Getting to know John Hewko
Attorney John Hewko, who takes over as RI general secretary on 1 July, addresses participants at the 2011 International Assembly. Rotary Images/Alyce Henson
Rotary International named attorney and former senior U.S. government official John Hewko as its new general secretary, beginning 1 July. RI News recently sat down with him to talk about his background and why he took the job.
Within days of the announcement of your being hired, you met Rotary leaders in Ukraine and addressed incoming district governors in San Diego at the International Assembly. What did you tell them?
I expressed to them how honored and delighted I am to have been chosen as Rotary’s next general secretary. I also explained my motivation and interest in the position and assured them that my top priority will be to make sure that the Secretariat remains an effective and useful resource for the clubs, so that they are able to grow and are better able to carry out the mission of Rotary. I was particularly moved by the fact that the first Rotarians I addressed after the announcement were in Ukraine, where I had been a member of the Kyiv club in the early 1990s.
When did you first hear about Rotary?
My father has been an active Rotarian for almost 30 years in Clarkston, Michigan, a small town north of Detroit. Seeing my father’s enthusiasm for Rotary and the impact that his club’s service projects had on the local community made me appreciate the beauty of Rotary – grassroots people pulling together on their own initiative, trying to do good in their communities. When I would visit my parents while living abroad, my dad would occasionally invite me to speak at his club. I was always impressed by the quality of the members and their passion and dedication to the organization and its principles.
Tell us about your experience with Rotary in Kyiv.
When I was working in Ukraine in the early 1990s, my father’s club was one of the sponsors of the first Rotary club in Kyiv. My dad came to the United States from Ukraine after the Second World War and had a strong interest in seeing Rotary develop in his former homeland. Through his involvement in helping the Kyiv club get up and running, I became interested in the effort and was fortunate enough to become a charter member of the club.
Why were you interested in the job of RI general secretary?
As I mentioned during my address to the International Assembly, first and foremost, the Rotary mottoes of Service Above Self and Doing Good in the World, The Four-Way Test, the focus on integrity, and the promotion of goodwill, peace, and understanding through the fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders – these are all ideas and concepts that I believe in and strongly support. For me, this will not be so much a job as a passion. Second, there is no organization in the world that is better positioned to carry out that mission. Of course, my dad’s involvement in Rotary sparked a keen interest. This is also an exciting time to be joining the Rotary family, as the organization tries to move to the next level through the implementation of RI’s Strategic Plan and The Rotary Foundation’s Future Vision Plan. Finally, the fact that Rotary is a truly international organization dovetails with my own professional and personal background and experience.
What professional experiences helped prepare you for your new role?
There were several. I was an international partner in Baker & McKenzie (B&M), the largest law firm in the world, with over 3,000 lawyers in more than 60 offices around the world. B&M is a very diverse and international organization, where a majority of the attorneys are non-Americans. Just as Rotary, it has to strike a balance between maintaining global standards and procedures, while at the same time allowing for enough autonomy at the local level. My time with B&M was spent almost exclusively outside the United States – in Russia, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic. So it was excellent training in terms of understanding how large, multinational, multicultural organizations operate, as well as understanding the challenges they face.
The other experience was at the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency created in 2004 under President George W. Bush to provide development assistance to the world’s poorest countries. I managed the largest department at MCC, and during my tenure I oversaw the development and negotiation of foreign assistance agreements totaling $6.3 billion with 18 countries for transportation, water and sanitation, rural development, microfinance, health, education, and other development projects. I’ve also spent time in think tanks and written on international development issues. These experiences, I believe, have given me a perspective on the world that will allow me to better serve Rotary, its mission, and most important, its diverse membership.
How does Rotary’s work fit in with the international development world from your perspective?
There is currently a spirited global debate in the development community on how best to deliver assistance to the world’s poor. I would like to see Rotary at the discussion table, taking a leading role and making a meaningful contribution to this debate. I’d like to see Rotary partner more effectively with other foundations and strategic partners in order to better leverage our resources. In my opinion, one of the principal goals of government and nongovernmental organizations’ development activities should be to create the conditions for sustainable, private-sector-led economic growth. If you add up all of the official development assistance in the world, it pales in comparison to the resources available in the private sector. This is where Rotary, with its enormous network of private-sector leaders, can play a very important role.
What is the greatest lesson you learned from your international development experience that might be applied at Rotary International?
The biggest challenge is sustainability. The world is littered with humanitarian and development projects that ultimately failed because they were not sustainable. Putting a water pump in a village is only half the battle. Equally important is providing the village with the training and the financial means to operate, repair, and maintain the pump once the donor has left. If a project is not sustainable, if it can’t survive on its own without ongoing outside financial or technical support, then you may want to reevaluate its design. I would urge Rotarians to look at a potential project through two important lenses: Will it lead to economic growth? And, is it sustainable?
What are Rotary’s greatest strengths?
I think the greatest strength of the organization is its membership. You have 1.2 million professionals and businesspeople around the world, all with influence, all with connections, and all with a deep grassroots presence in their communities. There are very few nongovernmental organizations in the world with that kind of global reach and global presence.