A quarter of the Rotary year is now behind us. I am sure you are helping Rotary to grow more and do more. And I hope you have already done your part for the Each One, Bring One initiative by introducing one person to Rotary.
Do you ever think about your earliest days as a Rotarian? I often do — because those first moments of discovering the power of service shaped who I am today. When I joined my Rotary club, our efforts focused on India’s rural communities, where people were living without toilets, getting their drinking water from the same pond they bathed in, and sending their children to outdoor classrooms set up under a tree. The nearest health care provider often was miles away — and the services were inadequate. But after Rotary clubs carried out some service projects, the villages had toilets, clean drinking water, a classroom for early learning, and a nearby health care center.
The spark that Rotary kindled within me forced me to look beyond myself and embrace humanity. It made service a way of life and led me to a guiding principle I still stand by: Service is the rent I pay for the space I occupy on Earth.
If you feel the need to reignite the spark of service in yourself or your club, October — Community Economic Development Month — is a great time to do so. When we work to improve the lives of people in underserved communities — through, for example, projects that provide vocational training and access to financial resources — we help build and sustain local economic growth.
The need is great. According to the United Nations, 9 percent of the world’s population — that’s 700 million people, a majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa — live on less than $1.90 a day. By supporting strong community development as well as entrepreneurs, we can help improve conditions for people in that region and others.
Your club can also promote economic development in your own community by expanding vocational training opportunities through local schools and community colleges, partnering with lenders to improve access to financial services, or working with a nonprofit that provides resources to entrepreneurs and connects them with the business community.
Of course, developing strong communities is impossible without strong public health. On 24 October, World Polio Day, we’ll celebrate our tremendous progress in the effort to eradicate polio. But we also know the fight is not over. We still need your help raising funds and awareness to ensure that all children are immunized against polio. Please don’t forget to activate your clubs on that important day and encourage them to donate here: endpolio.org/world-polio-day.
Service has been rewarding for me throughout my life. I know the same is true for many of you. Join me this month in becoming a good tenant of our planet by helping others to better themselves and their communities. Together, we can Serve to Change Lives.
I am sure you are having an enriching experience as you Serve to Change Lives. One of the ways you can make the greatest change in a person’s life is to help them learn to read. Literacy opens up the world to us. It makes us better informed about life in our own communities and opens vistas to other cultures. Reading and writing connects people and gives us another way to express our love for one another.
September is Basic Education and Literacy Month in Rotary. Enhancing literacy skills is critical in our pursuit of reducing poverty, improving health, and promoting peace. In fact, if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, it would result in a significant cut in global poverty rates.
Without education, illiterate children become illiterate adults. Today, 14 percent of the world’s adult population — 762 million people — lack basic reading and writing skills. Two-thirds of that group are women. Literacy and numeracy skills are essential to obtaining better housing, health care, and jobs over a lifetime.
Especially for girls and women, literacy can be a life-or-death issue. If all girls completed their primary education, there would be far fewer maternal deaths. And a child is more likely to survive past age 5 if he or she is born to a mother who can read. Improving outcomes for more people worldwide is possible only if countries remove barriers to education for girls. The economic argument for doing so is clear: In some countries where schooling is geared toward boys, the cost of missed economic opportunity is more than $1 billion per year.
Empowering people through education is among the boldest goals we have as Rotarians. We don’t have to travel far from our homes to encounter those whose lives are being curtailed because they struggle with reading, rely on others to read for them, or cannot write anything more than their own name.
Starting this month, consider how your club can Serve to Change Lives through literacy: Support local organizations that offer free programs to support adult literacy or local language learning, or that provide teachers with professional development centered around reading and writing. Become literacy mentors, or work with an organization like the Global Partnership for Education to increase learning opportunities for children around the world. Have conversations with local schools and libraries to see how your club can support their existing programs or help create needed ones in your community.
In India, the TEACH program, a successful collaboration between the country’s Rotary clubs and its government, has demonstrated how to scale up literacy efforts to reach millions of children. And at a time when schools across India were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program’s e-learning component reached more than 100 million children through national television.
Literacy is the first step out of poverty. As Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has noted, “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.”
As we focus on membership in Rotary this month, I ask you to help make history this year. For more than 20 years, our membership has stood at 1.2 million. Rotary is a vibrant organization with a 116-year history, members in more than 220 countries and geographic areas, and a rich legacy of work in polio eradication and other humanitarian programs. Rotary has changed so much in our own lives and the lives of others. As we Serve to Change Lives, don’t you think Rotary could have an even greater impact on the world if more people were practicing Service Above Self?
My vision is to increase Rotary membership to 1.3 million by July 2022, and the call to action is simple: Each One, Bring One. This year, I want every Rotarian and Rotaractor to introduce a new person into their club.
We are a membership organization, and members are our greatest asset. You are the ones who contribute so generously to The Rotary Foundation. You are the ones who dream big to bring good into the world through meaningful projects. And of course, you are the ones who have put the world on the brink of eradicating polio.
As we make membership a priority this year, let us focus on diversity by reaching out to younger people and especially to women. Every club should celebrate its new members, and every Rotarian who sponsors a member will be personally recognized by me. And those who are successful in bringing in 25 or more members will be part of our new Membership Society.
Even as we share the gift of Rotary with others, let us be sure to engage these new members, because an engaged Rotarian is an asset forever. And remember that engaging our current members and keeping them in our clubs is just as important as bringing in newcomers. Let us also be ready to form new clubs, especially flexible ones. I am very bullish on clubs that hold virtual or hybrid meetings, and satellite clubs and cause-based clubs can also be very effective ways of growing Rotary.
As you grow more, you will be able to do more. Let us keep empowering girls through our work in each of the areas of focus. Scholarships for girls, toilets in schools, health and hygiene education — there is so much we can do. Projects focused on the environment are also attracting interest the world over. Do participate in these projects locally and internationally to make this world a better place for us and for all species.
Each of you is a Rotary brand ambassador, and all of the wonderful work done by Rotarians around the world needs to be shared outside the Rotary community. Use social media to tell your friends, colleagues, and relatives the stories of Service Above Self.
Finally, I’m challenging every club, during the coming year, to plan at least one Rotary Day of Service that will bring together volunteers from inside and outside Rotary and will celebrate and showcase the work of your club in your community. Visit rotary.org to find out more about all of these initiatives, along with other ways to Serve to Change Lives.
I wish each of you and your families a great Rotary New Year! Together, let us make it the best year of our lives, by making it a year to grow more and do more. Let this be a year of changemakers, and let us begin with our membership.
That is precisely why the Each One, Bring One initiative is so important. During this year, I urge you to dream of new ways in which Rotary can expand its reach into your community and therefore the world. If each member introduces one person to Rotary, our membership can increase to 1.3 million by July 2022. So, let’s just do it!
Imagine the change we, as Rotary members, can make when there are so many more of us! More people to care for others, more people to Serve to Change Lives. Think of the impact we can have through grow more, do more. More members will enable us to embark on bigger and bolder service projects. And each of us can also continue to serve in our own personal ways, responding to needs in our communities.
The beauty of Rotary is that service means different things to different people around the world. One element, however, that we can incorporate into all of our service initiatives is empowering girls. Unfortunately, even in this day and age, girls and young women face disproportionate challenges all over the world. We have the power to lead the charge for gender equality. Empowering girls and young women to have greater access to education, better health care, more employment, and equality in all walks of life should be embedded in every Rotary project we launch. Girls are future leaders, so we must ensure that we help them shape their future.
The biggest gift we are given
Is the power to touch a life,
To change, to make a difference
In the circle of life.
If we can reach out
With our hand, heart, and soul,
The magic will start to happen
As the wheel begins to roll.
Let’s turn the wheel together
So all humanity thrives,
We have the power and the magic
To Serve to Change Lives.
These are challenging times, and I compliment each of your efforts in grappling with COVID-19. No challenge is too big for Rotarians. The bigger the challenge, the more passionate the Rotarian. Look at what we can do when we take on a colossal challenge such as eradicating polio. Look at the millions of lives we improve by strengthening access to water, sanitation, and hygiene. Look at what we do every year to promote peace in places where it seems unimaginable. Our basic education and literacy programs have nation-building impact.
This year, let us challenge ourselves to do more such projects and programs that have national reach and impact. This year, let us Serve to Change Lives.