John F. Germ
In 1979, James Bomar Jr., the president of Rotary at the time, traveled to the Philippines as part of Rotary’s earliest work to immunize children against polio. After he had put drops of vaccine into one baby’s mouth, he felt a child’s hand tugging on his trouser leg to get his attention. Bomar looked down and saw the baby’s brother looking up at him, saying earnestly, “Thank you, thank you, Rotary.”
Before Rotary took on the task of polio eradication, 350,000 people – nearly all of them children – were paralyzed by polio every year. That child in the Philippines knew exactly what polio was and understood exactly what Rotary had just done for his baby brother. Today, 31 years after the launch of PolioPlus, the children of the Philippines – and of nearly every other country in the world – are growing up without that knowledge, and that fear, of polio. Instead of 1,000 new cases of polio every day, we are averaging less than one per week. But as the fear of polio wanes, so does awareness of the disease. Now more than ever, it is vitally important to keep that awareness high and to push polio eradication to the top of the public agenda and our governments’ priorities. We need to make sure the world knows that our work to eradicate polio isn’t over yet, but that Rotary is in it to end it.
On 24 October, Rotary will mark World Polio Day to help raise the awareness and the funding we need to reach full eradication. I ask all of you to take part by holding an event in your club, in your community, or online. Ideas and materials are available for download in all Rotary languages at endpolio.org/worldpolioday, and you can register your event with Rotary at the same link. You can also join me and tens of thousands of your fellow Rotarians for a live-streamed global status update at 6 p.m. Eastern time at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. I’ll be there along with CDC Director Tom Frieden, other experts, and inspirational presenters, sharing an inside look at the science, partnerships, and human stories of polio eradication.
It is an incredibly exciting time to be a Rotarian. We are gathering momentum for the final race to the finish: to the end of PolioPlus and the beginning of a polio-free world. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance to End Polio Now, through Rotary Serving Humanity.
In the summer of 1917, only a few months after the United States entered the first world war, Rotary held its eighth annual convention in Atlanta. Although many Rotarians at the time thought the convention should be canceled, the Board of Directors ultimately agreed with Paul Harris that it should continue as planned. In the midst of such uncertainty and fear, Harris penned, as part of his convention greeting, some of the most-quoted words in Rotary:
Individual effort when well directed can accomplish much, but the greatest good must necessarily come from the combined efforts of many men. Individual effort may be turned to individual needs but combined effort should be dedicated to the service of mankind. The power of combined effort knows no limitation.
Fittingly, it was at this convention that then-President Arch C. Klumph proposed a Rotary endowment fund “for the purpose of doing good in the world.” The power of combined effort was joined by a new power: that of combined resources. It was a combination that has proved unstoppable and has been behind so much of Rotary’s work for the last 100 years. Today, it is difficult to imagine Rotary without its Foundation. It was the Foundation that turned Rotary from an organization of local clubs into an international force for good with the power to change the world.
In this Rotary year, we are marking the centennial of our Rotary Foundation in the city where it all began: Atlanta. Our 108th Rotary International Convention promises to be one of the most exciting yet, with inspiring speakers, great entertainment, and a wide array of breakout sessions to help you move your Rotary service forward. And of course, we’ll be celebrating the Foundation’s centennial in style.
Whether you’re a regular convention goer, haven’t been to one in a few years, or haven’t yet attended your first, the 2017 convention will be the one you won’t want to miss. Atlanta is a great destination in its own right, with great food, friendly people, and many local attractions to enjoy. But the real reason to come to the convention is always the convention itself, and the people, ideas, inspiration, and friendship you’ll find there. To learn more, and save money on registration, visit www.riconvention.org. See you in Atlanta!
Forty years ago, a man named George Campbell, the owner of the company I worked for, invited me to join Rotary. Back then, that was a common practice in the United States. Your boss invited you to join Rotary because he thought it would be good for business and good for the community, and you said yes. It’s not surprising that our membership surged during that period.
George warned me not to use Rotary as an excuse to slack off at work. Even so, I always had time to attend lunch meetings and serve on committees. I never had to worry that taking a long lunch once a week would hurt my advancement, or what my boss would think about the occasional Rotary phone call at work.
Today, things are different. Companies are less generous about time, and not every manager looks favorably on community service. It’s hard to enjoy a Rotary meeting when you’ve got emails piling up on your phone. It’s harder than ever to balance work with Rotary – and the model that gave us so much growth a few decades ago is part of what’s holding back our growth now.
That’s why the recent Council on Legislation adopted some innovative measures that allow clubs to vary their meeting times and expand their pool of prospective members. Clubs have more flexibility now to respond to the needs of their members and to clear away as many barriers to membership as they can. But there’s one barrier to membership that only you can remove, one thing that every prospective member needs to become a Rotarian: an invitation to join a Rotary club.
Whenever I tell a group of Rotarians that we need more willing hands, more caring hearts, and more bright minds to move our work forward, everyone applauds. But those hands, hearts, and minds won’t magically appear in our clubs. We have to ask them to join. And an invitation to Rotary is something that only you can give. An invitation is a gift. It’s saying to someone, “I think you have the skills, the talent, and the character to make our community better, and I want you to join me in doing that.”
I’m the president of Rotary International, but the only club I can invite someone to join is the Rotary Club of Chattanooga, Tenn. I can’t make your club or your community stronger. Only you can do that – by inviting the qualified people you know to join you in Rotary Serving Humanity.
Today, we look ahead toward a Rotary year that may one day be known as the greatest in our history: the year that sees the world's last case of polio. Wild poliovirus caused only 74 cases of polio in 2015, all of them in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As we continue to work tirelessly toward our goal of eradication, we must also look beyond it: preparing to leverage our success into even greater successes to come.
It is tremendously important to Rotary's future that our role in the eradication of polio be recognized. The more we are known for what we've achieved, the more we'll be able to attract the partners, the funding, and, most important, the members to achieve even more. We're working hard at RI headquarters to be sure that Rotary gets that recognition. But it can't all happen in Evanston. We need you to get the word out through your clubs and in your communities about what Rotary is and what we do. We need to be sure that our clubs are ready for the moment when polio is finally eradicated – so that when people who want to do good see that Rotary is a place where they can change the world, every Rotary club is ready to give them that opportunity.
We know that if we want to see Rotary Serving Humanity even better in the years ahead, we'll need more willing hands, more caring hearts, and more bright minds to move our work forward. We'll need clubs that are flexible, so that Rotary service will be attractive to younger members, recent retirees, and working people. We'll need to seek out new partnerships, opening ourselves more to collaborative relationships with other organizations.
Looking ahead, we also see a clear need to prioritize continuity in our leadership. We in Rotary are all playing on the same team, working toward the same goals. If we want to reach those goals together, we all have to move in the same direction – together.
Every day that you serve in Rotary, you have the opportunity to change lives. Everything you do matters; every good work makes the world better for us all. In this new Rotary year, we all have a new chance to change the world for the better, through Rotary Serving Humanity.