The Strength of Rotary

By Roger Perry, Past DG for District 5060 (2008-09) representing President Ray Klinginsmith

June 17, 2011

Editor’s note: The following is a plenary address given by Roger Perry at the District 5550, 2011 District conference on June 11th in Dauphin, MB

Thank you for the wonderful introduction and I am pleased to be here as the Personal Representative of RI President Ray Klinginsmith.

I am pleased that your district places such strong emphasis on providing guidance and support for our younger generation through your youth programs.

It is our shared responsibility to listen to our young people, respond to their needs and empower them with the knowledge and skills to make our world a better place.

In today’s global village, the best way to do this is by strengthening our communities at home while also establishing strong links with people in all corners of the world.

Today’s youngsters are fully engaged in community issues, ranging from the environment to home ownership and from health care to social justice.

We are constantly inspired by the vision and compassion of our young people—the future is indeed bright and we encourage them to continue with it.

I have never seen a more socially conscience generation than our current Interactors and Rotaractors and I believe that this group of young people will be the ones to re-vitalize Rotary and make our membership grow.

You also have High School and Elementary School children doing community and international projects. Right close by in Minnedosa, MB, you have a group of senior high school students building schools in Ethiopia, which is something very near and dear to Judith and my heart.

As well, we just heard from a returning Ambassadorial Scholar, Brad. What an incredible young ambassadorial scholar who has just returned to your district. The best position I ever had in our district was interviewing these potential scholars. We are leaving this world in better hands.

A scholar, like Brad, sells the district on the value of The Rotary Foundation.

These young people are truly “Building Communities and Bridging Continents”.

There are several sayings that I like to use when I give a talk and one is:

“Do what you can

Where you are

With what you have”

Let’s take another look at the Strategic Plan and its six area of focus.

The Strategic plan has been re-shaped to three critical and strategic areas:

1)                  Support and Strengthen Clubs

We must be innovative and more flexible.

We must promote membership diversity and recruitment, but more importantly to me, we must stop the flow of in one door and out the other or in other words our     North America Rotary clubs have an atrocious retention problem.

2)                  Focus and Increase Humanitarian Service.

First and foremost is the eradication of polio.

Our commitment to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of $200 million by July 1, 2012 is almost 90% fulfilled. Thank all of you in District 5550 for your support in making this happen and contributing to the $175 million raised to date.

3)                  Enhance Public Image and Awareness.

Harvey, your clubs in this district should be the poster child for Rotary Public Relations.

This is of prime importance for Rotary and your Rotary clubs as I believe that we have never really promoted our organization.

We have to promote locally and internationally sustainable projects. As well as expand our strategic partnerships and cooperative relationships. Currently we have organizations that want our funds; we have organizations that want to give us funds and we have organizations that would like to do both. Lets make this new vision of Rotary work for the good of the world and the less fortunate.

We now have six areas of focus to concentrate on, these being:

–          Peace and Conflict Resolution

–          Disease Prevention and Treatment

–          Water and Sanitation

–          Maternal and Child Health

–          Basic Education and Literacy

–          Economic and Community Development

Let’s take a very personal look at one of the areas of focus—-clean water.

I have personally witnessed the women in an Ethiopian village spending countless hours each day-trudging to the nearest water source. And this was polluted water source-used by the animals and shared with the humans.

These water sources were carrying diseases-diseases which cause illness and death among the children.

I also witnessed the outpouring of gratitude from villagers when we visited the sites of the new wells which had been dug close to their villages. These women now had time to spend with family and the young girls were not as fearful of the many dangers lurking near the water holes.

Also on this same trip as we were driving from one well site to another, I asked if we could stop and visit a school at a small village as we had brought gifts of pencils and notebooks with us.

The school it turned was no bigger than a small grainery-no windows and was made out of mud and sticks and a thatched roof.

We opened the door and went in. We had to wait for our eyes to adjust from coming from brilliant sunlight to a gloomy room.    When we could see again-lo and behold, the one room schoolhouse was filled with children of all ages, all sitting on low wooden benches-no desks-no school books-no pens or pencils-nothing but a old scratched blackboard.

We asked the teacher if we could give the school children some pencils and notebooks and other school supplies we had brought along and we gave each child what we had.

Well, you should have seen the look on their faces and in their eyes. You would have thought it was Christmas in North America. They were so thankful for the little we gave them and they clung to their notebooks and pencils so ever tightly.

That moment was the defining moment when I went from being a Rotary member to a Rotarian.

BUT-the moral and lesson I learned from this visit is:   I came back to Canada a few days before Christmas and looked at the pile of gifts under the Christmas tree for our grand children and I had such a feeling of utter despair. Can you imagine the look on the face of your child or grandchild if we only gave them a notebook and pencil for Christmas?     We have so much and they have so little.

The look those Ethiopia children gave us, I will never forget.


We all know someone who made a difference in our own lives at one time or another. Mine was a Grade 7 teacher who saw something in me those others did not and convinced me to stay in school and to finish high school.

Now imagine all the lives that we improve each and every day through literacy programs, both through The Rotary Foundation and within our own communities as well.

Last November, Judith and I went back to Ethiopia to monitor a large Matching Grant project which included several capping of springs and water diversion projects which also included latrines for schools. While on that trip we also visited several schools, one of which my own Rotary Club had funded along with a NGO. The opening of the new school that day was at 10:00 am and we were running late and got to the school about an hour later and when we got close, we had to stop the vehicle about 2 blocks from the school as the whole village had lined both sides of the road and started to chant and clap as we walked between the two rows. These parents and children were so happy that we had built and furnished a new classroom plus provided a latrine.

As a side issue to this story is when the thank-you speeches were being given, the Iman or the Islamic Religious leader of that area got up to talk and in his own language, thanked Canada and its people for giving so freely to a Muslim school and for setting aside religious beliefs for the good of the children. That my friends, is what Rotary is all about.

These are my own personal stories but hundreds of Rotarians have similar stories from projects all over the world. We are making a difference.

“Rotary takes ordinary men and women and gives them extraordinary opportunities to do more with their lives than they thought possible.”

What do these words mean to you?

I believe these words relate to every Rotarian here tonight.

The strength of Rotary is not the size of the club but with the HEARTS and SOULS of the members of the club.

One of the ways we have learned to strengthen the Rotary club is for the district to offer the Rotary leadership Institute training program. In the short term, the benefit has been to the Rotarians who want to learn more about Rotary and the long term benefits has been the training for club presidents—-committee chairs—-assistant governors and ultimately the future district governors.

Another program I have seen great success with is the Club Visioning or Club Long Range Planning. This is a program for clubs that ask the district for assistance in helping them with their future vision for the club—such as where do they see themselves 5 years down the road and how do they go about getting there —-or such as how many members do they see in the future—-or what community or international projects do they want to accomplish and how are they going to fund them.

Once this Visioning session is completed and it only takes an evening, —this may be the initiative needed to re-invigorate a club.

One of the fun things that comes out of this evening group is a club motto or slogan and a few of the better ones I’ve heard are:

– We’re loud, we’re proud, we’re fun in a crowd.

– We’re old, we’re bold, we’re going for gold

– we’re a drinking club with a community service problem

And my all time favourite:

-Is it Fun—Is it Legal—Will anybody find out?

There are winds of change in Rotary when we look at the future vision for The Rotary Foundation.

Your district and mine are not part of the pilot program and all I can say based on what I have heard from other District Rotary Foundation Chairs in districts that are part of the Future Vision program-we can thank our lucky stars that they are running interference for us and all the kinks will be ironed out by 2013.

However on the bright side, the closure of District Grant Reporting has been reduced from 8-60 months to 10-12 months, so it is working.

We have some challenges ahead of us— are we  ready for the membership enquiry and the PR challenge when the world wakes up to the announcement we have beaten Polio?

The Council on Legislation approves our RI strategic plan every 3 years and the constitutional documents and bylaws as set out in the Manual of Procedure. We need to work harder preparing our resolutions and selecting our attendees. Is the current formula the best way forward? I suspect not.

The Council on Legislation consists entirely of PDGs. Are they the best group to set our future course? I will be one of them.      A suggestion has been to include the younger generations.

We need new clubs and one of the options is e-clubs, new generation clubs, no meal clubs, happy hour clubs and as well as the traditional clubs.  The RI Board has asked for clubs to help pilot these options.

So you can see we have challenges. But we are moving in the right direction.

When the RI Board of Directors endorsed the revised strategic plan, it marked a milestone in an ongoing and critically important process. Part of this process was to adopt a core essence statement which reads:

“Rotary is a worldwide network of inspired individuals who translate their passions into relevant social causes to change lives in communities”

If we believe in the core essence, our clubs will become BIGGER-BETTER and BOLDER.

Rotarians are a group of individuals with a common cause-doing good in the world.

What difference can one individual make? You are making a difference. Even if you reach out and help just one person-you will have made a difference.

Remember it’s not the number of breaths you take but the number of times our breath is taken away.

Thank you.

About John Borst

John Borst’s career in education spans the years 1960 to 1996. During those 36 years, he spent an equal amount of time working int he English language, Public and Catholic school boards. Borst taught in both elementary and high school environments. Positions of responsibilities held included department head in Geography, curriculum coordinator of Social and Environmental Studies, Principal, Education Officer with the Ministry of Education, Superintendent of Schools, and Superintendent of Student Services. Borst retired in 1996 as Director of Education for the legacy Dryden Board of Education. During this time, Borst has lived in the Ontario communities of Brampton, Toronto, Newmarket, Thunder Bay, Aurora and Dryden. Currently, Borst splits his time between Dryden and Toronto. Since retirement, Borst has served as a Supervisory Officer with a remote School Authority; been a freelance writer of articles on education in particular for Education Today, the magazine of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA); founded and edited from 2006 - 2010 the Education blog Tomorrow’s Trust: A Review of Catholic Education; and from 2003-2010 was a trustee of the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
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