Trustee chair's message
Trustee Chair 2016-17
Celebrate World Polio Day on 24 October
In our work to end polio, we’ve noticed a disturbing development: People in many parts of the world think polio no longer exists. Even some of our members, especially younger Rotarians who were born after the development of the polio vaccine, assume that because the disease doesn’t afflict anyone in their country, it’s no longer a problem.
To make everyone aware that this disease is just an airplane ride away, Rotary started World Polio Day, held annually in October. Over the years, we have marked this occasion in various ways. Clubs have held fundraisers or lit up iconic structures in their country with the words “End Polio Now.” More recently, we created live-streamed events featuring prominent public health experts and journalists, along with some of our celebrity ambassadors.
This year, we partnered with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which will host a live-streamed event at its headquarters in Atlanta. (Taking into consideration different time zones, the event will be immediately archived so your club may watch it at a time that is convenient.) Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, and Jeffrey Kluger, Time magazine’s senior editor overseeing science and health reporting, will be joined by other public health experts to discuss the milestones, promising developments, and remaining challenges in the fight to eradicate polio.
But we want Rotarians to observe World Polio Day everywhere, not just in Atlanta. In fact, we would like to see at least 1,000 World Polio Day events take place throughout the world. I encourage you to host viewing parties of the live-streamed event and organize fundraisers. Be sure to register your event at www.endpolio.org/worldpolioday, where you can also find resources to help make it a success.
Polio is still out there, even though the number of cases has dropped by more than 99.9 percent since 1988. We’re almost there, but until the number of cases reaches zero, polio remains a threat to all of us. World Polio Day offers an opportunity to share that vital message with your club and your community.
A few months ago, I read a story in this magazine about a man named Carl Sanders, a member of the Rotary Club of Kenosha, Wis. Sanders had developed a successful painting business despite the fact that he could not read – a shameful secret that he struggled to keep to himself.
This story surprised me a little. I tend to think of illiteracy as a problem that mainly afflicts people in poor countries, not U.S. Rotarians. But Sanders’ situation is not so uncommon. Even in a wealthy country like the United States, millions of people lack basic reading skills.
Sanders’ story had a happy ending. He shared his secret with a fellow Rotarian, who steered him to a local literacy program and encouraged him as he tackled his reading lessons.
Our Rotary Foundation wants to create more such happy endings, and there is no shortage of people who need them. Today, more than 750 million adults are functionally illiterate globally.
In 2015-16, our Foundation awarded 146 global grants totaling $8.3 million to support basic education and literacy projects worldwide. These projects vary considerably – from providing computers and school supplies in Ghana to sponsoring an after-school homework program in the U.S. to developing a literacy and mentoring program for Roma girls in Bosnia, a project that addresses the gender imbalance that exists in many parts of the world.
In my country, Rotary has been on a literacy mission for the past few years. India has a population of 1.2 billion and is about 75 percent literate. Illiteracy occurs mainly in rural India, where most people live. So Rotary in India joined hands with the government to eliminate illiteracy, especially among women, because literate women raise literate families, ensuring a better future for all. Indeed, the numbers are staggering, and when it is done, the impact could be incredible.
As we observe Basic Education and Literacy Month in September, let’s think about the millions of people whose chances for success remain blocked by illiteracy. Our Foundation is helping many of them, but with Rotarian support and involvement, we can do so much more.
More members mean a stronger Foundation
Our Rotary Foundation depends on a strong and thriving Rotary membership. It is, after all, our members who provide the generous support that enables our Foundation to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems. As important as that support is, it’s not the only contribution Rotarians make to our Foundation.
The Rotary Foundation has an unusual business model. Like many charities, we receive donations that we use to address a host of critical issues. Unlike most other nonprofit organizations, we depend on our members to develop relevant and effective service projects. Your volunteer labor stretches our contribution dollars and helps The Rotary Foundation to do much more with less.
The typical global grant requires hours of planning and budgeting before even one dollar is received or spent. Then the sponsors must purchase supplies, seek donated goods, set up bank accounts, organize volunteers, write reports, and monitor the project’s progress, all while working with Rotarians in another part of the world. Fortunately, our clubs have a wide variety of professional skills and talents to call upon throughout this process.
Smaller clubs may not have the financial or human resources to sponsor a global grant, even if their members share a strong commitment to the Foundation’s mission. Imagine what those clubs could accomplish with two or three times as many members.
As we celebrate Membership and New Club Development Month in August, let’s not forget the importance of quickly engaging new members in Rotary service. Make sure they know about the many opportunities our Foundation offers members to pursue their service interests, from promoting better health to providing training and education to bringing peace and stability to communities in need.
Through The Rotary Foundation, our members have a chance to use their skills to make a real difference. First, we need to bring those talented people into our ranks and engage them in our Foundation’s vital work to create a better world. And only we, the Rotarians, can bring in those new members. So it is up to us, really, isn’t it?
The start of a new Rotary year is always an exciting time. We have a new inspirational theme, new club officers, and exciting new projects to work on. In 2016-17, we also have a very special occasion to celebrate: the 100th anniversary of our Rotary Foundation.
Since 1917, when Arch Klumph proposed an endowment "for the purpose of doing good in the world," The Rotary Foundation has grown into a world-class humanitarian organization. Few other charitable foundations can claim a 100-year history – all the more impressive when you consider its humble beginning of only $26.50. The fact that our Foundation now has $1 billion in assets is a testament to the remarkable generosity of Rotarians worldwide. I often wonder just what our Foundation will look like when all Rotarians, everywhere, give it their sustained support.
I hope each of you will take the time to consider our Foundation's many successes, achievements we can all be proud of. Over the past century, we have provided $3 billion to tackle a wide range of problems, large and small, in thousands of communities worldwide. Our global and district grant projects are saving and transforming lives, and we are educating scholars and training professionals to carry on this vital legacy.
Our centennial offers an ideal opportunity to remind our members – and tell the rest of the world – about our Foundation's rich history of humanitarian work. It's time that everyone knew about our leading role in the battle to end polio, a fight that Bill Gates and others agree would never have been possible without Rotary's extraordinary dedication. Let's also spotlight the many ways we're fighting other devastating diseases, providing cleaner and safer drinking water, spreading education by promoting literacy, and helping local economies grow.
However you celebrate our Foundation's centennial, I hope you will make that celebration as public as possible. Hold an event that involves your entire community and showcases The Rotary Foundation's good work. You'll find many ideas for centennial celebrations at www.rotary.org/foundation100.
RI President John Germ's theme, Rotary Serving Humanity, speaks directly to the work of our Foundation, which for years has enabled Rotarians to embrace humanity and serve those in need. This year, let's commit to sharing those inspirational stories, just as we continue to write more and more of them.