Leadership stories highlight day two of convention

Jack Sim, founder of the World Toliet Organization, speaks about how providing toilets to underdeveloped countries can drastically improve sanitation.
Photo Credit: Rotary International/Monika Lozinska

Leadership turned into the central theme of day two at the Rotary Convention as a slew of speakers from large service organizations and projects shared their stories of sacrifice and triumph.

Plenary session speakers included Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization; Professor Martin Silink, president of the International Diabetes Federation; Tommy Spaulding, a former Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and world-renowned leadership expert; and Brett Lee, Australian cricket star.

"Each speaker did something for me in terms of understanding the expansion of what Rotary does," said Betty Mceary, incoming president of the Rotary Club of Oakland Sunrise in California, United States. "Today taught me about Rotary being a caring organization."

Inspiring plenary speakers

There are more cell phones in the world than toilets, Sim told the crowd at the opening plenary. Roughly 4 billion people don't always have access to clean water and sanitation, but by taking advantage of social entrepreneurship, we can "help them help themselves," Sim said. His organization trains people to build and sell toilets.

Meanwhile, Silink's quest to make diabetes a United Nations resolution reminded Rotary members of the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity. Despite hearing the word "no" early and often, Silink finally got leaders at the UN to listen. They declared 14 November World Diabetes Day. Sylvan "Barney" Barnet, who was Rotary's representative to the UN for 25 years, was influential in bringing Silink's dream to fruition.

"Rotary can be proud of making possible the first UN resolution, which recognized that a chronic disease like diabetes could also be a threat to the whole world," said Silink. "Barney introduced me to the UN and demystified it."

The Rotarian Action Group on Diabetes is keeping the issue in the public's eye with the aim of including the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases in the next round of Millennium Development Goals. An estimated 382 million people worldwide have type 2 diabetes, and the numbers increase by more than 7 million each year.

"He saw the need and carried on with it, as Rotarians do," John Norris, a member of the Rotary Club of Toronto, New South Wales, said of Silink. "That is what Rotary is all about."

Spaulding, a best-selling New York Times author, spoke about growing up with dyslexia and how Rotary helped him discover his leadership abilities. The former RYLA participant and Rotary Scholar said Rotary members around the world have "changed my heart for service."

"Paul Harris didn't build an organization," he added. "He built a movement."

Lee, the final speaker of the evening, is the founder of Mewsic India Foundation, which brings music therapy to more than 1,200 children in India. Lee's inspiration came from the pressure of being a professional athlete. He said there were days he felt like the world was closing in on him, but music always helped him re-energize. Now he's helping to motivate children living in remote areas of India by bringing music to them. Rotary clubs are helping to support the foundation with Rotary grants.

"If I can achieve my dream," he said, "hopefully the children can achieve their dreams."

In the coming years, Lee is aiming to start 100 centers in India and expand to Australia.

Breakout session leaders

Leadership was also on tap at the convention's breakout sessions. Young entrepreneur and Rotary member Brenton "Johno" Johnson attended an afternoon session on how to affect positive social change through business and humanitarian efforts. Maya Ajmera, winner of The Rotary Foundation's 2014 Global Alumni Service to Humanity Award, led the session.

Participants learned how to help people by giving them opportunities to help themselves. For example, Johnson said, a person who buys a mosquito net is more likely to use and take care of it than someone who gets it for free.

"You want people to feel like they are invested in what they get," added Johnson, a member of the Rotary Club of Horsham East, Victoria, and a self-employed social marketing strategist. "My generation, Generation Y, can be leaders for this social change. We have the energy and the opportunity."

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