Using their talents, expertise, and leadership, Rotary members worldwide are asked to be gifts to the world this upcoming 2015-16 Rotary year.
Rotary International President-elect K.R. Ravindran called Sunday's address to incoming district governors the "most significant moment of my life."
"All of you have been given so many gifts. And you have now been given this great gift: one year to take all your talents, all your gifts, everything that you are and can become -- and Be a Gift to the World," said Ravindran, revealing his presidential theme at the annual five-day training meeting in San Diego, California, USA. "You have one year to take that potential and turn it into reality. One year to lead the clubs in your district and transform the lives of others. The time is so short, yet there is so much to be done."
Highlighting Rotary's biggest challenge, the eradication of polio, Ravindran said, "A future without polio is a gift that we have promised to the children of the world. And indeed it is a gift that we will give."
Ravindran, a member of the Rotary Club of Colombo, Sri Lanka, used Rotary's successes in the fight to eradicate the disease as an illustration of the impact Rotary members can have in the world. When Rotary set a goal of eradicating polio 25 years ago, it was endemic in 125 countries, and more than 1,000 children were becoming paralyzed each day. Today, polio remains endemic in just three countries, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. And in all of 2014, only 333 cases were reported. "We will battle on. We will prevail," he said.
Ravindran discussed some of Rotary's other challenges, including membership.
"We have to find a way to bring back the fundamentals that built our organization: the emphasis on high ethical standards in all aspects of our lives, and the classification system that encourages a diversity of expertise in each club," he said. "Too often these ideas are viewed as little more than inconvenient obstacles to increasing our membership. But they have been essential to Rotary's success, and we ignore them at our own peril."
Ravindran told attendees that the focus on branding is essential to helping Rotary grow. "We need to reposition our image, which we recognize has faded in many parts of the world," he said.
Rotary also needs to continue to raise funds for The Rotary Foundation, attract new members, and encourage greater participation from current members, he added.
"There are no easy answers to any of these questions. And yet the answers must somehow be found. We are the ones who must find them," said Ravindran.
The president-elect closed his speech emphasizing that now is the time to make real change.
"You have one year to build monuments that will endure forever, not carved in granite or marble, but in the lives and hearts of generations. This is our time. It will not come again. Let us grasp it," he said.
Watch the President-elect's full theme speech
Watch the President-elect address the role of Rotary leaders in the upcoming year
Follow the assembly on Facebook and Twitter using #IA15
Download 2015-16 theme logo and materials
Download theme brochure and presidential citation
Order theme materials
Read comments from the incoming district governors on Rotary Voices
View photos from the 2015 assembly in San Diego
Download speech transcripts from the 2015 assembly
K.R. Ravindran called on leaders to transform the lives of others by not merely giving gifts, but being the gifts themselves.