Editor’s note: the following is an excerpt from a longer speech
By K. R. “Ravi” Ravindran, RI President 2015-2016
These days, the question is not whether or not corporations need to be acting in ways that benefit their communities. The question is how to do it.
How do you do it, so that it is not just a tax you pay, because you have to, as a cost of doing business—but an investment?
How do you do it, so that you get the greatest return on that investment? For your community, and for future generations, and for your own business—which, if you are doing your business right, is supporting your community because you rely so much on the community to run your own business?
And perhaps most important of all: do you go it alone, or do you leverage your investment through choosing partners who can help you maximize your returns?
It doesn’t matter how big you are, how powerful you are, how great your resources. You can always leverage them into something more. Take for example the Gates Foundation. It is the largest philanthropic foundation in the world, with some 43 billion US dollars in
current assets. They have the clout to achieve just about anything, if they chose to pick just one thing.
But they don’t. They’ve diversified. And they’ve formed partnerships, to get the most bang out of every one of those 43 billion bucks.
They’re looking at global humanitarian issues in the same way that Rotary is—looking to see where they have the greatest chance of making a significant impact.
And so they are naturally working in some of the same areas that Rotary is working, including water and sanitation, malaria, diarrheal illnesses and, of course, polio, which is the number one priority that we have in Rotary, the corporate project that every Rotary club is working to support.
Gates could have skipped right over Rotary as a partner, and gone to work on their own. But they did not. Instead, they came to us and said, let’s see what we can do here. And instead of saying to the World Health Organization, we are going to give you a few hundred million dollars, they came to us in Rotary and said, we are going to match whatever you give.
Now why did they do that? Because he discovered that Rotarians are passionate in what they do, have a ready made network with which he could reach the whole world, and most importantly are trustworthy: with low administrative costs, a well-managed
Foundation to receive his funds, and the ability to disburse them correctly and cost effectively. His ROI was at its highest.
Those reasons were the same reasons that the Aditya Birla group decided to work with Rotary International in supporting the Indian government in its Polio Eradication Drive. To date, they have helped us to administer polio drops to over 16 million children and they are the second largest individual givers to our Foundation after Gates, having already donated over USD 9m.
You will see the same kind of success, the same kind of partnerships in Rotary at every level, all over the world.
I can tell you from my own experience at home in Sri Lanka when the Standard Chartered Bank supported the building of our well recognised schools project with an initial donation USD 1m.
We did not go the SCB with a begging bowl; rather we proposed a business deal which also suited their CSR initiatives whilst getting publicity for their bank. We gave them equal publicity and it was a win win all around.
We have all had the best return on our investment, by working together.
And that is true whether you have a billion dollars to invest, or a million, or a hundred thousand, or twenty thousand.
Many of you have probably heard of the letter that Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and his wife wrote to their newborn daughter, Max.
In it they laid out the pressing needs that they saw in the world, for better research into disease, for increased access to education, for a healthier and more equitable future for all. They announced their desire to give away 99% of their wealth—currently some $45 billion dollars—to help those goals become reality.
And the reason they gave was simple. They said, “For your generation to live in a better world, there is so much more for our generation to do… And we want to do what we can, working alongside many others.”
This is true not only for the Zuckerberg family, or the Gates family, or the Birla family, but every family—yours and mine.
If we want our children to live in a better world, we need to do what we can, working alongside many others. Because it is the correct thing to do, the ethical thing to do, the right thing to do. And the time to do it, is now.