It was an honour to accompany DG Geoff last month to the 107th annual Rotary International Convention in Korea. I want to say just a few words about the things that impressed me: this is not a resume or any attempt to give a formal report. I quite simply had a fantastic time and I am delighted to share some of it with you.
Over four days more than 44,000 Rotarians assembled in the Kintex Exhibition Centre with its 10 exhibition halls spanning 108,000 square metres – over 26 acres, plus 40 separate meeting rooms. This was Rotary taken to a different level: the largest attendance on record at a convention.
The occasion was presided over by RI President ‘Ravi’ Ravindran who left his distinct impression on all present. The two words which I think describes him most are ‘dynamic’ and ‘humble’: a sensitive man who made tears well up inside you when he described how he was affected as an 11 year old school boy when his mother contracted polio. 35 years later at great personal risk Ravi was to lead a delegation to the war torn north of his native Sri Lanka to immunise the children of that province with the anti-polio virus. A truly wonderful and inspirational person!
The sessions began with an exhortation from Ban Ki Moon the Secretary General of the United Nations to continue and complete the work of polio eradication. This was followed by addresses from the Prime Ministers of both Korea and Sri Lanka. All powerful stuff! An acknowledgement to the esteem with which Rotary is held in that part of the world.
During the afternoons there were ‘breakout sessions’ – 110 in all. You had to make a choice and the most I could muster was two. I went to one session entitled “From Stagnant to Sensational: How to Revitalise Your Club”. Yes, I’ll have some of that! ‘Do you wish your members were more active and engaged in your Rotary club? Have your meetings become stale and routine? How to make your meetings feel fun and refreshed’. Who could opt out?
The South Korea culture was amazing: impressive bouts of young men and women breaking bits of wood with their feet – I think they call it “taekwondo”: it is supposed to be a non-aggressive ethical method of self-defence. Troups of dancing girls were beautiful to watch, as was a spectacular display of contemporary ballet. The star performer however was South Korean pop star “Psy” – his father is a Rotarian. He gave us an ear splitting performance of “Gangnam Style”. I think I now understand why the average age of Rotarians in Korea and Taiwan is around 40 years: a different demographic which we must start relating to.
Proof of the pudding was that before leaving the convention I went and signed up for Atlanta next June: I cannot wait! In my view, every Rotarian should have a taste of the bigger Rotary picture: it is inspiring and uplifting and worth every penny spent. I invite you to join Margaret and I!