Calling Presidents Elect!

My Dear Rotarians and friends, in particular my Action Presidents,

Another fortnight. I woke up remembering that it is District Council Elections Day. Yes, it is the first such election after Reunification. As I was figuring out whether to go and who to vote for, amidst my rather busy schedule of public and private avocations. I had a long day yesterday, all work related. We were organizing a training session for the volunteers for the “Hong Kong, Our Home – Youth Jamboree” to be held between 24 and 26 December 1999. The project, albeit the brainchild of Home Affairs Bureau to promote community ownership and youth development primarily among the young people, was co-organized by 15 other youth organizations, including the Rotary International District of Hong Kong and Macau. The project involves taking 2000 young people out in the wilderness – an area called Wan Tsai, a peninsula off Hoi Ha adjacent to the Sai Kung West Country Park – to enable them to appreciate Hong Kong’s fast diminishing camp sites. They would all stay in tents provided by Rotarians of District 3450; and by the way, PDG Y K Cheng who represented RI District 3450 on the Jamboree Organizing Committee had been elected Chairman of the Committee and hence the Camp Director.

A lot of planning and co-ordonating work is required. To start with, we need about 500 volunteers, and at least half of them would be required to stay throughout the three days to be leaders of the many squads and troops. Hence the need to have training sessions. Yesterday’s was the first in a series leading to the real thing, and it took place at Wu Kwai Sha Camp in Ma On Shan. I started for the office early in the morning as usual and by noon was at Wu Kwai Sha. I left with Y K Cheng just past 10p.m., tired and worn out, but with such high spirits and because of the call of our empty stomach, went to the Golf Club at Deep Water Bay for a drink and a quick round-up of the day’s event. We parted just after mid-night, both satisfied with the day and highly impressed with the involvement and dedication of the volunteers and government staff involved. By the way, if you or your young family are interested in joining the camp, either as campers or as volunteers and camp leaders, you still have about a week to register. Just call me, and I can assure you that you won’t regret it. The over 320 youngsters at the training camp yesterday can testify.

Still on yesterday’s camp, we had taken the opportunity to organize a press conference on site and we invited Secretary for Home Affairs David Lan to speak to the volunteers and the media. It was a colourful event and well attended by the top volunteers of the 15 organisations many of whom had specifically made the 30-kilometre journey from Central to attend the press conference. I was frankly disappointed but not surprised that the media had obviouly not regared the event worth reporting, even though it was a very successful event for a very meanigful cause.

Going back to District Council Election and to vote or not to vote, which was the subject I started with, I began to review quickly what happened in the fortnight since I wrote to you. I recall that the fortnight began with the broad smiles of Charlene Barshefsky and Shi Guangsheng shaking hands in Beijing over the WTO deal they just signed. But even as more stories were emerging about how the deal was clinched, including how Barshefsky and her boss “were talking from bathroom to bathroom,” commentators here and abroad warned how the deal could leave Hong Kong out in the cold and so on. Then we saw China completing her first unmanned test of a spacecraft designed to carry astronauts: Shenzhou or Divine Ship, we were told, was named by President Jiang Zemin. It was propelled into its pre-orbit position by Long March rockets at the new Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest Gansu Province before orbiting the Earth 14 times at an altitude of 300 kilometres and landing in Inner Mongolia after a 21-hour flight. Again, even before they finished their champagn in Beijing, we heard of Taipei’s response that China’s technological advancement could not threaten the island militarily and young Bush’s promise about not leaving China “unchecked” if he assumed office at the White House. And in Hong Kong, we had young Mr Fok making a bid on behalf of the sports community here to host the 2006 Asian Games in Hong Kong amidst seemingly conflicting signals from Government. But even after the top brass in Hong Kong had made categorical, positive and supportive statements about Government’s wholehearted support for the initiative, we had continuing reports casting doubts on whether we should do it, why Governemnet had decided to suppot it and so on. Finally, we had Finance Committe of the Legislative Council approving more than $22 billion to fund the Disney project, but not without fireworks. We heard that Emily Lau was still fuming over Mike Rowse’s opinion about the reaction of residents in nearby areas to the noise of the Disney firewroks. Rowse reckoned that they would probably find them quieter than Ms Lau’s question.

Any one of the four events I mentioned would have far reaching effects on the livelihood of many in Hong Kong and elsewhere, but very few of us could have any significant or substantial impact or input that could directly alter the course of any one of them. On the other hand, District Councils should and would affect the daily lives of all of us. So, I cannot think of a reason why I would not exercise my right to vote, even though on a personal level I tend to be more interested in global issues as many of our Rotarians would be and quite naturally so. I am also reminded that Rotary is not a political organisation or about politics, but election to offices of people with qualities we approve is not about politics, but rather a civic duty and responsibility which all Rotarians should promote.

Last Sunday, 21 November, was District Sports Day. Rotary Club of Happy Valley was the host club. President Winnie Yuen and her team are to be congratulated for having organised a first class and professional event for all Rotarians and their families. It was a lovely day and everyone who attended had a great time. Rotary Club of Tai Po surprised at least one of its members, IPDG Anthony Hung, by coming out as the overall champion, having also collected the overall championship in the Ladies’ events, while Rotary Club of Tsimshatsui East was the overall champion for the men’s events. The organisers created a new award for the Area that did best, and the winner went to the New Territories Area. Assistant Governor Kenneth Chow was beaming and could not hide his joy when he represented his clubs to collect the trophy from Governor Dipo. Congratulations to all the clubs and members who won awards and all who had enjoyed a fine day of fun and fellowship by being there. By convention, Tai Po would be the host club for the 2000 District Sports Day, but in consultation with other clubs and Tai Po, we would introduce some changes for the better and in the interest of continuity.

That same evening, five clubs had their Joint Ball at Grand Hyatt. They were the five clubs in the Hong Kong Island West family, which are Hong Kong Island West, Hong Kong Northwest, City Northwest Hong Kong, Mid Level and The Peak. It was great fun. Many would agree that we should encourage more joint balls. I think so too.

Now, my Presidents-elect, I hope you are beginning to plan for your year. Your club would have issued notice of the meeting to elect the Board of Directors and to confirm your presidency for 2000-01. Find time to plan for what you want to do for your club and the community. It is never too early to plan. As a start, I would like to share with you the following article from ROTI Chairman Douglas Vincent based on material provided by Educardo de Guzman. It would make this letter longer, but please read the article carefully and save it for future reference. Until then, talk to you soon.

What I would do if I was Club President again

It was about five years ago that I had the opportunity to be President of my Rotary Club. As I reflect on my term as Club President, recollections of what I did and did not do came rushing by like a whirlwind. To be sure, there were things that I did right and also some that I did not do so well. While I savored every minute of my term as President, the intervening years have given me a chance to look back on the experience. I asked myself, “What would I do if given the rare opportunity to be Club President again?”

Experience is a great teacher and I know that I have learned some lessons from the past. I must confess that the following ideas are by no means mine alone. They have been culled from my own experiences as Club President and also from my interaction with several other Past Presidents. Since I believe that seven’s a perfect number, I would like to share the seven things I would try to do different if I could be Club President again.

(1) I would re-orient my membership and emphasize the basics of Rotary. It is sad to note that many clubs do not seem to operate as Rotary Clubs. Somewhere along the way they mutate into drinking clubs or fraternal associations. They use Rotary as a reason to be associated for purposes other than the ideals of service. If I could be President again, I would try to get those members who have strayed away to come back to the basics of Rotary. Some need to learn that they are in Rotary imbued with the ideal of service, guided by The Four-Way Test and oriented by the object of Rotary. It is not wrong to have fellowship even over a few drinks, but we should not lose sight of the reasons and purpose for joining Rotary. I would increase the number of assemblies, fireside meetings and club forums in order to refresh the minds of older members about the original reasons for Rotary membership. For the newer Rotarians, I would hope the process could help lead their Rotary lives in the right direction.

(2) I would improve the weekly programs. Attendance at weekly meetings is a basic requirement of Rotary membership. One of the features of weekly meetings is the program, and interesting presentations can attract better attendance. This is good reason to pay more attention to the club’s weekly program. To do this I would promote an interesting variety in formatting guest speakers to share stimulating ideas with members. I would make the presence of visiting Rotarians meaningful and worthwhile by extending the courtesy and brand of fellowship that club members share. Visiting Rotarians should never feel like a stranger. A good program includes appropriate Rotary information and takes into account the various events that Rotary celebrates. For instance, programs in September could emphasize youth activities, Rotary Foundation in November or world peace and understanding in February, etc. How impressive it would be for members and guests to witness a program truly reflective of Rotary as a unique organization!

(3) I would develop an effective program to reduce the cost of being a Rotarian. In the Philippines, a major obstacle to growth in membership is the escalating cost of being a Rotarian. I would try to attract more members through an effective program of lowering costs. In some countries clubs have succeeded in doing this. Some clubs in India avoid expensive meals and have afternoon meetings with inexpensive snacks. If Rotary is to be an organization serving the community, financial resources should be directed away from the members’ personal benefit and preferably be directed toward the funding of service projects. While I do not intend to make a public confession of the things I did wrong as President, I would like to cite one example of a poor decision I made. I had wanted a presentable club bulletin and my concept entailed a well-designed, professionally printed bulletin. It is only natural for a President to want their term distinguished by excellence, including the club bulletin. Can you imagine how much more useful the funds would have been if used to finance extra educational scholarships to help enlighten the minds of the young. The total bulletin costs did not come from club funds, due to outside sponsorship I obtained. But it still nags me that the funds could have been put to better use. If I had another chance, I would have a simpler bulletin. It might be printed, but I would be satisfied if it was only mimeographed as long as the content provided a wide source of information about the club, its members, the district and Rotary. This would avoid taxing the members to make up the amount not covered by sponsors. I am sure members would not begrudge this bit of tight-fisted economy. Developing a cost reduction program starts with leadership and I have no doubt whatsoever that such a program would draw the support of everyone.

(4) I would venture into projects requiring more membership involvement at lower cost. Rotary does not encourage grandiose plans. On the contrary, service projects completed within twelve months are preferred. This makes for easier accomplishment and avoids an implied imposition upon the next executive to continue something they may find too costly or burdensome. A good service project requires the involvement of all members. It is not difficult to conceive such a project. After all Rotary is a catalyst and as such, Rotarians need only serve as the impetus. A club has a great opportunity by involving the greatest number of members because they know that, more than money, it is their time, effort and energy they are being asked to contribute. Fellowship is also an excellent byproduct. If President again, I would move away from costly service projects that drain the resources of members. Instead, I would venture into community projects and involve the greatest number of members possible.

(5) I would take a new look at the President’s role as a club member. Under the classification system, Rotary membership is drawn from a cross-section of adults in the community who have risen to a top level of their profession or business. One member is the peer of another. But the leadership role of a club President requires a different approach from that of a mere fellowship association of diverse members. There are leaders who perceive their role is like a dictator or an autocrat. They impose upon the membership. Others are more passive in their position and do things as their membership dictates upon them. This kind of a leader accepts the terrorism of his members. Both leadership styles are far from the concept of an effective leader in Rotary. If I could do things better, I would try to set and attain objectives faster, and administer the affairs of the club more efficiently by inspiring to achieve. As a motivator and leader, I would not ignore individual aspirations for fellowship, service or involvement of every member. I would encourage each member to work toward their specific objectives in relation to the overall objectives and goals of the club. Apart from being a motivational leader, I would try to serve as coordinator of members. I would not hesitate to monitor their activities and trust they would not consider me pushy for trying to help them along.

(6) I would review membership policies with emphasis on young qualified candidates. The strength of any organization lies in its membership. It is no less true in Rotary and the long existence of my club has resulted in a group of professionals and businessmen who are not getting younger. I would place more emphasis on the club’s policies regarding younger members. This is not to say that older, qualified persons should be ignored. It would just add some balance to the age of club members. This would infuse fresh ideas and greater aggressiveness in the pursuit of the Rotary ideals of service. I believe our future lies in youthfulness and having a continuing adventure in service.

(7) I would plan earlier in advance of the July 1st, Rotary year beginning. Twelve months could indeed be too short for a President to do a good job and it may be unfortunate that the general practice is for a President to serve only one year. Within this period one literally has to cram numerous activities, the least of which is the club administration. Incoming Presidents have practically an entire future ahead of them and hopefully it will not be wasted. The best intentions will not materialize unless there is careful attention to planning a myriad of details that go into the execution of those intentions. If I could be President again, I would not wait a single moment in preparing for my term. Long before July 1st, I would have a brief outline of my plans and objectives. I would finalize the committee chairmen and leadership team early. Of course, I would consider individual talents, expertise and preferences to maximize each member’s contribution during my term. A word of caution is perhaps needed on advance planning. Activities of the incoming President should not create any impression the incumbent President’s current program is being prejudiced. Advance planning should be done with the full knowledge and cooperation of the incumbent President, who is likely to support reasonable requests in preparation for the upcoming year.

Summary. These then, are the things I would try to do if I could be President again. To incumbent Presidents – you are lucky, for you still have time to ensure that your plans materialize. Luckier still are incoming Presidents – for you can begin right now in preparing yourself for your term ahead. You have accepted a challenge in leadership so this should not prove too much of a burden. You must have accepted this important position because you are confident that you could do it. Good luck.”

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