Recently, I spent time in the Nakivale refugee settlement in Uganda. As the "settlement" in its name suggests, the people living there are free to move around and integrate as best they can — one thing that makes the place unique.
I had a chance to play soccer with boys and girls from about a dozen nations and talk with women who had fled areas of conflict. It was a tapestry of human experience shared through both laughter and tears.
As I walked across a school campus at the settlement with a teacher, she shared with me the dire statistics on girls' education. Most don't get through grade school. Many are sold into child marriage to pay for food for their families. As I looked around at these young girls, I was gutted.
Our work with empowering girls and women is much more than creating equity — sometimes, it's about health or education. Other times it's about providing safety. Regardless of the path, it's always about basic human rights.
We can do more to empower girls and women, and we can expand how we share the progress Rotary members and our partners have made toward this goal.
There is no shortage of inspiring examples of our work, from interest-free microcredit loans for women in Nigeria, to projects in India that provide girls menstrual hygiene products. Hundreds of projects are taking place across all Rotary areas of focus and are making a meaningful and often lifesaving difference.
Together, we can address the needs and inequities that girls throughout the world face daily. But we must also monitor the impact of these projects and create awareness of Rotary resources and subject matter experts, including Rotary Action Groups, The Rotary Foundation Cadre of Technical Advisers, Rotary Peace Fellows, and others.
It is especially important that we tell the stories of our initiatives that have a positive impact on the lives of women and girls. This last point is near and dear to my heart. This means sharing our stories on social media, through local news outlets, in this magazine, and wherever we can inspire others.
As you do so, it's important to provide information that helps our Rotary family connect with others who are implementing activities in their regions, as well as across the world. Let's share our successes and learn from one another — then proudly tell our stories to a larger audience.
These are exciting times in Rotary, and the world is taking notice. As we work to empower women and girls to step into their full potential, we create new pathways for membership growth and greater collaboration with partners to create positive, lasting change. Thank you for your continued action in this vital effort.
Rotary recently surveyed our members and found something that should be unsurprising but still caused many of us in Rotary leadership to sit up and pay attention: The single most important factor in member satisfaction is the club experience. How at home you feel in your club, how rewarding club meetings are, and how engaged you feel in service projects.
I have seen this firsthand across the Rotary world this year. When members feel an emotional connection to their club, they cannot imagine leaving. And that connection is often forged in “Rotary moments,” when people feel that special connection to the people around them and the impact of their service. Our Imagine Impact Tour is all about shining a light on those Rotary moments and encouraging our members to tell their stories.
But there’s something else that makes an enormous difference in building and sustaining that connection. It’s the comfort and care of our members — both Rotarians and Rotaractors. As my Rotary friend Todd Jenkins says, “People can’t see how you think, but they sure can see your actions.”
We are in the relationship business, and if we take care of each other — genuinely show concern for each other — then we will make friends for life, and we will do anything to widen that circle of friendship.
The question is: How do we live with our eyes wide open and do the things that really matter? We do this by taking time for each other, actively listening to one another, and treating every Rotary member as equally valuable — no matter how long we have been a member or what position we hold.
People like me in Rotary leadership can offer all kinds of advice about how to make your club experience more valuable. But what’s most important is for everyone in every Rotary club to speak up and listen to one another. We should never be afraid to share with our fellow Rotary member what we expect to get out of our membership and have an open discussion about how to make that happen.
To lead a Rotary club is to invite such dialogue and to be willing to try new approaches. Good leadership is giving it away. Propping others up. Allowing others to feel the victory.
I have one last request for club leaders. We still need to do more worldwide to increase our female membership. It’s up a bit this year, but I know we can and must do better. Rotary is growing again. As I write this, we’re just a handful of members away from surpassing 1.2 million Rotarians again. So let’s redouble our efforts to bolster our clubs with great new members, then keep them for life by providing comfort and care.
While sitting with a group of Rotary leaders outside of Lusaka, Zambia, I ask a question: “How many of you have ever had malaria?” Every hand in the room goes up. They even begin to tell me about the first, second, or third time they experienced the disease, one of the main causes of death and sickness in many developing countries.
They are fortunate. They have access to medical treatment and lifesaving medicines. For the people of rural Zambia, their story is very different.
On a wooden bench in a small village, I sit with Timothy and his young son Nathan. With a camera crew capturing our conversation, he tells me of the time Nathan showed signs of malaria. He brought the boy to the nearby home of a community health worker, where Nathan quickly received medicines that in all likelihood saved his life.
Calmly, Timothy tells me about his other son’s bout with the disease a few years earlier. He had to race that son to a medical clinic more than 5 miles away. Riding a bike and carrying his child on his back, he tells me, he could feel his son’s legs turn cold and then his little body go limp. As he finally entered the clinic, he screamed for help, but it was too late. The camera stops rolling, and we sit in silence. He begins to weep, and I hold him tightly. “I lost my son, I lost my son,” he says.
This story is all too familiar for the families we meet over the next few days. And yet there is hope. Partners for a Malaria-Free Zambia is Rotary’s first Programs of Scale grant recipient, and it is saving lives. Across two provinces of Zambia, 2,500 volunteer health workers have been selected by their communities. They are trained to bring medical care closer to those who need it, and they are able to diagnose and treat malaria and other ailments. Rotary partnerships create lasting change.
Being asked to Imagine Rotary can seem like a big, heady exercise, but the most important element of it is something quite small, even personal.
Not too long ago, Rotary members were expected to perform our acts of service quietly. I understood and appreciated the thought behind that — humility is a wonderful trait, and we should continue to nurture it in other ways.
But keeping Rotary to ourselves has a cost. and by sharing our Rotary moments, we are being generous with others and giving them an opportunity to understand the impact of Rotary.
It brings to mind that wonderful aphorism: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
So how do we make people feel Rotary? The best way is to share our Rotary moments. We have all had them — when the ordinary collides with intention to create something extraordinary.
Some people have those Rotary moments the first time they go to a meeting. For others, it can take years, before seeing the joy in the eyes of someone we serve. Or perhaps in hearing from another member something that hit close to home.
As Nick and I share this journey, we are amazed at the work you are performing and the lives that are transforming. Throughout the year, I’m going to share with you the sights and the stories that made those tours meaningful for us.
I hope you can do the same in your corner of Rotary. It can be something you share in meetings or on social media. For the most savvy and ambitious, it could be an event you publicize with local media. Even sharing your stories with friends has impact.
We need ambassadors for Rotary’s message and our dreams for a better world. The best ambassadors are you. The more you share stories — and share them from the heart — the more you encourage others to partner with us, to join us, and to stay.
To give you just one small example, in the months ahead, I will be turning over this column to Rotary members who will share their personal stories as they relate to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our organization. It’s important that we hear these stories directly from the people who experienced them as a way of feeling the importance of DEI for the future of Rotary.
In everything we do, what people feel about Rotary will shape our future. I can only imagine what you will inspire through the stories you’ll tell.
In August, I was proud to visit Pakistan and highlight Rotary’s top goal, eradicating polio. It was also a tremendous opportunity to spotlight female health workers who are playing a critical role in protecting children from this vaccine-preventable disease.
This month, as we celebrate World Polio Day, we are shining a spotlight on our more than 30-year effort to lead the first global polio eradication campaign and our success in forming partnerships capable of completing this massive goal. We all know that this is one of the most ambitious global health initiatives in history and that we’ve reduced polio cases by more than 99.9 percent worldwide.
Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world where wild poliovirus remains endemic. (The other is neighboring Afghanistan.) I was able to witness and take part in vaccination campaigns in Pakistan, and soon after I left, a monumental nationwide immunization campaign took place, focused on 43 million children under the age of 5. I saw the incredible work of Rotary members on the ground. More than 60 percent of vaccinators in Pakistan are women, and they are doing a remarkable job building trust and convincing mothers to vaccinate their children.
Seeing it all firsthand, I know that the will exists across the Rotary world to end polio, and I’m confident that we have the strategy. The Pakistani media has been very supportive of our efforts as well, and this is making a difference. This month, a new global pledging moment at the World Health Summit in Berlin promises to pull together more resources to fund these time-sensitive eradication efforts. Now it is up to us to do our part and raise $50 million this year to earn the full 2-to-1 match from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
There’s great cause for optimism on the polio front — but also some staggering new events that have further raised the stakes. Over the past few months, new polio outbreaks have occurred in Israel, the United Kingdom and, most recently, in the New York City area. These stories are frightening, but in every case, the response is clear — vaccines work, and if polio is spreading, we need to make sure the most at-risk people have kept their vaccinations up to date.
Most importantly, we need to eradicate this virus now. If polio exists anywhere, it can spread everywhere. What I saw in Pakistan convinced me that we can and must finish the job, but it will only happen if we remain committed to a strategy that’s working and back it with all necessary resources.
Through our commitment, generosity, and sheer determination, we will #EndPolio.
Recently, Nick and I spent time in Guatemala, where we met wonderful fellow Rotary members and families who unofficially adopted me as “Tía Jennifer.” On the third day, after visiting Patzún in the mountainous western highlands, we set out for Lake Atitlán, which we needed to reach by nightfall. If we took a back road we could get there faster. Locals told us it had just been repaved and assured us, “You’ll have no problem.”
At first, it was a breeze. We wound through misty-green coffee and corn fields covering the hillside like a patchwork quilt. But at a river crossing, we found a bridge washed away. The only way to continue would be to ford the river in our small bus. There were a few tense moments, but we decided to give it a try and, thankfully, we made it across safely.
This adventure reminds me of two important truths in Rotary. One, we rely on local, on-the-ground expertise to do what we do best. And two, sometimes you have to take uncomfortable chances to reach important goals.
Every day, I am honored to learn from our Rotary family. Every lesson is an opportunity to grow, and each story adds a chapter to our collective Imagine Rotary year.
We’ve all taken our own path to become a member of Rotary. Some of you joined because your father was a Rotarian. Some of us signed up because an employer tapped us on the shoulder and asked us to attend a meeting. Others became members only after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it possible. Yet each of us entered through one mechanism — an invitation.
An invitation that unlocks our imaginations and allows us to know that everything and anything is possible. Each one of us has that same opportunity — the honor to extend an invitation.
It is awe-inspiring to imagine how we can look out across our communities and identify our future leaders. It’s often tempting to attract people who are exactly like us. It’s a special form of ingenuity to consider how people who are seemingly very different can, in fact, share our values and have some of those same talents, just waiting to be unleashed.
It’s time for Rotary to take our next step in advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) across our organization.
Embracing an experience where people feel included is more than just making our membership numbers more diverse. It’s about making our meetings and events places where we can speak openly and honestly with each other, where our members feel welcome and safe. This means removing barriers for entry and opening doors for inclusion. Our values remain our strength — and our commitment to excellence requires us to maintain high standards for our members as well.
I believe we are all committed and determined to advancing DEI across Rotary. This is rooted in the deepest traditions of our organization, and it will ensure that we remain vibrant and relevant for decades to come.
A few years ago, our Rotary Board set the ambitious goal of increasing the share of female members to 30 percent by 2023. We have less than a year to go, but I believe we can meet and exceed this target.
We need Rotary leaders to rise from every continent, culture, and creed. We need young members and young thinkers to take on larger roles and responsibilities. We need to listen to new Rotary members just as keenly, and with as much respect, as those with many years of membership.
During our recent convention in Houston, we heard from astronauts about their journeys into space. We reflected upon a time in the 1960s when U.S. President John F. Kennedy urged the world to dream, with his declaration that we would “go to the moon [and do] other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Fully committing Rotary to DEI and meeting our ambitious membership targets may seem as unlikely as a moon shot. But I know that when people of action are committed to a big goal, we make it worth every ounce of our energy.
Every month since I joined Rotary, I’ve looked forward to reading this magazine, especially the opening essay from our Rotary president. I’ll admit that as much as I appreciate a digital copy, I still revel in the tactile sensation of sitting down and leafing through the glossy pages. They are a treasure trove of photos and memorable stories about our great organization — the one we all know and love. I have learned so much over the years about service projects and lives that each of you have transformed.
As a communications professional, I have longed for the day that our stories were a regular part of mainstream media and that our flagship magazine might populate doctor’s offices, coffee shops, or anywhere else people sit, wait, and browse. It’s great that Rotary members are better informed about all we do, and wouldn’t it be that much better if more people knew our stories.
All this was top of mind as I thought about our plans for promoting Rotary worldwide in the upcoming year. Over the next 12 months, we are going to shine a light on projects that put Rotary service on display to the world, and we are going to do it strategically. Nick and I will focus on some of the highest impact, sustainable, and scalable Rotary projects from our areas of focus in what we call the Imagine Impact Tour.
We are inviting top-tier journalists, thought leaders, and influencers to use their channels to help us raise awareness by reaching people who want to serve but have not yet realized they can do it through Rotary.
But there was another important issue to consider — our carbon footprint. I take seriously Rotary’s emerging leadership position on environmental issues. The example set by our members during the pandemic is fundamental to how we carve out our future.
That means we will harness digital technology to tell these stories — we will be tweeting, posting, and “going live” to anyone who will listen. We must consider our environment, and part of that means not always traveling but continuing to connect in meaningful ways as we have for the past two years.
Of course, we are social people, and we still need to be together. We simply need to be more mindful of our decisions and think about how we get together just a little bit differently. For example, if we travel to visit a project, we will plan successive visits in neighboring areas.
So, what are your stories and who can help tell them? I hope you might consider your own Imagine Impact efforts — your story might be something you can promote just as easily on social media or during a Zoom call. Think about ways to showcase notable projects in your clubs and districts.
We all feel the impact that Rotary service and values have on us. Now it’s our opportunity to share that feeling with others.