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Rassin inspires Rotary leaders

District governors-elect got their first look at the 2018-19 presidential theme, Be the Inspiration, at the International Assembly, the annual training event held in San Diego in January. RI President-elect Barry Rassin urged the audience to build a stronger organization by inspiring young people and by spreading the word in their communities about the work Rotary does. “I will ask you to inspire with your words and with your deeds,” he said, “doing what we need to do today to build a Rotary that will be stronger tomorrow, stronger when we leave it than it was when we came.”

One source of inspiration, Rassin said, has been Rotary’s work to eradicate polio. He described the incredible progress made in the past three decades: In 1988, an estimated 350,000 people were paralyzed by the wild poliovirus; in 2017, just 22 cases were reported. “We are at an incredibly exciting time for polio eradication,” he said, “a point at which each new case of polio could very well be the last.”

Barry Rassin's presidential theme is "Be the Inspiration." His theme materials are available here

He emphasized that even when that last case of polio is recorded, the work won’t be finished; Rotarians must continue to dedicate themselves to immunization and to disease surveillance programs. “Polio won’t be over until the certifying commission says it’s over – when not one poliovirus has been found in a river, in a sewer, or in a paralyzed child, for at least three years,” he said. “Until then, we have to keep doing everything we’re doing now.” 

In recent years, Rotary has focused on sustainability in its humanitarian work. Now, Rassin said, Rotarians must acknowledge some hard realities about pollution, environmental degradation, and climate change. He noted that 80 percent of his own country, the Bahamas, is within 1 meter of sea level. With sea levels projected to rise as much as 2 meters by 2100, he said, “my country is going to be gone in 50 years, along with most of the islands in the Caribbean, and coastal cities and low-lying areas all over the world.”

Rassin urged the leaders to view all of Rotary’s service as part of a whole. This means, he said, that the incoming governors must be an inspiration not only to the clubs in their districts, but also to their communities. “We want the good we do to last. We want to make the world a better place. Not just here, not just for us, but everywhere, for everyone, for generations.”

After Rassin gave the speech announcing his theme, we caught up with incoming district governors to get their reactions.

Charles Tondeur, Rotary Club of Hazebrouck-Merville, France (District 1520): “I think Rotary needs to be open to new ideas, and this theme encourages us to think about ideas that will inspire our members. Inspiring is about bringing new energy.”

Yoko Hattori, Rotary Club of Tokyo Hiroo, Japan (District 2750): “This theme is clear and direct, which is going to be useful and powerful for the leadership in districts. He’s asking us to think about how we take care of our Rotary family, but also how we inspire beyond Rotary.”

Malcolm Kerr, Rotary Club of Cobram, Australia (District 9790): “I thought the theme was, well, inspiring. I especially like the way he talked about the sea connecting us all. We have to inspire our districts, we have to inspire our clubs, we have to inspire our individual members, and we have to inspire in the world beyond Rotary. It’s a pyramid of possibilities.”

Jim Cupper, Rotary Club of Kalamazoo, Michigan (District 6360): “What I really liked was Barry Rassin’s emphasis on the environment and how we’re going to fit that into the things that Rotary does. Be the Inspiration is easy for most of us to work into our message to our districts and our leadership teams. Part of inspiring our clubs will be training them to use the amazing tools that Rotary has.”

Linda Murray, Rotary Club of South Everett/Mukilteo, Washington (District 5050): “The theme is so important to Rotary right now, when we all need inspiration. Barry Rassin talked about getting the word out, so I’m going to go post the theme and talk about it on Facebook tonight! His message on membership is so important, urging us to be open to new ideas.” 

– Hank Sartin

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