Dear fellow Rotarians,
From the moment I was nominated as Rotary International president, I knew I would choose a theme that would focus on peace. This is why I planned three peace forums – to give Rotarians an opportunity to think about peace, to talk about peace, and to share their ideas on building peace together. The final Rotary Global Peace Forum takes place this month in Hiroshima, Japan.
We hear the word peace every day. But most of us spend little time thinking about what peace is. On its simplest level, we can define peace by what it is not. It is a state of no war, no violence, and no fear. It means that you are not in danger of hunger, or persecution, or the suffering of poverty.
But we can also define peace by what it is, and by what it can be. Peace can mean freedom of thought and of speech, freedom of opinion and of choice, and the ability for self-determination. It can mean security, confidence in the future – a life and home in a stable society. On a more abstract level, peace can mean a sense of happiness, of inner serenity, of calm.
However we use the word, however we understand peace, Rotary can help us to achieve it. Rotary helps us to meet the basic needs of others – to provide health care, sanitation, food, and education when and where they are most needed. It helps to meet the inner needs as well, for friendship, connection, and caring. And Rotary helps us to build peace in its most traditional sense, by reducing the causes of conflict. It builds bridges of friendship and tolerance among people and nations. It helps us to understand one another.
However we define peace, whatever peace means to us, we can bring it closer through service. Peace, in all of the ways that we can understand it, is a real goal, and a realistic goal for Rotary. Peace is not something that can only be achieved through treaties, by governments, or through heroic struggles. It is something that we can find, and that we can achieve – every day, and in many simple ways.
And so I thank you for your commitment to Peace Through Service – and to a Rotary goal of a more peaceful world.
Dear fellow Rotarians,
Rotary is an international organization, and when I travel for Rotary, I usually speak in English. But it has been a long time since my last English exam, and when I am working in Evanston, I always have a Japanese interpreter. It is important to understand every word of the meetings, and it is important as well that the staff understand what I am saying.
It was a new experience for me to speak Japanese to a group, and then hear my words spoken in English. Even now, I find it interesting. I hear new ways of expressing myself in English, and I also have a small glimpse of what it must be like not to speak Japanese.
But perhaps the most interesting moment came early on in my year as president-elect, when I was in a meeting with Rotary staff members. To be sure that we could communicate well, I had with me a Japanese interpreter. I spoke in Japanese, and she interpreted what I said into English. We had a pleasant and productive meeting.
After it was over, one member of the staff came up to me and asked, “There is one word I heard you use many times in Japanese. I would like to know what it means. What is the word ichiban?” I told her that ichiban in Japanese does not convey any philosophy or complicated thought. It simply means to be the best.
But it made me think. Of all the words I had used in Japanese, of all the words she had heard over and over, this was the word she had heard the most. I did not realize I had used it so often. But for me, that one word, ichiban, is essential to how I feel about my job as a Rotarian, and as president of RI.
For me, Rotary service means being ichiban. It means doing your best, and being the best you can be. It means working as hard as you can – not for yourself, but for others. It means achieving as much as you can, to make other people’s lives better.
In the dictionary, ichiban means “best.” But in Rotary, “best” means something different. It means bringing Service Above Self into all of your thinking. It means looking at your own effort, not in terms of what it costs you, but in terms of what it can give. In this way, we are inspired to do so much more. It is our job to see to it that our Rotary service is ichiban – so that we do the most we can to build Peace Through Service.
Dear fellow Rotarians,
When I was a young man, I wanted to travel the world. But in those years, I could only dream about travel. The world outside Japan seemed far away. But like all Japanese students, I studied English in school. I still remember my first English book. The first page said, “This is a pen.” That was almost 50 years ago, and the world has changed a lot since then. As president of Rotary, I now travel more than I ever dreamed.
In every new place, I find a new language. I find new people and new customs. I do my best to learn from everyone. I believe that every person I meet has something to teach. Perhaps because of this, I feel that I understand Rotary Youth Exchange better. And I understand even better what a great gift Rotary is giving through Youth Exchange. Youth Exchange opens minds. It builds confidence and communication. It brings together people from different countries and backgrounds.
Every young person who goes on a Rotary Youth Exchange will learn a great deal. Youth Exchange students learn how people who seem so different are really the same. They begin to appreciate what unites people everywhere. They have a broader understanding of the world. They come back as different people.
They no longer know only one language, only one culture. They have connections with their host country, and with their fellow participants from other countries. At the end of their exchange, they are part of their host families. They are also part of the Rotary family – the largest and most international family in the world.
Rotary’s Youth Exchange program has continued for more than 40 successful years and is now part of the fifth Avenue of Service: New Generations Service. This avenue also includes service through Interact, Rotaract, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, and many club and district activities that involve people up to age 30.
When we focus on young people, we are focusing on building the future of Rotary and a more peaceful world. When we serve youth, we help to bring Rotary to a new generation. We spread understanding among nations and cultures. We teach the importance of service to others, and pass on our core values. By doing this, we help to build peace.
Youth Exchange plays an essential part in Rotary’s global mission of building peace by helping to build, one exchange at a time, good relationships between nations.
Dear fellow Rotarians,
In December, I spoke at the first of the three Rotary Global Peace Forums we have planned for this Rotary year. This first event, with the theme “Peace Without Borders,” was held in Berlin, the home of the Berlin Peace Clock. The clock, intended as a piece of art, is 3 meters high and weighs over 2 tons. On its side are inscribed the words, Time bursts all walls asunder.
The clock was unveiled on 9 November 1989. That was the day the Berlin Wall fell. It was a wonderful coincidence that the moment the hands on the clock began to move, the orders were given to open the border to West Berlin. The words written on the side of the clock had come true.
In Rotary, we do not divide our work by nation, culture, or language. It does not matter what is printed in your passport. What matters is that you believe in Service Above Self. But even in Rotary, it is easy to think in terms of countries or communities. This project may help someone in my own community, or that project may help someone from Germany, or Kenya, or South Africa. Sometimes we think of different types of borders. This project, we think, helps the young. This helps the elderly. This helps people who are hungry, poor, or sick, or who have disabilities.
The truth is that Service Above Self does not know such borders. When we serve, the impact is not limited to our community, or the community we are helping. We are not only helping the young, or the elderly, or this school, or that orphanage. When we serve, we are helping all of humanity. The effects of what we do go on and on.
When we put Service Above Self, we are making a choice. We are choosing to put other people’s needs ahead of our own desires. We are saying, “Your problems are my problems, and I care enough to help you.”
Rotary brings peace by addressing the needs that cause conflict: the need for clean water, for nutrition, sanitation, and health care. When these needs are met, there is opportunity. And there is hope. Hope has no borders. It is the garden from which peace can grow.
Peace Through Service brings out the best in us. It makes us aware of the borders we set up around ourselves – and it helps us tear them down.
Dear fellow Rotarians,
I am a Japanese businessman, and I wear a suit almost every day. The Rotary pin is always on my lapel. It is there because I am proud to be a Rotarian. Anywhere I go, people will see the pin and know who I am. Other Rotarians will see it and know that I am a friend, and people who are not Rotarians will see it as well. I want to be sure that all of them also understand the meaning of this pin.
This is why I am asking all of you to wear your Rotary pin and to raise awareness of what the pin means. I believe having that pin on your lapel changes you. It makes you think more before you speak and before you act. It makes you remember, all the time, that you are a Rotarian – and that as Rotarians, we are here to help.
All of us should be ready to talk about Rotary. When someone asks you about that pin, you should be ready to answer them. What is Rotary? What does Rotary do? These are questions that each of us should always be prepared to answer.
We cannot go to prospective members and ask them to join Rotary only because we want more members. We have to show them that Rotary is a wonderful organization, and that they will be happier because they belong to a Rotary club.
When we ask people to join Rotary, we are doing this to help them as well. I think all of us are grateful to the person who asked us to join. I know that my life is much happier, and has been much more productive, because of Rotary. It is clear to me that the day I joined the Rotary Club of Yashio was a day when I took my first step down a different path in life – a path of greater connection, greater satisfaction, and a deeper sense of fulfillment and peace.
This is a feeling that I want to share with others. And I know that one way to do that is through bringing in new members. But we must also do it by raising awareness of Rotary and Rotary’s work, by focusing on our public image and wearing our Rotary pins every day.
Dear fellow Rotarians,
The year 2012 is nearly gone, and we have reached the midpoint of this Rotary year. It is time to take stock of the goals we have set for ourselves, and the progress we have made toward them. Are we on track to achieve what we set out to accomplish?
I am a great believer in the importance of setting goals that are high but realistic. A worthwhile goal should be within your reach but still require you to stretch. Opening yourself to a new challenge helps you find out what you are really capable of – which may well be more than you think.
On 1 July, we will embark on our newest challenge as an organization: the full rollout of the Future Vision Plan, the new grant model for our Rotary Foundation. We in Rotary have set for ourselves a simple and vital goal: to do the most good we can with all the resources we have. To do this, we will be working to reduce overhead; to improve accountability, transparency, and local control; and to focus our service more intensely in the areas where we know we can have the most impact.
With Future Vision, we will implement a simplified grant structure that will encourage Rotarians to serve in our six areas of focus: peace and conflict prevention/resolution, disease prevention and treatment, water and sanitation, maternal and child health, basic education and literacy, and economic and community development. These are areas in which Rotarians around the world have already been working for many years, and in which we have experience and a track record of project sustainability.
Sustainability will be a major focus under Future Vision, as we shift our emphasis to long-term, high-impact projects. Simply put, a sustainable project is one that will continue to benefit the world even after Rotary funding ends. The ultimate example of a sustainable project, of course, is polio eradication: When polio is gone, the good that we have done will continue forever, centuries after the last polio vaccine is given. And the lessons we have learned from PolioPlus are universal. A truly sustainable project requires an emphasis on planning and cooperation, a long-term perspective, and an approach that considers community members as partners in our service, not passive recipients.
Embracing Future Vision means embracing a more ambitious view of Rotary – one in which we work to address major issues in a serious, lasting way. It is a new way of thinking about our service, and an approach that I believe will lead to a Foundation more capable than ever of Doing Good in the World.
Dear fellow Rotarians,
There are many ways to describe our Rotary Foundation. But I think of our Foundation literally – as the foundation for all of Rotary.
We do not often think about the ground beneath our feet. We do not often think about the walls that are holding up our house. We take them for granted. We think about them only when they are not there.
Not long ago in Japan, the ground fell out from under our feet. On Friday, 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake shook Japan to its very core. More than 15,000 people died, nearly 6,000 were injured, and another 4,000 are still missing. The total losses of the disaster are estimated at over US$300 billion.
In a matter of hours, half a million people in one of the world’s wealthiest and most developed countries lost everything. They went from living in comfort and security to facing an uncertain future in school gymnasiums, tents, and ruined buildings.
In Japan, we are used to earthquakes. We thought we were ready for anything. But no one ever expected anything like this.
What happened on that day changed Japan, and everyone who lives there. It has made us realize how fragile our lives are. And it has made me realize how little separates me from the people I help through Rotary.
It is easy to look at the people we help through our Foundation as somehow different from ourselves. They live far away. We do not know their language or their culture. We do not know what it is like to have no running water, no sanitation, no health care, no education. We look at pictures, and we read stories in the news about poverty, wars, and disasters. We see, from so far away, the people who are living through such terrible times. But it is hard to put ourselves in their place.
Today, I tell you that there is nothing at all separating us from the people we help. We are all the same. Only the circumstances surrounding us are different.
Through our Foundation, we have the power to live the words of our Foundation’s motto: Doing Good in the World. Through it, we can do so much more good than we could ever do alone. And it matters so much – to people just like us.
Dear fellow Rotarians,
Every Rotarian is different. Every Rotarian was drawn into Rotary for different reasons, and many vividly remember their first “Rotary Moment” – the moment when they went from being members of their Rotary clubs to being committed Rotarians.
I love hearing these stories and learning about what drew each Rotarian into Rotary. For some, it was a Rotary office, a particular project, or a convention. For me, it was a speaker at an ordinary weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Yashio, about two years after I’d joined.
I am a charter member of my club, and I was invited to join by the charter president. I had never heard of Rotary, and at the time, I didn’t really know what service meant. But I was new to Yashio. I had just moved there from Tokyo, and I didn’t know many people. I thought Rotary would be a good way to make friends and to help my business, and I respected the person who invited me, so I joined.
But to be honest, for the first two years, we didn’t do much. Every week, I came to my meeting, I ate lunch, and I listened to a speaker. I paid my dues, and I gave money to The Rotary Foundation. But I wasn’t involved in any service. I didn’t know what Rotary service was supposed to be.
That all changed one week, when we had a speaker who talked about vocational service. This was a new idea to me. Until then, I had never thought much about the purpose of my life, or why I was in business. I was too busy working. I was always focused on my business, and on how to make it larger and better. I never stopped to consider any deeper purpose of my work.
Understanding the idea of vocational service completely changed my attitude toward my work, and toward my own purpose in life. I realized that the goal of a person doing business is not only to earn a living. The purpose is to be a contributing member of the community, to make the community stronger, and to help make other people’s lives better. When I understood this, and understood the concept of Service Above Self, it changed my life – and set me firmly on the path to a life of Rotary service. That is my Rotary Moment.
Dear fellow Rotarians,
Many of you know that we now have five Avenues of Service in Rotary. The fifth, and newest, is New Generations Service. There are many ways to serve through this avenue, and you will read about some of them in this month’s issue.
All of the work we do to educate children, to improve maternal health, to help families live healthier lives – all of this is service to New Generations. We also serve New Generations by working to eradicate polio, helping to ensure that future generations of children will be born into a polio-free world.
Our youth and young adult programs, such as Rotaract, Interact, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, and Rotary Youth Exchange, are a very important part of this Avenue of Service. We must remember that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. By helping to develop young leaders and bringing younger members into our clubs, we strengthen communities – and Rotary’s future.
For most of my life, I have been a salesman. I learned long ago that being a good salesman is not enough. You must also have a good product. If you are a good salesman, you will make the first sale. But if you do not have a good product, you will make only the first sale. You will not make the second.
It is not enough to bring new members into Rotary. We want them to stay. We want the new, young members to become longtime members. We want them to be Rotary leaders in 10, 20, or 30 years.
How do we do this? We have to look at our product. We have to look at Rotary not with our own eyes, but with new eyes. When we invite a new member to join and that person’s answer is no, we should ask why. This is not to pressure someone into joining. It is to find out more information. What are the obstacles to membership? Is it an inconvenient meeting time? Is it too much of a time commitment? Is it something else that we have not thought of?
We need to ask questions, and we need to open ourselves to the answers. We cannot say, “No, we will not do this,” just because we have never done it before. Why not have child care at a meeting? Why not involve families in projects? Why not make attendance requirements less strict, or meet less often?
Our new Avenue of New Generations Service is an important step in ensuring many future generations of Rotary, and of Service Above Self.
Dear fellow Rotarians,
What is Rotary? When I ask Rotarians this question, they often give vague answers. And when I asked myself this question, I had to think about it. August is Membership and Extension Month in Rotary, and I want all Rotarians to be able to send a unified message about what Rotary is and why they joined.
The key to increasing membership is for every Rotarian to be convinced that it’s good to be a Rotarian, and to convey that passion to others. In Rotary, we have a tendency to be humble and keep our achievements to ourselves. But we must share them with those around us and with the world.
Every Rotarian has a specific moment that stands out and has a special meaning. Some people refer to this as their “Rotary Moment.” I believe it is very important to share this moment with others. Facts and numbers can only go so far, but sharing a personal experience can open doors and build friendships.
That’s why I decided to create some sample messages that I call “Rotary Moments.” You can use these one-minute and three-minute messages to answer the question “What is Rotary?” in a way that is most personal to you. They will help you talk about the projects you’ve been involved in, how they’ve helped your community, and what’s been most meaningful to you.
To strengthen Rotary, we need more members. But unless those members are convinced of the benefits of the organization and can share that passion with others, expanding Rotary won’t be meaningful.
If every Rotarian is happy about being a Rotarian and spreads the word with a clear, unified message – if every Rotarian around the world can be his or her own PR department – the combined, collective effect will be enormous. These sample messages will help us all clearly communicate our enthusiasm to others. This will lead to an increase in new membership and in member retention.
The messages are available for free download at www.rotary.org, and Rotarians can buy other membership materials at shop.rotary.org.
I believe that the purpose of every life is to help others and contribute to society. Once Rotarians begin using these samples, the world will become more aware of how Rotary is helping people live that way. I encourage you to share your Rotary Moment with other Rotarians as well as non-Rotarians.
Dear fellow Rotarians,
I am part of the first generation to grow up in Japan after a terrible war. I think it is natural that my countrymen now place a great priority on peace. We saw where militarism brought our country, and we also saw the great economic growth that came when our nation made the choice to embrace peace.
This was the decision that allowed Japan to grow and thrive. It allowed generations of children to grow up in safety, to become educated, to improve their lives. It fundamentally changed the Japanese attitude toward other countries and cultures. It caused us to open our minds, to become more tolerant, to seek greater understanding.
And it allowed us to redirect our energies toward positive goals. In Japan, it is traditional to prioritize the needs of the society over the needs of the individual. This has always been part of our culture. In the weeks and months following the great earthquake and disaster of March 2011, this was what helped us to survive and rebuild.
This is a lesson that I think the whole world can learn from, in a positive way. When we see the needs of others as more important than our own needs – when we focus on a shared goal that is for the good of all – this changes everything. It changes how we relate to the world. It changes our priorities. And it changes how we understand the idea of peace.
In the 2012-13 Rotary year, peace will be our focus and our goal, and I will ask all Rotarians to actively work for Peace Through Service.
A belief in the power of service lies at the very heart of Rotary. By making service our priority, we put the needs of others above our own. We empathize more deeply with the difficulties of other people; we become more generous with our time and resources, and more open to new ways of thinking. Instead of trying to change others, we recognize that everyone and everything has something to teach us.
Through service, we become more tolerant of our differences and more grateful for the people in our lives. Our sense of gratitude drives us to understand others better and to see the good in everyone. Through better understanding, we learn to respect others. With mutual respect, we live with others in peace.
And so I ask you all to put Peace Through Service at the forefront of your Rotary work this year, and to commit to a Rotary goal of a more peaceful world.
President, Rotary International