Rotary’s role in national development

Mr. K.R. Ravidran and wife

Mr. K.R. Ravidran and wife

The current President of Rotary International, Mr. K.R. Ravidran and his charming wife, Vanathy are very welcome to Nigeria. Ravi, as he is popularly known, is a very experienced Rotarian. He joined the Rotary club of Colombo in 1974 and rose through the ranks to become the President of the global organisation.

Like many Rotary leaders, Ravi is a man of substance. He is the founder and the CEO of a publicly quoted company in his home country, Sri Lanka. The company, Printcare plc has become a global leader in the tea packaging industry for which his country is known. He is also on the Board of several blue-chip companies and charitable trusts in his country. Ravi and Vanathy should have no problem mixing with Nigerians since Sri Lankans share with us a few cultural traits. For example, Sri Lankans eat rice and curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner just as we have Nigerians who eat pounded yam three times a day.

Sri Lankans refer to older persons that they are meeting for the first time as “uncles” and “aunties” just like Nigerians. Sri Lankans love shopping forever at the ODEL Shopping Centre while Nigerians are not to be left behind when it comes to enthusiastic and endless shopping. Both countries share similar colonial relationships. The comparison might end here because, with a population of about 20 million, Sri Lanka has managed to become a significant industrial hub, while Nigeria with nearly 200 million population is yet to overcome the chronic challenges of underdevelopment.

A casual and uninformed observer may reach the conclusion that Rotarians are men and women who get together merely to wine and dine. This is of course, untrue.  Rotary is a serious business. At its headquarters in Evanston, Rotary International, as far back as June 2011, had some 759 employees with 544 located in Evanston, 124 at the seven international offices and 91 working at the software development centre in Pune, India.  Rotary started with a membership of four on the 23rd of February 1905. Today, 111 years later, there are over 1.22 million members and 34,282 clubs in more than 200 countries.  Rotary carries out its business globally in at least eight languages including English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish.

Rotary also takes care of the administration needs of its younger affiliates. This includes the Interact (from 12-18 years) which brings together 340,000 young persons working through the 33,000 clubs in 200 countries as well as Rotaract (from 18-30 years) with about 215,000 youths working in 9,388 clubs from 176 countries. The “Rotarian” a magazine which started in 1911 continues to wax strong. Today, there are more than 20 Rotary magazines in more than 22 languages.  Evidently, Rotary is a serious business.

President Ravi is doing well for Rotary. His visit to Nigeria at this time must give Rotarians the occasion to market Rotary’s mission of bringing together business and professional leaders; providing humanitarian service, encouraging high ethical standards in all vocations and advancing goodwill globally. Rotarians also have the opportunity to re-emphasize publicly that Rotary International is a secular organisation open to all, regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, gender or political preference.

Rotarians are quick to realise that Governments everywhere do not and cannot provide for all the needs of any society. Therefore, Rotary in this part of the world endeavours to complement some of the activities of Government especially in the areas of health, education, economic empowerment, emergency and disaster, and armed conflict situations, without sounding gongs or cymbals.  Rotary has an enviable track record in these areas. For example, Nigerian Rotarians and Rotarians all over the world have raised, individually and through their high net-worth contacts and partnerships, nearly a hundred billion naira to eradicate polio throughout the world.   But there is much more to be done to make Rotary relevant to national development. There are several areas but we will touch on three.

First, the ethical revolution recently declared by Government, if taken seriously can arrest the rot and bring back integrity into our national value system. Rotary and similar NGOs can team up with Government with programs aimed at discouraging the undue rush for wealth at all costs, since money on its own does not assure health or happiness. Lasting fulfillment comes from using one’s position and possession to provide service. Rotarians must encourage the development of high ethical standards in businesses and professions. Nigeria should recognize and reward success resulting from proven hard-work. History and psychology teach us that no nation ever achieves anything worthwhile except through discipline, sacrifice, fair deal, hard work and self-denial at all levels. Rotarians should support all efforts to achieve the ethical revolution and a return to the good old values.

Rotarians should place their combined national and international resources at the disposal of Government to assist in ensuring its meaningful success. Rotarians must call on all other service organisations and NGOs to join in this crusade. People at all levels of leadership (especially the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislative) take decisions which affect the destiny of all Nigerians. Before such leaders take such decisions in the future, let them pose the following simple 4-way Test questions to themselves in whatever they think, say or do:
Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), that famous Irish playwright, that Fabian Socialist, that controversial castigator of the society was a known critic of Rotary. He observed that the Rotarians do not practice what they preach (as was highlighted in the Rotarian publication of June 1927 at page 33). Shaw was not alone in this perception which still persists. Therefore, before Rotarians ask others to apply the 4-Way Test, they themselves must ensure they pass the 4-Way Test. Nigerians do not want those who are Rotarians in name only, but Rotarians in deed and in truth.

Second is the issue of societal attitudes. This is the key to most of our developmental problems. The lack of commitment to ideals, worthy causes and the eradication of our socio problems, is definitely to be traced to the psyche of the average Nigerian. In this respect, Rotarians can make the most meaningful impact, even more than physical or material contributions, significant as these are. There is a societal role for every Rotarian in Nigeria, not only to propagate the ideals of Rotary but also by personal example of Rotary ideas, to lead the way in the social revolution for a new attitudinal order. Rotarians should forge an expanded role that goes beyond humanitarian gestures and focuses on leadership by example.

The saying that, “it is more useful to teach a man how to feed himself than to give him free food”, comes to mind here. If Rotarians can show our people how to mould a better society by giving them inspiring examples of personal integrity, and leadership models, then they would have left a legacy that is permanent and more meaningful than any material contribution. The challenges for Rotarians in providing leadership models become even more apparent in the present difficult economic environment. Nigerians of strong moral character and integrity must be found and encouraged to inspire and motivate their fellow citizens. This is a cause with which Rotarians should identify themselves in these difficult times.

Third, there is the need for quality membership growth within Rotary.  The more the number of quality Rotarians, the greater the impact of Rotary. Rotary was started by Paul Percy Harris on February 23, 1905 in Evanston, Illinois, America. It became international when a club was formed in Winnipeg, Canada on November 3, 1911; it arrived Europe when the Rotary club of Dublin, Ireland was formed on February 22, 1911; crossed over to London, England in August 1912; to Latin America in 1916 with the formation of Rotary club of Havana in Cuba; in 1919 to Asia through the Rotary club of Manila in the Philippines; to India in 1920; to Johannesburg in Africa in 1929 and to Kano in Nigeria in 1961. The first eight clubs formed in Nigeria were Kano (April 28, 1961), Lagos (May 30, 1961), Ibadan (November 24 1961), Portharcourt (January 22, 1965), Enugu (January 28, 1965), Kaduna (July 23, 1965), Aba (December 1, 1966) and Ikeja (August 31, 1967). Today, out of the approximately 1.22 million Rotarians, about 450,000 are from North America, 300,000 from Asia, 250,000 from Europe, 100,000 from Latin America, 100,000 from Oceania but only 30,000 from the whole of the African continent! The dream of President Ravi, like several before him, is to grow membership of Rotary International. The place to grow it is in Africa. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has the duty to drive this desirable quality membership growth.

Nigerian Rotarians salute President Ravi and Vanathy from Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, the tear drop of India, the land famous for its Cricket and Volley Ball, the country that produced Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world’s first elected female Head of Government.
* Prince Juli Adelusi-Adeluyi, OFR, mni
Pioneer District Governor (82/83)
RI District 9110 Nigeria

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