Annual District Governor presentation by John Heise

AUGUST 29, 2011

by John Heise

I would like to start out by talking about membership. This is my top priority for the year. Membership is the life blood of our organization. Without a strong membership, measured in both numbers and commitment, we will become weaker and eventually become non-relevant. Rotary as an organization would not be where we are today without a large, strong membership. We would not be on the cusp of eradicating polio. National Immunization Day volunteers and the ability to raise funds all depend on members.  Membership allows us to multiply the power of one. Most of us in this room, for example, will never personally drill a water well somewhere in a third world country. Many of us will not personally be involved in teaching a young girl from Malawi to read. Many of us will not be personally involved in building a latrine in a remote corner of the world.  Because of our Rotary membership, however, many of us in this room have assisted  in these efforts to improve the health, sanitation, and lives of thousands. We do this through our contributions to The Rotary Foundation and by assisting fellow Rotarians who many visit our clubs from time to time to ask for financial help with such projects.

Our work remains undone, however. Many of you already know that for the past several years the international membership of Rotary International has remained stagnant at 1.2 million despite an increase of over 2000 new clubs and the induction of 1.1 million Rotarians during that time period. Our District is an example of this. Over the past five years our membership total has dropped by 285 members.  Think of the talent we have lost. At a practical level it has meant that all of us have had to pay more in dues, at the RI level and the District level . District expenses, even if they have remained stable, which they have not, are being divided by a fewer number of members. At the International level a 1% change in membership means more or less $600,000. Late in June then District Governor Karen announced that our District was ending the year with a net gain of about 24 members. To get this net gain, however, we had to inducted 235 new members.

We are losing members like a dripping faucet. A drop here, a drop there.  We must close this backdoor loss of members. Resources are available to help clubs do this.

Think back when you joined Rotary. Most of us were joining a Rotary Club and most of us had no idea what Rotary meant beyond the club we had joined.  It was only over time that we learned more about Rotary and what being a Rotarian meant. We must move individuals from being a member of Rotary to being a Rotarian. I am encouraging clubs to look at the resources available for this-Visioning, Strategic Planning, Rotary Leadership Institute, and the Vibrant Club plan. We must also show our members that they are part of a larger family. Encourage attendance at the District Assembly or District Conference. Learn what our clubs are doing locally and internationally. Learn what it means to be a Rotarian.

We also need to show our members that we care. We can do this by asking about their families. Or welcoming them back after they have missed a couple of meetings. Or listening to and acknowledging their ideas during club assemblies. Or sitting next to them once in a while instead of in our usual spot.   Or asking them to get involved in a committee or project. All of these show our Rotary family that we care.

We also need to reach out more to the community. Our clubs need to reflect the community around us, in respect to gender, age, professions, and ethnic backgrounds, among others. Over the years we have been bringing more women into our clubs. Think of the resources and leaders we would have lost if we had not made that change some twenty years ago. Their representation, however,  is still less than that in the local communities. We are losing the same potential by keeping us mainly white, gray, and male.

A second goal, therefore, is to encourage clubs to be more diverse-whether in age, professions, or ethnic background. I am asking clubs to consider a 2% gain in these categories.

Last year our Rotarians gave on average $130 per member to our Foundation. They did this while at the same time supporting projects for their local communities, international projects, and supporting Polio Plus. Another goal is that we increase our contributions to the Foundation to a $135 per member average. Hopefully each club will consider improving on their contributions this year. In encouraging this giving, please remember that it is OUR Foundation.

Polio remains a top goal of our Foundation. We are now very, very close to realizing this goal. The Foundation trustees have established six areas of focus. They are:

·         Peace and Conflict Resolution

·         Disease Prevention and Treatment

·         Clean Water and Sanitation

·         Maternal and Child Health

·         Basic Education and Literacy

·         Economic and Community Development

 The emphasis has also shifted from funding projects to funding programs.


Many of these issues are complicated, but Rotarians are addressing them. For example, in many rural communities in the third world young children cannot attend school beyond a certain age. The young boy s often have to hike miles to the nearest source of clean water in order to help their family. Or females, if they are fortunate to be able to attend school, often drop out once they reach puberty because their school lacks a sanitation system and they must relieve themselves in a public situation. Rotarians are addressing these issues to ensure the spread of literacy. We all know that if you educate a female you educate a family and a village.

The overall goal must be world peace. As a grandfather I often think of the world I want my grandson to grow up in. My only wish is a peaceful one. In order to gain that, however, we must address the other five areas of focus established for our Foundation. In too many instances today mothers are having to make a terrible choice-which child to feed.

9/11 taught me a couple things. I learned that my neighborhood is really more than I can see from my front porch. It is much larger, indeed it is the world. It also taught me that a small group of people can change many lives. Think of what flying was like before 9-11 and what it is like now. Think what it was crossing the border before and then now.

We cannot protect ourselves by building fences and gates. If every child went to bed well feed and had regular access to clean water and knew that the next morning he or she had access to a good school and health care, would you think that their parent would sacrifice all of this for an act of violence? I think that the cure for terrorism is hope and a bright future. This is the wish I have for my grandson-a peaceful world.

I would like to share some figures that illustrate the task facing us if we want to eradicate polio. For an NID (National Immunization Day) in India the following is needed:

  • 225,000,000 doses of vaccine
  • 2,000,000 vaccine carriers/coolers
  • 6,300,000 ice packs
  • 2,500,000 administrators of the vaccine

We are very close to winning the battle. The last case of polio in India, for example, was recorded on January 17. In the past year the number of cases throughout the world has declined by 50%. We need to continue the battle.

Finally, Rotary International President Kaylan Banerjee is asking each of us to ”REACH WITHIN TO EMBRACE HUMANITY”. In introducing his theme at the International Assembly in San Diego this past January Kaylan reminded us of the importance of families. He said that families are the building blocks for communities, for cities, and for nations and continents. Without functioning families, Kaylan noted, there can be no peace in the world.

But to reach the state of world peace Kaylan told us we must first reach within to find our inner peace. We must then use that to bring peace to our family.  Kaylan shared that the only way to repair the fractured world is to first heal ourselves.

He also reminded us that our families are important and should always be our first priority. He reminded us that we all share the same hopes and aspirations.  We have more in common than we have in differences.

In reflecting on Kaylan’s remarks I am reminded that our Rotary clubs are also families. As I noted above, we can build vibrant successful clubs by treating each other with dignity and respect. I wish you the best in the coming year and thank you for listening to me today.