It is hard to believe that it was three years ago when we were experiencing the height of the pandemic; desperate times of isolation and exclusion with the emergence of Zoom as a means of connecting businesses and families.
It was also in 2020 when Rotary’s series of togetherTalks began; a collection of 40-minute webinars jointly hosted by myself and Nicki Scott, supported by an impressive backroom team to produce what I believe was one of the best showcases of Rotary to a global audience.
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It was the brainchild of Nicki, who I first met at a Rotary national conference in Nottingham a few years earlier. I was late for the opening plenary session, randomly grabbed a seat in the darkened auditorium, and found myself sitting next to this chatty Rotarian, just returned from a spell living in the United States, who was brimming with enthusiasm and ideas. It was a total breath of fresh air.
So fast forward to March 2020 when Nicki called me within weeks of the Covid lockdown to suggest a digital initiative connecting Rotarians during the pandemic. I was in. Within five weeks, togetherTalks was live at 19:05 (note the clever tie-in to the year of Rotary’s birth?) with our first guest, Jennifer Jones.
Now even then, Jennifer was already someone with considerable Rotary pedigree and highly respected.
During togetherTalks, the Canadian spoke passionately about the power of connection through story-telling, adroitly dealing with a range of questions from the online audience, and graciously parrying questions asking when Rotary would have its first female President, and enquiries whether she would want the role?
What Jennifer and Nicki have achieved is to showcase the modern face of progressive Rotary where diversity, equity and inclusivity have sat at the heart of this programme of progression.”
How ironic, then, that this Rotary year has witnessed Jennifer as Rotary International’s first female President, supported by Nicki as her Vice President, whose terms come to an end on June 30.
Who would have believed that the future Vice President would be quizzing the future RI President on the first togetherTalks back in May 2020?
What they have formed over the past 12 months has been a formidable partnership. The fact it was an all-woman team is irrelevant. Rotary has had all-male Presidential teams for years.
What Jennifer and Nicki have achieved is to showcase the modern face of progressive Rotary where diversity, equity and inclusivity have sat at the heart of this programme of progression.
As Jennifer said in one of her first interviews: “I believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion … begins at the top, and for us to realise growth in female membership and members under the age of forty – these demographics need to see their own reflection in leadership. I will champion double-digit growth in both categories while never losing sight of our entire family.”
With Scotland’s Gordon McInally stepping into the President’s role on July 1, I know from an interview which I held with him earlier this year, and which you can read in August’s issue of Rotary magazine, that continuity of leadership within Rotary is key.
Gordon will continue to champion diversity, equity and inclusion, picking up on the empowering girls’ initiative promoted by Jennifer’s predecessor, Shekhar Mehta, while promoting his own campaign around mental health.
And I have no doubt that Gordon’s successor, Stephanie Urchick, will pick up the baton of continuity when she becomes the second woman to take office as RI President in July 2024.
To Jennifer and Nicki, well done on a tremendus job as exemplary Rotary ambassadors, leaving behind a legacy of progression and opportunity. You have shown outstanding leadership