Keynote Address to Rotary District Training Assembly

Palmerston North Boys High School on 10 April 2016 by Sir Anand Satyanand

District Governor Elect, Martin Garcia; your successor, Mitchell Brown, District Governor for the future and Past District Governor Bob Smith Kaiwhakahaere for the events of today, Delegates to this Assembly from near and far; your accompanying spouses and partners, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Tena koutou katoa.

I acknowledge the considerable numbers who have gathered here, remarkably as many as 13340 kilometres or 8282 miles (according to Google) from the Rotary International headquarters in Evanston, Illinois in the interests of furthering the connection and carrying on the legacy of an organisation, begun by four people and which is now in its 111th year.

It seems appropriate to acknowledge the Palmerston North Boys High School within whose premises we meet.  This is a school that is about the same age as Rotary, (having started in 1902) it being an establishment that has now produced several generations of contributing members to the New Zealand community in business, academia and sport as well as public life.

Our location is on Featherston Street in this city.  That name “Featherston” has a ring of service to the community, undertaken by Dr Isaac Earl Featherson, a man, who more than 150 years ago, was a household name in New Zealand public life, which has continued with his name being on two prominent streets, one in central Wellington and the other here in Palmerston North, as well as in the name of a town in the Wairarapa.  Featherston, after finishing off here as a politician in the Wellington province as well as in the main House of Representatives, went to England as Agent-General for New Zealand, a post like being the High Commissioner today.  And it could easily not have happened, because as a younger and more hot-headed man, in 1847, as the story goes, Dr Featherston entered into a duel with another formidable colonial character, Colonel William Wakefield.  Featherston apparently shot first and missed at which time Wakefield famously said, “I cannot shoot the father of seven daughters!” and shot his firearm into the air.

Some might agree that we live somewhat mundane lives 150 years later.

Having mentioned where we are and some who have gone on, I should state my own place to stand this morning which, some will be relieved to learn, has nothing to do with incidents involving firearms, and is unrelated to me having been a resident Judge in this city for three years at the beginning of the 1980s.  A quick look around this morning has confirmed that everyone here is far too young to have been seen on the wrong side of the Bench in those days.  My place to stand is arises through having been a long term, foot-soldier member of the Rotary Club of Wellington, and continuing happily in that lower level, underneath the offices you hold or are about to assume.  I continue to enjoy the egalitarian, friendly, low key and helpful atmosphere of our Club, which has been written up very aptly in a piece in the Rotary Down Under this month by our colleague, Ramsey Margolis.  The RCW provides interest through speakers who inform and challenge, and through projects that look beyond self satisfaction or self interest.  The Club is also a wonderful support network, should that ever be called for.  As just one example in 2002, Susan and I were unlucky enough to have a serious road accident necessitating, for me, 12 weeks on the sideline, confined to home, with a halo traction device around my head.  Although I did not need to draw on any of the material help that was offered through the Rotarian network, I was then, and now remain very grateful.

I have also spent considerable time outside the tent of my own Rotary Club and have had the privilege of speaking in a number of Rotary settings, both here and in Australia.  I have actually witnessed the classic Rotary moment when the President asks the invited speaker, (as he or she ought not), “Do you think we might perhaps start now, or shall I Iet them carry on enjoying themselves a little bit longer?!” 

And whilst holding a particular public office, starting nearly a decade ago, there was to be experienced another layer of association with Rotary which enabled me to see the effect the organisation has had on the wider New Zealand community, and to meet people of very senior standing in the Rotary organisation.  In that last regard, when the World President of Rotary, Ray Klinginsmith came to New Zealand in 2010 he was brought to Government House by a senior Rotary group, but it was at a time when the proper Government House was out of action, and the afternoon tea was presented by Susan and I to the group in premises rather grandly called Islington House but which, in reality, was a modest concrete and fibrolite and notoriously cold house in the grounds.  World President, Ray, was of course far too polite to say anything but I remember thinking he had every reason to think, something like “What are these people getting up to here?”

I should add, because people like Past District Governor Pat Waite watch these things, that mine was not the lowest tender to speak in the challenging slot just after the welcome and the real work, this morning.  My choice is due to one abiding item, that I have been in Rotary long enough to know that the best way to deal with a Rotary based request is to comply as warmly and as immediately as may be possible.  When Martin Garcia, the District Governor to be, made contact with me now some time ago, my reaction was immediate, and I quickly thus became a “tick in the box” for Sunday morning, the 10th April.

My brief for this morning, is to speak about the future of Rotary, as I see it, and, again, as I see them, to describe present challenges for the organisation. 

In a broad way, Rotary remains a respected non-government organisation, some would say the most respected, which has provided what can be described as civic strength in our country for a great many years.  In New Zealand Rotary has a membership of plus or minus 10 000.  Its reputation rests on a track record of identifying and meeting community needs - in kind and with money, both here and abroad.  Whether through local Programmes like Tree Planting, Eureka and Forum or through international efforts such as Emergency Response Kits to the Pacific Islands, Shelter Box, Rotahomes and Polio Plus, Rotary has filled an important place within contemporary society by providing services and in harnessing the skills of volunteers towards worthy aims.

The broad agenda you will canvass later today the capacity for development of the range of issues that Rotary will need to address, during your 12 month terms and the ways in which that may be secured.

Rotary first came to New Zealand in 1921 – initially being chartered in Auckland and Wellington, the circumstances of which Club was chartered first being quite a bit like the atmosphere of the Blues playing the Hurricanes.  There are already preparations already under way to celebrate the 2021 centenary in a big way – in both cities.

And so on to my task to frame the challenges facing Rotary in the immediate future.  There are now, as many of us have heard at every induction welcome of new members in our respective clubs for years, 1.2 million Rotarians in over 200 countries.  Sometimes, the mantra includes the 529 Districts and the 34 Zones.  In fact, there were also 1.2 million members registered at the turn of the century – now a decade and a half ago.  The current Wikipedia reference to Rotary states that the number of Rotarians has slightly declined in recent years.  Worldwide, one in ten members are under 40; two thirds are over 50 and four in ten are over 60.  Most members are in North America, followed by Asia then Europe, Latin America, Oceania and Africa.  The large picture, I first of all suggest, is that of an organisation which having had some golden years worldwide, and that may have been from 1950 to 1990, may have passed its peak.

Focusing on New Zealand, it can be argued that the smaller picture is similar.  There is an indication that Rotary has diminished by 20% in the last decade. and that that is reducing further as the baby boomers who have filled the ranks in times to the present, are being replaced by Generations X and Y at a lesser rate.  More precise figures for New Zealand show an overall decline from 10502 in 2004 down to 8000 or so in the present year.  I observe our District Governor’s recent report saying that the loss of members this year, under his watch is less than previously.  The trend is however in place.

Although reduced numbers can certainly be offset by spirit and performance, the challenge is that organisations like our own face a slow decline into obscurity as they become replaced by newer, more innovative, less bureaucratically challenged, less change resistant competitors.  The cohort of baby boomers who have had time to invest in organisations such as Rotary and have provided so much impetus for its good work will be replaced by the next group who are fewer in numbers and have to work harder to achieve a work-life balance and who will be less available and less inclined to join any organisation with strict rules of compliance.

Having set out a case that needs to be met, I should also offer thoughts on the kinds of solution that may need to be considered, during your times in office and by those who follow you.

I have three suggestions - all of them direct and radical, in presently prevailing circumstances. 

The first is to contend that Rotary in New Zealand has fractionated itself unnecessarily with a result that we have too many too small clubs, too many districts and too little traction as a result.  I am one who is astonished that our small country should harbour 6 districts and 270 clubs. 

My suggestion is that Rotary should be re-configured as a national organisation with a New Zealand focus. - Ireland with one District numbered 1160 offers a good example to emulate in terms of numbers of districts. - There should, in my view, be one district, not six, in New Zealand, with the District Governor being seen as a significant national community figure in a similar way and with a similar profile to the head of Business New Zealand, or the Salvation Army or the Combined Trade Unions.

In the event of there being an offshore catastrophe calling for help (like a cyclone in Fiji or an earthquake in the Solomon Islands, Rotary could be seen to provide a national strategy of help, rather than, as we have seen, piecemeal action from a number of Districts all doing something similar.  Within our country itself, Rotary is close to the heartbeat of New Zealanders and is well placed and able to focus and suggest remedies for inequalities that have emerged in our society in terms of health, education and wellbeing –here at home.  Rotary, in other words, can, in my view, deliver a better national role than it does at the present.

This is all the more important with studies from the last 2013 census establishing that New Zealand in the first years of this century has become what is called “super diverse” with more people from more countries than ever before joining the mainstream of New Zealand life in the last decade. 

Action to appraise doing this, in Rotary terms, could be undertaken by calling for a National Hui of all Rotarians and soliciting resolutions that would achieve a single national body.  Past District Governor Anthony Scott speaks of Rotary being a local New Zealand organisation with a New Zealand core, and I agree with him.  Whilst we are at the matter of overhaul, there could perhaps be a New Zealanding of Rotary’s name.  Already in the Maori Dictionary there is an entry for Te Karapu Rotari and this is a notion that might gain wider favour, than just within the Maori community.

My second suggestion is that clubs should be consolidated to increase their critical mass at a larger figure than at present.  Fewer and stronger clubs would also result in less paid in capitation fees than by the greater number of clubs as at present.  More and more, one hears anecdotally of Clubs where so and so is serving as President again, and not for the first time, and of some Clubs, even, where so and so is President for this month and such and such is President next month.  We all know that there are four Clubs in this District yet to select their President for the year beginning in about 12 weeks and that nearly one quarter of the Presidents in this District have not had any training.  My suggestion is that fewer and bigger and more focused Clubs will be better and vital for survival.

My third suggestion is that new forms of membership should be encouraged and promoted.  These include electronic clubs with meetings on-line, clubs with people aged less than 30, clubs for people of similar occupations rather than being restricted by a classification system that has done its dash.  In some of these regards, I am very pleased to see that there is action beginning to be taken.  Three examples suffice.  First, an e-club in the region is being developed by Wheldon Curzon-Hobson.  Secondly, there are gatherings of younger people being fostered by Clubs – in our Club it is a group called Scope which is being husbanded by a well known recent President, Tony Hassed.  Thirdly, there is a monthly meeting on the fifth Monday in the month which occurs three times in 2016 when there is an evening drinks and finger food occasion and particular speakers who say what they wish to under the Chatham House Rule thus avoiding being quoted.  This has been championed by President Kerry Prendergast.  All of these are intriguing ideas.

Having made a case in favour of a more focused central organisation with bigger more vigorous clubs with a wider range of activities, may I begin to finish, first by echoing the words of Rotary World President, four ago, Kalyan Banerjee from Gujurat India, who called for what he termed the “greening” of Rotary – a time for building a younger, brighter, more vibrant organisation.  That challenge is still present four years later.  If it is not taken up may I suggest that Rotary may be in danger of undergoing what happened to Kodak.  Many people will be able to bring to mind easily the US multinational company Eastman Kodak, the company with the well known yellow, black and red branding which made cameras and film.  Many will indeed recall having had a Box Brownie Kodak camera, or more latterly an Instamatic in their family in years past.  What happened was that nearly 20 years ago, Kodak was non-reactive and passive and failed to see the impact of the digital age.  The company was in fact reduced to bankruptcy in April 2012, and although it has returned to trading today, it has had to shed cameras, film, film sales and consumer photo developing that had made it a household name.  Kodak has secured a second coming, of sorts but as a commercial printing company which is a shadow of its former self.  In other words, Kodak missed the moment of realisation that the world was going to turn to adopt new technology.

There might be a challenge in all of that for us, to avoid the Kodak moment for Rotary.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the lessons are sitting there to be learned.  The action lies in our hands.  In the words of Northern Irish politician and Nobel Peace Prize winner, John Hume, architect of the 1998 accord between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland , “Change”, he said, “if it is to happen, ought to be about principled compromise not compromised principles.”

In thanking you for your kind attention, I underline the challenges I have registered and the strong belief that we can meet them and take Rotary onwards to continue its admirable tradition of service to the community – globally as well as locally. Ladies and Gentlemen we can do it, I suggest, because as Rotarians we see differently.  Our multidisciplinary perspective helps us see challenges in unique ways.  We can do it, I suggest, because we are asked to think differently.  We apply leadership and expertise to social issues—and find unique solutions.  We can do it, I suggest because we act responsibly.  Our passion and perseverance create lasting change.  Finally, we can do it, I suggest, because as Rotarians we make a difference at home and around the world.  Rotarians are to be found in our own community and across the world.

That seems to be a place to end.  I do not wish to do so without before taking into account things that Rotary Presidents of the last little while, have imparted at my request, in the last little while.  Without attribution they are as follows: - “It is all an unreal game until you stand up at your first luncheon as President realising that you are responsible and thus accountable”.  “If you are not an experienced delegator then you are taking on an enormous and very time consuming role”.  “I learnt about the importance of preparation before the lunches and board meetings”.   “I learnt about timing because one of the cardinal sins in our club was to run over the1.30pm deadline”   “I learnt that the District plays a valuable role and is very helpful to incoming Presidents.” “I learned the importance of the website and communications”.  “I am so grateful I was given the opportunity to be President and I remain a proud Rotarian for as long as my faculties remain unimpaired.”

Kia Ora Everyone, Kia Kaha

Sir Anand Satyanand 2016 Keynote Address to Rotary District Training Assembly

 
 
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