District Governor 2000-2001

April GML

We had a successful District Conference. Where do we go from here?

My Dear Action Presidents, Club Secretaries and Rotary Leaders,

President Cinderella (Guia) came all the way from Macau for the District Conference in advanced pregnancy. Some of her friends had advised against that, for the baby could be born any time, but when her doctor said that it would probably be another ten days after the Conference, she bravely took the journey to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. She was radiant with love and beauty at the Governor’s Banquet. If only a quarter strong of the membership in the District were as high-spirited and supportive of the Conference as Cinderella, the Conference Organizing Committee would have been able to balance the books and would not have to resort to seeking an advance from the District Finance Committee to settle the bills.

We had a very successful District Conference. President Frank Devlyn’s Personal Representative, Director-elect Toshio Itabashi was all praises about the Conference programmes, the video conference with President Frank in Manila, the Governor’s Banquet, the reception he and Ritsuko had from the District and the seriousness of the participants at the Conference.

At the Closing Session, there were over 250 participants, an all time high figure for a conference closing session. It was indicative that the programmes had successfully sustained their interest. The Governor’s Banquet more or less broke even, The deficit was due to the unexpected and unprecedented low registration coupled with the failure to negotiate a lower minimum charge for the two lunches set by the Convention and Exhibition Centre. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed the Conference to the full. I thank all the Rotarians and friends who had taken part to make it such a great success. In particular, I am glad that nearly all Action Presidents turned up at least for a while, apart from a handful. I am eternally grateful to the public spirited Action Presidents for their advice and their decision and action to raise funds to pay for the advance.

A district conference is probably the single most important event in every district. In Japan, for example, Rotarians pay for the expenses of attending the conference in advance, through the district per capita dues, so that the organizers can focus on the programs instead of on the finance. This is perhaps something we can learn from. We have been talking and promoting our Conference for some time. The dates and venue were fixed a year ahead and I discussed the programmes in my monthly letters and at Joint Presidents’ Meetings.

A conference is as good as its programmes. It is not an occasion or a vehicle to make money, or an excuse for excesses. We had excellent programmes. First, it was a forward-looking conference. It was about the future, our youths. Our theme “Back to the Future” blends seamlessly with that for the Asian Presidential Conference held at the same time in Manila, “Youth and Service Opportunities.” To encourage participation from Rotaractors and Interactors, we had decided from the start that they would all attend free. I think we had done the right thing, for the Conference was organized for them. Secondly, we had involved more than ever our partner organizations and non-Rotarians. They participated as speakers, resource persons, moderators and award-presenters. For example, we had a Youth Forum moderated and empanelled with predominantly non-Rotarians and we had speakers from Government, the academia and the All China Youth Federation. This is in line with President Frank Devlyn’s emphases on partnering with other organizations. Thirdly, for the first time, we had a live video link up with President Frank Devlyn in Manila. Fourthly, we had organized the Governor’s Banquet in an entirely new format, with the extravaganza and exuberance of an Oscar evening. Lastly, to encourage attendance of non-English speaking members, we provided simultaneous interpretation in all plenary sessions.

On the other hand, attendance at a conference can be a reflection of the state of the District. I therefore take full responsibilities for the lower than expected registration. Obviously, we had failed to meet the expectation of quite a few members or to persuade them to register for the full programme. There are lessons to be learnt in the process.

Having been your Governor for over nine months, I have developed views on how our organization could remain relevant in the community in the wake of globalization, the mandatory popularization of the Internet, the information revolution, the scramble for positioning in the new economy and the increasing prominence of the third sector. We need an organization that is proactive and capable of delivering solution-oriented services to the people who need our service. And we must deliver our services more quickly, effectively and relevantly. We should be a leader among volunteers. We need a fundamental review in the manner we have been taking decisions in the District, particularly decisions that will have a long term effect on the well being and development of Rotary in the District. I had assembled experienced and dedicated Rotarians on the Governor’s Policy Committee (GPC) precisely for this, having regard to the irreversible global trend and demand for greater transparency and accountability. The GPC has been meeting monthly since March 2000 and could become an institution in the District.

Spurred by the low registration for the District Conference and the imminent failure to achieve the overall membership target, I have decided to reconstitute the GPC forthwith. I intend to assemble a smaller group that will meet between now and end of June 2001 and as frequently as necessary with specific terms of reference and tasked with making long term and strategic recommendations to the District leadership. This will be in line with President Frank’s vision to ask us to go into the 21st Century with a mission to create awareness and to take action. It will be in line with the need to modernize our organization to insure its relevance to the community and to the future.

I thank all my members on the GPC for their untiring efforts and contributions. Suffice it to say that leadership in a voluntary organization is not about authority, but responsibility. Governors and Past Governors have no authority over Rotary clubs or Rotarians, they have additional responsibilities, in return for the additional opportunities to serve. I ran this past Director-elect Itabashi before he left. He approved without reservation or equivocation of any kind.