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The future of peace

In its work with the United Nations and other international organizations, the Rotary Representative Network advances a century-old tradition of fostering global harmony

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In October 1991, after a 26-year career with the U.S. Foreign Service, T. Patrick Killough delivered a speech before the Rotary Club of Black Mountain in western North Carolina. The speech’s title captured his provocative premise: “The United Nations: Made in USA by Rotarians.”

To support that assertion, Killough marshaled an array of historical facts. He noted that Cordell Hull — President Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of state, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and the “father of the United Nations” — and several other key players in the creation of the UN had Rotary connections. What’s more, Rotarians had organized the 1942 conference in London that inspired the creation of UNESCO and, as early as 1943, had advocated for a “central world organization.” Rotary had also published and distributed pamphlets, papers, and books to educate its members about, and tacitly encourage their support of, the fledgling United Nations. 

“The UN is, beyond question, a thoroughly American, a thoroughly Rotarian product from beginning to end,” Killough concluded. “The United Nations is our own child.”

A member of the Black Mountain club until his death in 2014, Killough dated Rotary’s involvement with global peacebuilding to 1939. But this commitment to peace is almost as old as Rotary itself. In 1914, as war broke out in Europe, Chesley Perry, acknowledged today as Rotary’s first general secretary, wrote, “Let Rotary make International Peace and Good Will its mission as an international organization.” And in 1921 at its 12th annual convention, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Rotary vowed “to aid in the advancement of international peace” when it amended the objects, or goals, of the organization. 

Nearly a century later, Peter Kyle believes that pledge could provide the foundation for Rotary’s future. “Rotary’s peace program has the potential to have a great legacy,” he says. 

Kyle is in a position to make that vision a reality. Since 1 July, he has been dean of the Rotary Representative Network, a group of Rotarians from diverse backgrounds who represent Rotary at the United Nations and other international organizations. (For the names of the 28 representatives and their assignments, see page 49.) The network dates to 1991, when the RI Board approved a plan that included securing the highest possible consultative status for Rotary with the UN’s Economic and Social Council, which it accomplished in 1993. 

By developing connections within specific organizations, the representatives help Rotary succeed at its ambitious endeavors around the world — chief among them the eradication of polio. Its success in fighting this disease has earned Rotary tremendous credibility and sway in the arena of international problem-solving. Kyle has a strategic perspective on that. “We often complain that the world doesn’t know about Rotary’s role in eradicating polio,” he says. “The whole world doesn’t need to know. Policymakers and international organizations — they need to know. Our relationship with key senior policymakers at the United Nations and other global organizations was important for polio advocacy. I intend to maintain and deepen and expand those relationships.”

In April 1945, representatives of 50 nations gathered in San Francisco to finalize and approve the UN Charter. The United States invited 42 nongovernmental organizations to participate in the conference in an official consultative capacity.

Rotary was instrumental in ... creating the United Nations.

the first dean of the Rotary Representative Network

Rotary’s 11 U.S. consultants were led by RI President Richard H. Wells, but the organization’s presence extended further. O.D.A. Oberg of the Rotary Club of Sydney, who attended the conference as a consultant to Australia’s group of representatives, reported in The Rotarian that “27 Rotarians are here as delegates or technical advisors, and five of them are chairmen of their delegations.” Many other Rotary members attended in an unofficial capacity.

“There being few UN staff at that time,” wrote David C. Forward in A Century of Service: The Story of Rotary International, “[Rotarians] guided agendas, performed translations, suggested wording for resolutions, and helped resolve disputes between delegates.” Edwin H. Futa, the first dean of the Rotary Representative Network, is even more emphatic about the organization’s impact on the conference. “Rotary,” he says, “was instrumental in helping to formulate the original documents creating the United Nations.” 

In August 1945, U.S. Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius Jr. wrote in The Rotarian: “The invitation to Rotary International to participate in the United Nations Conference … was not merely a gesture of goodwill and respect toward a great organization. It was a simple recognition of the practical part Rotary’s members have played and will continue to play in the development of understanding among nations.” 

After the conference in San Francisco, Rotary kept working to advance public awareness of the new global peacemaking organization. It staged a United Nations Week in October 1945 (when the UN officially came into existence) and published the UN Charter, along with “interpretive comments” and questions for discussion, in From Here On!, a 96-page book that went through seven printings.

The 1930s and ’40s were the “heyday of Rotary’s influence in the world,” Kyle says. “Relative to Rotary’s size, [our role] was significant.”

As the Cold War set in, the organization’s relationship with the United Nations changed. “The UN began to be seen as very political,” says Futa, and Rotary, in his words, “took a break.” Though it never totally disengaged, it wasn’t until 1985, when PolioPlus launched, that Rotary began to re-establish an active connection with the United Nations. It also cemented its relationships with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and other agencies and programs, paving the way for the creation of the Rotary Representative Network.   

Based on RI Board decisions, the network assumed its current size and configuration between 1991 and 2013, the year Futa was appointed its first dean. “When I came on board, the network was composed of 30 semi-independent representatives following whatever path they wanted,” he says. “I instilled a unified message coordinated with Rotary’s goal and mission.”

“As a former general secretary [2000-11], Ed knew Rotary International well and had a clear vision of it as an organization open to the world and ready to assume global responsibilities,” says Walter Gyger, the network’s primary representative to the United Nations in Geneva and the UN Economic Commission for Europe.

“Ed empowered the representatives to bring their voices to the table,” adds Jason Gonzalez, one of the network’s two youth representatives to the United Nations in New York. “He fostered a collaborative spirit that helped share Rotary’s message with a larger external audience.” 

As unofficial ambassadors, the representatives aim to enhance Rotary’s international profile while strengthening its ability to influence global events. “Given our consulting status at the UN, we’re able to participate in high-level committee meetings,” Futa says. “It’s important to have input on an issue before it goes to a vote.”

Judith Diment was named the network’s representative to the Commonwealth of Nations in 2013. Her story exemplifies the paths followed by her colleagues as they’ve worked to advance Rotary’s agenda at the highest levels of government.

“The first thing I did,” Diment says, “was to get Rotary NGO accredited status within the Commonwealth, which took more than a year.” With that in hand, she could attend meetings of Commonwealth leaders and ministers. “My priority has been to get polio eradication into (government) communiqués,” she says. “That requires considerable advocacy efforts with the UK government in London, but also with key Commonwealth countries such as Canada, India, and Australia, as well as with two endemic countries in the Commonwealth: Pakistan and Nigeria.”

As she worked to magnify Rotary’s impact on polio eradication, and on the fight against slavery and human trafficking, Diment also strove to create opportunities for Rotary leaders to consult with world figures and address international conferences, helping to build bridges with countries and organizations around the world.

That’s something Peter Kyle has been doing his whole career.

Peter Kyle first visited Washington, D.C., in 1973 as a 26-year-old lawyer from New Zealand. “This was around the time of Watergate, the Washington Post investigation, and the legal system under siege,” he recalls. “It was an exciting time for a young lawyer to be in America.”

A recipient of a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, Kyle earned an advanced law degree from the University of Virginia before returning to practice commercial law in his native country. After a stint as legal counsel with the Asian Development Bank in the Philippines, he came back to Washington in 1992, when he joined the World Bank. “The Soviet Union had collapsed,” he explains, “and the bank was looking for lawyers with privatization experience” — something Kyle had specialized in throughout his career. He stepped down from the World Bank as lead counsel in 2009, but he continued to serve there as a consultant for another three years.

Ana Cutter Patel met Kyle around this time, when she was interviewing for the job she now holds: executive director of the Outward Bound Center for Peacebuilding. The two have remained colleagues and friends: It was at Kyle’s encouragement that Patel became a Rotary Peace Fellow, studying at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University in 2016.

“I would never have done it without Peter,” Patel says. “He’s a catalyst. He sees an opportunity for others and opens that door — or at least shows you where that door is.”

Rotary Day at the UN

Rotary Day at the United Nations will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, on 10 November, only the second time that the event has been held outside of New York City. (Last year it was in Geneva.) The event will be livestreamed.

Learn more

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