Founded in Chicago in 1905, Rotary International was one of the first service organizations to go global, founding clubs on six continents in a little over a decade. Many of our nation’s international organizations can trace their heritage to the Rotary or Rotarians. Their original motto, “One profits most who serves best,” seems to have inspired a phrase oft heard in the business community, “The business of doing good is good business.”
What’s more, the Rotarians dedication to international education following World War II is widely considered the inspiration of UNESCO, and Rotary International was one of the first organizations to establish clubs in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Soviet Union.
This past year I have been meeting with community leaders in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia to recruit their participation in the state advisory committees of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. Many of the leaders I have met with have been Rotarians. The impression I have developed of Rotarians is that they are a group of Americans that, while very diverse, possess the common traits of being problems solvers and understand the importance of being engaged in the global community.
In Savannah, Georgia, I recently met two Rotarians who had just returned from after volunteering to help vaccinate children abroad. They represent what is perhaps Rotary’s biggest contribution to the international community, its dedication to the eradication of Polio.
The Rotary commitment to eliminating Polio is truly monumental and historic. Most donors, both government and private, tend to stick with an activity for three to five years. Rotary has maintained its commitment to defeating polio for over 25 years. Of the some $9 billion that has been invested around the global since 1985, Rotary is responsible for more than $1 billion. And Rotarians are not just raising money, as like Gordon Mathews and John Neely in Savannah, they are committing their personal time and knowledge
What has been accomplished? Today 209 countries are Polio free, and there were less than 700 cases of Polio last year. The scourge needs to be defeated in only three remaining countries –Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
With ending polio in sight (but still needing more years of concerted effort), whatever the next global challenge Rotary takes up, be it water as Rotary Chattanooga is addressing in the Dominican Republic, or another global need, I am sure it will do it with focus and persistence that will produce durable results.
For these and other efforts, Rotaract week reminds us that philanthropy and public service are powerful tools for global stability and peace. As we move into budget season, we must not forget the power American leadership has to shape our world for the better, and the importance of sharing the load. Organizations like Rotary International cannot continue their work without the complementing efforts of the public and private sectors.