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Rotary’s second virtual convention highlights accomplishment in polio, progress toward ending COVID-19


Thousands of people experienced friendship and fun at Rotary International’s second straight virtual convention. The event, held 12-16 June 2021, was conducted online after the convention originally planned for Taipei, Taiwan, was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

More than 11,000 people registered for the robust program that included more than 20 guest speakers, informational and inspiring breakout sessions, the interactive House of Friendship, and a variety of engaging virtual activities and entertainment. 

During the opening general session, Rotary International President Holger Knaack acknowledged that he was worried about how successful his presidency would be, since he couldn’t visit clubs and projects and provide encouragement and support due to travel restrictions. “But what seemed like a problem turned out to be an advantage,” he said. “By visiting clubs online, I could be everywhere, every day.”

Knaack talked about how rewarding it was to be able to visit clubs and districts around the world in just one day. “In a virtual environment, I could visit a dozen Rotary clubs a week and participate in their projects. It was exciting and rewarding. And I was so proud of the work you did in such difficult times,” he said. 

“The pandemic continues to bring great devastation and, for far too many, a very sad ending for people important to us,” Knaack said. “We must continue to honor those who have passed and do whatever we can to bring this devastation to an end as soon as possible.” 

Despite the challenges of the past year, Knaack also highlighted successes, including the historic announcement that the World Health Organization’s African region had been declared free of the wild poliovirus. He encouraged Rotary to build on that positive news by staying focused on our commitment to ending polio worldwide. Until early May of this year, he said, just two cases of wild poliovirus were reported worldwide. Wild poliovirus is still circulating in only two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave a video address to online attendees, crediting Rotary for continuing to focus on polio. “When COVID-19 struck, you didn’t abandon your vision of a polio-free world,” he said. “You redoubled your efforts.” 

In a virtual environment, I could visit a dozen Rotary clubs a week and participate in their projects. It was exciting and rewarding.

“The pandemic has highlighted that unprepared and underserved communities anywhere are a threat to health everywhere. Rotarians know this,” Tedros added. “And I want you to know that your investment in public health will inspire future generations to live up to your motto of Service Above Self.”

Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, gave an update on COVID-19 vaccines and spoke about the importance of restoring access to routine vaccinations that were disrupted by the pandemic. 

Berkley said 14 COVID-19 vaccines have been approved around the world and more than 1.4 billion people have been vaccinated in the “largest and most complex vaccine development deployment in history.” Gavi is co-leading COVAX, a worldwide initiative aimed at establishing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. By the beginning of next year, Berkley said, more than 1.8 billion doses of the vaccine should be available to people living in the 92 lowest-income countries that otherwise would have limited or no access to the vaccine. 

But COVID-19 vaccines aren’t the end of the story.

“Now with COVID-19 vaccines flowing, it’s going to be critical to maintain hard-won gains in immunization,” Berkley said, “to recover from the disruptions caused by COVID-19 and achieve even more by leaving no one behind in any situation or at any stage of life.” 

He added, “As a valued partner of Gavi, Rotary International will play a key role in all this.”

Other convention guests and speakers included: 

  • Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to the WHO director-general 
  • Eliud Kipchoge, an Olympic gold medalist and marathon world-record holder
  • Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist and founder of the Rise Up Movement 
  • Anna Rosling Rönnlund, vice president of the Gapminder foundation 
  • Sanj Srikanthan, the CEO of ShelterBox 

The general sessions were hosted by Mark Wright, a news anchor and Rotary member. 

Entertainment included performances by The Filharmonic, an a cappella group featured in the hit movie Pitch Perfect 2; the Hiplet Ballerinas, a hip-hop and classical ballet fusion group; Idris Goodwin, a breakbeat poet and a United States Artists Fellow; and DDC Breakdance, a Germany-based dance group. 

Convention attendees participated in virtual activities that included a cooking class, a trivia challenge, a dance party, a virtual photo booth, and a 5K walk to raise funds to end polio. 

View convention videos and photos

Speeches and reports 

RI President Holger Knaack’s opening and closing speeches

RI President-elect Shekhar Mehta’s speech (PDF)

RI President-nominee Jennifer Jones’ speech (PDF)

Rotary Foundation Chair K.R. Ravindran’s speech (PDF)

General Secretary John Hewko’s speech (PDF)

General secretary’s report to the convention

RI treasurer’s report to the convention (PDF)