Rotary Connects the World – that’s the theme for this new Rotary year, and never was that notion more prevalent than at the recent Hamburg convention.
So what was the big talking point of this four-day global jamboree?
Without doubt it was Rotary’s diversity – or perhaps a lack of it.
At the opening ceremony, then Rotary International (RI) President, Barry Rassin revealed the Rotary Board wants to increase the number of women in Rotary and in leadership positions to 30% by 2023.
Too modest a target, suggested those around me in the audience. Should have happened years ago, complained others.
The following day, in an interview with 2020 President Holger Knaack (pictured), I asked the likeable German to predict the year when Rotary International would have its first female president.
“That is a great question, and is one I have been asking myself,” ventured Holger, before diplomatically sitting on the fence.
He insisted he does not know who will be his successor. In fact, he would be happy with whoever they are.
With youth, Holger, Barry and current President, Mark Maloney, have wisely stated their desire to grow Rotaract clubs to strengthen Rotary for the future.
It is a policy spawning success, judging by the large numbers who visited Hamburg for the Rotaract Pre-convention and who stayed on for the main event.
But it can’t have been easy. Speaking to two young British Rotaractors, one managed to get some financial help from his Rotary club to travel to Hamburg, but the other had to be financially creative, relying on the bakery at the local Lidl while she stayed in 30 Euro a night digs.
The tickets for some of the dinner events in Hamburg were eye-watering.
Registration for the convention alone cost several hundred Euros, and there’s the small matter of flights and accommodation. Inclusivity? It simply doesn’t add up.
I met a Rotarian from Berlin with her four-year-old son bemoaning: “How can Rotary want more women to join if they make it impossible for mothers to participate?” she said, asking where were the child-friendly facilities?
Also, I heard of issues with Rotaractors from Africa unable to get visas to fly to Germany because of fears they would not return home. Really? How can that be so?
And, by the way, when will there be a Rotary International convention in Africa?
For all the laudable words and wisdom spouted from the lectern at countless conferences, surely there has to be a climate and a culture within Rotary to enable the diversity it desires. Lip service is not enough, serious change has to be enabled.
A world without Rotary would be a world worse off.
Next year’s RI convention in Hawaii will definitely not be a beggar’s banquet and, most probably, this isolated volcanic archipelago in the Central Pacific will be a destination for the privileged few.
It is a shame more Rotarians don’t come to convention. I loved my experience.
At a time when there is so much grief in the world, when man’s inhumanity to fellow man recognises few boundaries, the convention serves as a reminder of the goodness of mankind, the gentleness of Rotary and the immense service it provides.
A world without Rotary would be a world worse off. A Rotary which is truly diverse – and accessible – one reflecting all creeds and cultures, would definitely become an even more powerful movement.