I explained at the District Conference when I made the District Report that at roughly this time last year, I started charting the course for our District for this Rotary Year. But in which direction should we proceed? North, South, East, or West? Then I came into conclusion that in the coming year we should embark on a journey simultaneously covering all four of the cardinal directions representing our four areas of focus. To the North we have New RI initiatives, to the South we shall tread into a territory of Systems and Structure revamped, to the East we shall focus on Engaging more people, and to the West we shall Widen our portfolio and approach.
Our most important new initiatives to the North are really a bit of a misnomer and nothing new at all. Rotary International has embarked on a new branding campaign: that Rotary is a membership organization, not a service organization. Rather, they represent a return to the roots of Rotary. While we have five core values, for far too long we’ve only focused on service. As we’ve mentioned before, as early as 1911, when Rotary was not a fraction of the size it is today, Paul Harris already felt that, “The most urgent need at the present stage in the development of Rotary is not “more clubs” nor “larger clubs”, it is the evolution of a truer and stronger philosophy.” He went on to emphasize that, “It is not only necessary to the permanency of the success of Rotary that its philosophy be idealized and standardized. It must also be practicalized and trued.” While we have a dynamic service focus tailored to meet the needs of a constantly changing global environment, the pith, marrow, and heart of Rotary is both static and stalwart; our ideals have not changed since they were first set down by Paul Harris himself. To internalize and practicalize this philosophy, we live in parallel with the fixed moral compass that orients us toward a life dedicated to “Service above Self”. However, this is not simply service for the sake of service. Service is not our endpoint; it is only a means to an end. Across the globe Rotarians are digging wells and providing clean water, planting trees and improving the environment, and distributing vaccines and eradicating polio. But through service and club activities we learn, embrace, and incorporate Rotary ideals into our own personal ethos. So, Rotary isn’t just about making the world a better place; Rotary is also about making us better people. It’s a bidirectional dynamic. As we help others, we are in turn helped ourselves. Now, we’ve seen this on the macro level where Rotary has countless times teamed up with other organizations to do more good to the world than either party could have hoped to alone, but if we want to regress back to the individual perhaps we can view this dynamic as ‘self-help achieved through helping others’. Many of us of the old guard have earned our salt and know first-hand how Rotary has made us better neighbours, friends, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and members of our communities. But, many of the new generations haven’t yet had the chance to fully reap the edificatory benefits of Rotary service or club activities and even the most senior of us can always use some brushing up. So, in our new initiatives, we have to remember that we are not doing service for the sake of service, we are not serving blindly, but rather we must remember to keep our eyes fixed on the goal of personal development, personal betterment, and the actualization of the Rotary philosophy through our altruistic service efforts. But to bring the edificatory benefits of Rotary service to more people, we need to expand the scope of our engagement, which is precisely what we are intending to do in the East of the current year’s map.
Rotary, this avatar for the collective commitment to conscience of Rotarians, this abstraction for the zeal with which we flourish our ethos, was born in dialectical opposition to the havoc wrought by jingoism, partisanism, and the general disintegration rife during the Second World War. Rotary did well to pull the world up from the factious wartime period and help promote integration, but after over half a century we’re still fighting to preserve and expand our microcosm of a world at peace. To expand our integration, we need to Engage more people and organizations. However, to reach out to new audiences we will have to Widen our portfolio and approach, which is exactly what we have been doing in the West.
We’re well on our way to Widening our portfolio, but we still have a long way to go. We’re cooperating with JCI on the ‘elimination of racial discrimination’ and have connected with environmental organizations: in the process launching Rotary green club policies, implementing sustainable seafood programs, and organizing an inter-school public speaking competition with Aberdeen Kai Fong Welfare Association. We’re going to continue expanding our reach to young people and have met with PolyU to set up subjects in service to reel in grade-focused students, and have been a partner to Social Venture Hong Kong for its first Streetathon. If we want to bring in new people, explore other sectors, and integrate new demographics, we have to start trying to think like them. We have already started work on numerous other projects to expand the scope of our activities and get more people involved. While we’ve already been working with models like M-O-R-E (Motivations, Options, Rapport and Esteem) and LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), I feel that our biggest integrative efforts are those aimed at Guangdong. It’s not going to be easy, but we’ve already been looking at starting a Rotary Community Corps in Zhuhai, and are actively fighting to establish a Rotaract club at one of the universities in Guangdong. However, with so much expansion we need to be cognizant that we don’t bite off more than we can chew, and must maintain the discipline and efficiency of our organization. Thus, our final cardinal direction in the coming year is the South, and focuses on Systems and Structure revamped.
As I mentioned before, to pursue “the greatest good for the greatest number”, which was the basis for the Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, we need to SERVE WISELY and put our resources to best use. This is particularly important as we Widen our portfolio and Engage more and more people. No matter how innovative the idea, before its vision can come to realization it must first be channeled through our organizational structure. So, we can’t let ourselves get caught micro-managing Rotary or spreading the Rotary spirit too thin. I’m sure we’ve all seen too many times how easily good ideas wind up lost, passion fizzles out, and zeal gets tangled up in the bureaucracy.
It has been in the spirit of removing organizational bottlenecks that we have restructured the roles of the District officers this year. By involving more people in the process, we should be better able to ensure that the service the world sees is closer to the true undiluted source of the Rotary Spirit. While a good start, we have to bear in mind that structural change is largely superficial without an underlying cultural change. So, in addition to the structural changes I’ve addressed previously, we all need to pull together and adapt our culture to promote a decentralization of power and include a larger team of officers and members at the district, area, and club levels. It may sound like a lot, but we have a clear road map and four cardinal directions to help us steer our course!