Second plenary celebrates past, focuses on future
Tadataka Yamada, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Health Program, speaks about polio eradication at the second plenary session. Rotary Images/Monika Lee
Rotarians experienced a blast from the past at the second plenary session of the RI Convention as speakers highlighted Rotary’s rich history.
An opening keynote speech by Tadataka Yamada, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, however, underscored that Rotary’s future is just as important.
Yamada praised Rotary’s monumental effort toward ridding the world of polio. “In the history of polio, there are three names that are synonymous with hope and progress: Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin, and Rotary International,” Yamada told the audience. “Thanks to your work, polio is an increasingly distant memory in most countries.”
Yamada spoke on behalf of the Gates Foundation, which gave Rotary a challenge grant of US$100 million for polio eradication. Rotary will raise funds to match the grant over three years.
“I’m so proud to be part of this partnership between the Gates Foundation and Rotary International,” said Yamada. “But if we don’t finish the job of eradicating polio, all our efforts will have amounted to little.” RI has already dispersed about $70 million of the Gates Foundation grant for immunization activities in the four remaining polio-endemic countries -- Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan -- plus five others where “imported” polio cases have been reported.
Yamada warned Rotarians that their amazing achievement could lead to a new danger: stopping too soon. “We’ll add to the fuel of the doubters and cynics who say that our time and money are better spent elsewhere,” he said.
In conclusion, Yamada encouraged Rotarians to continue to fight because it shows the world that a massive global campaign can indeed eradicate terrible diseases.
“If we conquer polio, no goal is beyond our reach, and no disease is beyond our capacity,” he said. “This is a battle we can’t afford to lose.”
Rotary wouldn’t be able to fight polio today, though, without its global network of volunteers committed to service. David Forward, a Rotary historian and author, took audience members on a journey through the organization’s historic growth -- from four businessmen in Chicago in 1905 to 1.2 million members worldwide today. The passion to serve is why Rotary became contagious to so many people, Forward said.
RI President Wilfrid J. Wilkinson joined Ray Klinginsmith, convention committee chair, in honoring the first 16 clubs that planned and attended the first Rotary convention in 1910 in Chicago. Representatives from each club, all from the United States, came on stage and received plaques.
In his plenary address, Past RI President Clifford L. Dochterman highlighted many of the programs and resources that have contributed to Rotary’s success and urged Rotarians to continue the rich tradition of service.
“Rotary’s greatest days are still to come,” Dochterman said. “Our achievements of the past are merely the prelude to the Rotary of the future.”