To strengthen their 69-year-old partnership, leaders from Rotary and the United Nations met this month in New York City for Rotary Day at the United Nations. The two organizations began working together with the aim of maintaining peace after World War II. Today, the relationship has evolved to include humanitarian work in areas like gender equality, child and maternal health, and disease treatment and prevention.
While the UN's Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in 2015, its leaders are preparing for an even more ambitious humanitarian agenda of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, said Amina J. Mohammed, special adviser of the UN secretary-general on post-2015 development planning, speaking at the event.
The UN considers those living on less than $1.25 per day to be in extreme poverty. Around the world, 1.2 billion people fall into this category.
"We have the resources in the world to deal with the issues we have today," said Mohammed. "We need to find a way to unlock that." She added that building strong partnerships with organizations that share a similar vision will be crucial to solving the global issues that are related to extreme poverty. As proof of the power of partnerships, Mohammed cited the polio eradication work of Rotary and its global partners.
Describing that work, Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair John Kenny, in his address to the meeting, said, "we persist, we overcome challenges, we make progress -- and we do not yield."
Nina Schwalbe, principal health adviser for UNICEF, noted that the skills honed in fighting polio -- such as identifying the people an infected person has come into contact with, known as "contact tracing" -- can be used "as a model to make advances in other global health issues," such as Ebola.
Nigeria's government stopped its recent Ebola outbreak largely by employing the strong health care systems it had put in place to tackle polio, said Schwalbe. Extreme poverty can be eliminated, insisted Mohammed, but infrastructure must be improved, and not merely through ad hoc projects scattered around the world. Eliminating extreme poverty, she said, requires making sure girls have access to education and addressing other forms of gender inequality.
"Women and children are the world's greatest untapped resources. Helping them is the quickest way to end poverty," said Nana Taona Kuo, senior manager for Every Woman Every Child, an initiative of the UN secretary-general. "When women and children are healthy and strong, entire economies grow."
By reaching decision makers, Rotary can play a critical role in civil society, said Kuo.
Rotary leaders call on members maintain their dedication
Ed Futa, dean of the Rotary Representative Network and a past Rotary general secretary, called on Rotary members to maintain their dedication to polio eradication while working with partners on humanitarian causes.
He said that Rotary members can't rest simply because polio has been 99 percent eradicated. "It's like running the New York marathon -- if you don't cross the finish line, it's like that marathon never happened for you, because it didn't count in the records. We must cross the finish line. It's eradicate it all or nothing."
In addition, Futa challenged Rotary members to work for peace. "When it comes time for creating peace, who should we send? We're sending you," said Futa. "Each of us can do it and must do it."
Rotary members work in behalf of the global community, not themselves, said Futa. "This is what the UN building is trying to extract from each one of us. As Rotarians, we're the ones who are going to answer the call," he said.
Rotary International President Gary C.K. Huang agreed. He asked participants to convey what they've learned from Rotary Day at the United Nations to their friends. "Create a much brighter world," he added.
More than 1,300 Rotary members and Rotaractors came together in New York City this month to celebrate a 69-year-old partnership.