Speakers urge Rotarians to fight global poverty
Top: Muhammad Yunus commends Rotarians for their work in developing microcredit loans for the poor during the second plenary session 7 May. Bottom: Hugh Evans urges Rotarians to use their influence to help end poverty. Rotary Images/Monika Lozinska
Poverty and hunger were the targets of the second plenary session of the 2012 RI Convention, as a variety of award-winning speakers encouraged Rotarians to use their ingenuity to solve these global challenges.
Microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, commended Rotarians for their work in developing microcredit loans for the poor. The founder of Grameen Bank also encouraged Rotarians to pursue social business enterprises that would work with microcredit-funded businesses not just to produce revenue but also to return profits to the communities where they operate.
As an example, Yunus highlighted a joint venture between Grameen Bank and Danone, a European food company, to produce high-nutrition yogurt for children in Bangladesh. The goal is to reduce malnutrition while creating manufacturing and distribution jobs.
“In today’s world, we use money to make money, not solve problems,” said Yunus. “If we use money creatively in a business framework, we can solve any problem.”
Recently, Grameen Bank also joined forces with Adidas to produce shoes that cost less than US$1 per pair. The affordable shoes help prevent infection by foot parasites in poor communities.
“My dream is to one day take poverty out of our society and put it in a museum that our grandchildren can visit to see what it was like,” Yunus said.
Antipoverty crusader Hugh Evans, cofounder and CEO of the Global Poverty Project, said Rotary can use its considerable influence to fight poverty.
“Like Rotary, we believe that mass mobilization of individuals can effect real change in the world,” Evans said. “When we focus on the needs of others, our own burdens become lighter. Our perspective sharpens.”
“This idea, the same one that drives you as Rotarians, guides our work at the Global Poverty Project,” he said.
Gillian Sorensen, senior adviser and national advocate at the United Nations Foundation, encouraged Rotarians to work with governments to solve global problems including poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation.
“What is clear is that problems like this are too great for governments alone to resolve,” said Sorensen, who has served in many positions at the UN including assistant secretary-general for external relations. “They need partners of every kind, from private sector to civil organizations like yours, who have the means to contribute and lead.”
Sorensen said Rotary, which has a 66-year relationship with the UN, continues to be an active and influential presence at the organization’s headquarters in New York. “You play a similar role with UNICEF, UNESCO, and WHO,” she adds.
Angelique Kidjo, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and activist , said the world has many health issues for which there are no solutions, but added that “the most frustrating are the ones for which we have a solution and not enough is being done.”
Kidjo, who was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2002, said Rotary’s “This Close” campaign is the right message to help eradicate polio for good.
“What I love about [the campaign] is that a simple goal is set,” she said. “We know eradication is possible. With your goodwill and energy, this goal is achievable.”
Kidjo also performed several songs.
In other convention news, Rotarians attempted to create the world’s biggest smile during an event at the Convention Center 6 May. Exactly 2,012 attendees wore blue and yellow ponchos and stood in the form of a smiley face. The event will be registered with Ripley’s Believe It or Not.