Monthly Messages of the RI President

March 2013

sakuji tanakaDear fellow Rotarians,

When I was a young man, I wanted to travel the world. But in those years, I could only dream about travel. The world outside Japan seemed far away. But like all Japanese students, I studied English in school. I still remember my first English book. The first page said, “This is a pen.” That was almost 50 years ago, and the world has changed a lot since then. As president of Rotary, I now travel more than I ever dreamed.

In every new place, I find a new language. I find new people and new customs. I do my best to learn from everyone. I believe that every person I meet has something to teach. Perhaps because of this, I feel that I understand Rotary Youth Exchange better. And I understand even better what a great gift Rotary is giving through Youth Exchange. Youth Exchange opens minds. It builds confidence and communication. It brings together people from different countries and backgrounds.

Every young person who goes on a Rotary Youth Exchange will learn a great deal. Youth Exchange students learn how people who seem so different are really the same. They begin to appreciate what unites people everywhere. They have a broader understanding of the world. They come back as different people.

They no longer know only one language, only one culture. They have connections with their host country, and with their fellow participants from other countries. At the end of their exchange, they are part of their host families. They are also part of the Rotary family – the largest and most international family in the world.

Rotary’s Youth Exchange program has continued for more than 40 successful years and is now part of the fifth Avenue of Service: New Generations Service. This avenue also includes service through Interact, Rotaract, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, and many club and district activities that involve people up to age 30.

When we focus on young people, we are focusing on building the future of Rotary and a more peaceful world. When we serve youth, we help to bring Rotary to a new generation. We spread understanding among nations and cultures. We teach the importance of service to others, and pass on our core values. By doing this, we help to build peace.

Youth Exchange plays an essential part in Rotary’s global mission of building peace by helping to build, one exchange at a time, good relationships between nations.

February 2013

Dear fellow Rotarians,

In December, I spoke at the first of the three Rotary Global Peace Forums we have planned for this Rotary year. This first event, with the theme “Peace Without Borders,” was held in Berlin, the home of the Berlin Peace Clock. The clock, intended as a piece of art, is 3 meters high and weighs over 2 tons. On its side are inscribed the words, Time bursts all walls asunder.

The clock was unveiled on 9 November 1989. That was the day the Berlin Wall fell. It was a wonderful coincidence that the moment the hands on the clock began to move, the orders were given to open the border to West Berlin. The words written on the side of the clock had come true.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               In Rotary, we do not divide our work by nation, culture, or language. It does not matter what is printed in your passport. What matters is that you believe in Service Above Self. But even in Rotary, it is easy to think in terms of countries or communities. This project may help someone in my own community, or that project may help someone from Germany, or Kenya, or South Africa. Sometimes we think of different types of borders. This project, we think, helps the young. This helps the elderly. This helps people who are hungry, poor, or sick, or who have disabilities.

The truth is that Service Above Self does not know such borders. When we serve, the impact is not limited to our community, or the community we are helping. We are not only helping the young, or the elderly, or this school, or that orphanage. When we serve, we are helping all of humanity. The effects of what we do go on and on.

When we put Service Above Self, we are making a choice. We are choosing to put other people’s needs ahead of our own desires. We are saying, “Your problems are my problems, and I care enough to help you.”

Rotary brings peace by addressing the needs that cause conflict: the need for clean water, for nutrition, sanitation, and health care. When these needs are met, there is opportunity. And there is hope. Hope has no borders. It is the garden from which peace can grow.

Peace Through Service brings out the best in us. It makes us aware of the borders we set up around ourselves – and it helps us tear them down.

January 2013

Dear fellow Rotarians,

I am a Japanese businessman, and I wear a suit almost every day. The Rotary pin is always on my lapel. It is there because I am proud to be a Rotarian. Anywhere I go, people will see the pin and know who I am. Other Rotarians will see it and know that I am a friend, and people who are not Rotarians will see it as well. I want to be sure that all of them also understand the meaning of this pin.

This is why I am asking all of you to wear your Rotary pin and to raise awareness of what the pin means. I believe having that pin on your lapel changes you. It makes you think more before you speak and before you act. It makes you remember, all the time, that you are a Rotarian – and that as Rotarians, we are here to help.

All of us should be ready to talk about Rotary. When someone asks you about that pin, you should be ready to answer them. What is Rotary? What does Rotary do? These are questions that each of us should always be prepared to answer.

We cannot go to prospective members and ask them to join Rotary only because we want more members. We have to show them that Rotary is a wonderful organization, and that they will be happier because they belong to a Rotary club.

When we ask people to join Rotary, we are doing this to help them as well. I think all of us are grateful to the person who asked us to join. I know that my life is much happier, and has been much more productive, because of Rotary. It is clear to me that the day I joined the Rotary Club of Yashio was a day when I took my first step down a different path in life – a path of greater connection, greater satisfaction, and a deeper sense of fulfillment and peace.

This is a feeling that I want to share with others. And I know that one way to do that is through bringing in new members. But we must also do it by raising awareness of Rotary and Rotary’s work, by focusing on our public image and wearing our Rotary pins every day. 

December 2012

Dear fellow Rotarians,

The year 2012 is nearly gone, and we have reached the midpoint of this Rotary year. It is time to take stock of the goals we have set for ourselves, and the progress we have made toward them. Are we on track to achieve what we set out to accomplish?

I am a great believer in the importance of setting goals that are high but realistic. A worthwhile goal should be within your reach but still require you to stretch. Opening yourself to a new challenge helps you find out what you are really capable of – which may well be more than you think.

On 1 July, we will embark on our newest challenge as an organization: the full rollout of the Future Vision Plan, the new grant model for our Rotary Foundation. We in Rotary have set for ourselves a simple and vital goal: to do the most good we can with all the resources we have. To do this, we will be working to reduce overhead; to improve accountability, transparency, and local control; and to focus our service more intensely in the areas where we know we can have the most impact.

With Future Vision, we will implement a simplified grant structure that will encourage Rotarians to serve in our six areas of focus: peace and conflict prevention/resolution, disease prevention and treatment, water and sanitation, maternal and child health, basic education and literacy, and economic and community development. These are areas in which Rotarians around the world have already been working for many years, and in which we have experience and a track record of project sustainability.

Sustainability will be a major focus under Future Vision, as we shift our emphasis to long-term, high-impact projects. Simply put, a sustainable project is one that will continue to benefit the world even after Rotary funding ends. The ultimate example of a sustainable project, of course, is polio eradication: When polio is gone, the good that we have done will continue forever, centuries after the last polio vaccine is given. And the lessons we have learned from PolioPlus are universal. A truly sustainable project requires an emphasis on planning and cooperation, a long-term perspective, and an approach that considers community members as partners in our service, not passive recipients.

Embracing Future Vision means embracing a more ambitious view of Rotary – one in which we work to address major issues in a serious, lasting way. It is a new way of thinking about our service, and an approach that I believe will lead to a Foundation more capable than ever of Doing Good in the World.



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