindu tradition of two sages, Shaunaka and Abhipratari. They were worshippers of Prana, the wind god. One day, the two men were about to sit down to lunch when a poor student knocked on their door, asking for food.

“No, boy, do not bother us at this hour,” was the reply. The student was surprised but very hungry, so he persisted.

“Tell me, honored sirs, which deity do you worship?”

“Prana, the wind god,” they answered impatiently.


“Do you not know that the world begins and ends with wind, and that wind pervades the entire universe?”

The two sages were by now very irritated by their impertinent guest. “Of course we know it!” they replied.

“Well, then,” continued the student, “if Prana pervades the universe, then he pervades me also, since I am but part of the universe. He is also in this hungry body, which stands before you begging for a bite to eat! And so in denying food to me, you deny it to the very deity whom you say you serve.”

The sages realized the student spoke the truth and invited him to enter and share their meal. For they understood, at that moment, that by opening the door to one who sought their help, they were not only serving that individual – but reaching toward a larger goal.

Our experience of Rotary is, for the most part, based in our own communities. We meet every week in our clubs, in the same places, with the same familiar friends. While almost all of us are involved in some way or other in international service, the Rotary we see and share from day to day feels very local. It can be easy to lose sight of the larger picture – of what our service truly means.

Every impact you have as a Rotarian, individually and through your club, is multiplied by the power of our numbers. When you feed one person who is hungry, when you educate one person who is illiterate, when you protect one child from disease, the impact may seem small. It is anything but. For it is only through the power of numbers, through the power of our individual actions and gifts, that we can have the impact we seek: to truly Be a Gift to the World.

Posted in Columnists, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Shame on America’s Rotarians and their Silence on Guns

Three years ago this month, December 15th, to be exact, I wrote in these pages of 5550opinions, calling on then President Tanaka, whose theme was “Peace Through Service” to use that theme and our “Peace” focus to make a statement decrying the massacre of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But of course Tanaka didn’t have the courage, or the wisdom to do so.

And so where are we 3 years later? We are nearly 100,000 deaths later from acts involving multiple victims and nothing, and I mean NOTHING has changed. Rotary America puts its head in the sand and says to its self ‘This is too political for us to deal with’; ‘We may lose too many members’; ‘We can’t afford it!’ and so on.

I say that is pure ignorance, pure hypocrisy, and pure fear of the unknown.


Can Rotary do more thsn lower the flag?

What a shame, because deep down former and many current Rotarians, were and are among the bravest, most humanitarian, most caring men and woman on the planet. They had the courage to dream the impossible. They dreamed of a world without polio, and they set in motion an action plan to eradicate that killer and maimer of children and adults.

Now 25 years later Rotary, in cooperation with other global institutions, is within sight of attaining that goal. And make no mistake about it; that decision had plenty of political consequences as those who died administering the polio vaccine and now lie in solemn testament.

So too, it is a decision that radically changed the very nature and direction of Rotary forever.

But what has changed since the Newtown massacre of innocents in December 2012? Regrettably, nothing has changed, except the place and the number.

Today it is San Bernardino where last Wednesday afternoon, 14 were slain, & 21 wounded. That just 5 days after a whack-job fundamentalist loner shot up a Colorado women’s health clinic that performs abortions — killing three, wounding nine. And to boot we also learn that there have been more mass killings in America to date, than there have been days in the year to date.




Pictures from the Toronto Star under Common use terms

Can anyone truthfully say, as the numbers above illustrate, that guns in America are under control?

As mentioned, with justifiable pride above,  Rotary  has raised and spent over a billion dollars to slay, the natural epidemic Polio, because it kills and maims children and adults.

Hummm, isn’t that what guns do? Today December 4th, the New York Times printed an editorial on its front page for the first time in 95 years. It was titled “End the Gun Epidemic in America” . Note the term “epidemic”. It is a medical term, the same one that we use to describe polio.

If we had a serum to prevent the killing and maiming of children and adults by guns wouldn’t that make a whole lot of sense for Rotary to promote, just the way it has for Polio? That wouldn’t be about controlling guns; no one would be prevented from owning a gun but the serum would prevent guns from at least killing and maiming other human beings.

There is, of course, such a serum; it comes in a number of forms and is often called a “smart gun” because it can identify its owner and only permits that person to fire it. It can also be created so that it only fires under certain safe conditions because it has sensors that read its surroundings.

Neither system is gun control in the sense that Americans have come to know and fear. Both serums are a means of keeping American society safe in the presence of an epidemic of violence involving guns.

At the time of the Newtown tragedy, had such serums been in place, and had the guns been stolen as claimed, they would not have worked and those little ones and their teachers would be alive today.

To be quite frank, if you cannot, as an individual Rotarian, accept such a parallel ‘medical’ miracle as an antidote to guns killing and maiming, by supporting a Rotary initiative to make America and the World a safer, healthier place to live, work and play, then we as Rotary International should be glad to say good-bye and good luck.

I also happen to think that should Rotary do such a promotion, including raising funds to educate, promote and even subsidize the installation of such safety features, the publicity would generate so many new members that they would outnumber the leavers by a wide margin.

So let’s, right now, put a stop to the ignorance, the hypocrisy and the fear and “Just Do It!”


Posted in Editorials | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Rotary Tells CHOGM Eradicating Polio an Example of Resilient Society

Editor’s note: The following is the text of a speech by Rotary President K R Ravindran to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)

Two years ago, CHOGM was held in my own country of Sri Lanka, in my home city of Colombo. I never suspected then, that I would be here in Malta for CHOGM 2015! But indeed, I am here today, at this People’s Forum, representing Rotary.

Ravindran's-Speech-at-CHOGM-2015And I have come to talk to you about the broader context of today’s question: which is what we, as non-government actors, can do to enable more resilient societies—to strengthen the systems we all rely on, for health at every age.

For when we talk about resilience, we are talking about the capacity to withstand shocks: to survive them and to recover from them.

And Rotary is incredibly well placed, in fact uniquely well placed, to foster this kind of resilience.

Rotary stands at the intersection of commerce and cause, at the crossroads of our private citizenship and our shared responsibility.

We are both completely local, in our 34,000 clubs; and completely global, with 1.2 million members serving in virtually every country of the Commonwealth, and most of the countries of the world.

When the great tsunami hit Sri Lanka, Rotary was able to respond in a way that no one else could do.

We didn’t have to fly in staff, hire translators, or set up a local office. We simply identified the needs and organized ourselves to meet them.

There was a great need for drinkable water.

The wells were contaminated all along the coast.

Foreign NGOs flew in bottled water.

We flew in sludge pumps, found jeeps and drivers, and put hundreds of wells back into use.

When the crisis was past, we built 25 new schools to replace the ones destroyed. The $12m required  came from Rotarians and partners abroad, and we at home did the work.

Today, those schools serve more than 14,000 students, they receive no Rotary funding, and they are absolutely best in class.

This is how Rotary fosters resilience, locally, and on a national level. But today I want to tell you about our global project: the eradication of polio.

Pull-quote-Resiliency-400x500Thirty years ago, we saw about 350,000 cases of polio worldwide every year.

With polio, “cases” generally means “children”—children healthy one day, paralyzed or dead the next.

This was happening even though a vaccine existed that was safe, cheap, and easy to administer.

Not only that, but the vaccine had the capacity to stop transmission of the disease: meaning that if enough children in a population were vaccinated, the disease would simply die out.

Yet no international body had taken this on.

The wealthier countries vaccinated their own children, the poorer countries could not, and so it remained, until in the late 1980s, when Rotary made the commitment to step up to the challenge, and stop the disease.

The work Rotary began with that commitment, is known today as The Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

It is a partnership involving the WHO, the CDC, UNICEF, the Gates Foundation, and governments and health agencies throughout the Commonwealth, and across the world.

Together, we have vaccinated over 2.5 billion children.

As a result, the number of children paralyzed by wild poliovirus this year, stands at 56.

We have every reason to be optimistic that, with the continued strong support of Commonwealth nations, zero children will be paralyzed in 2017.

And it is incredibly important that we do reach zero. For only by reaching zero, and remaining at zero, can we stop routine immunization against polio: releasing one billion dollars per year, back into local health systems.

But the legacy of polio eradication will go far beyond these cost savings, or the elimination of one disease.

This effort has transformed the resilience of health systems around the world: by establishing capacity to address emerging needs.

This is something we have already seen very vividly, throughout the Ebola crisis last year. One of the most terrifying scenarios to be modeled was one in which the virus reached Nigeria.

Because Nigeria is a trade hub for all of Africa, with a dense population, poor sanitation, and very high mobility.

But when Ebola did reach Lagos, on a flight from Liberia, it spread no further—because of the resources that were already in place, to fight polio.

The emergency operations centers, the disease surveillance officers, the lines of communications between local and international health authorities, the capacity for real-time data analysis and modeling: all of this was ready and waiting, when it was needed most.

Because this infrastructure was already in place, Ebola was stopped.

Today, we stand at a crossroads.

It is with us to ensure that polio is fully eradicated, and that the resources developed along the way are fully and effectively transitioned.

Neither of these goals will be reached without a conscious, deliberate effort, and the full engagement of governments and civil society.

So to answer my original question, which is, how do we build resilience—I would say, we start where we are, with what we have. We accept our shared responsibility, for our shared future. We capitalize on our investments, we learn from our experiences, and we finish what we start.

Thank you.

Source: Rotary International

Posted in Guest Column | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment