The future ain’t what it used to be

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

I was hoping to send you this letter from San Antonio, but by 26 June, my laptop went into a funny mode such that I couldn’t even access Microsoft Word, let alone connections to the outside world. I could operate though on Notepad, and I could freely play FreeCell, Solitaire and other games.

After clearing my mailbox, I decided to write something on the San Antonio experience while it is still fresh, but must preface that this is not a full record on what happened, but rather snapshots that I would like to share with you for whatever reasons.

Not many Rotarians have attended an RI Convention, which I think is a pity. On the other hand, many who have would go year after year to enjoy the ambiance, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, and above all, the programmes. Each year, RI holds a worldwide convention to stimulate, inspire and inform all Rotarians at an international level. This year’s at San Antonio, Texas is the 92nd in the series, and in the words of an exuberant, jubilant and jovial Frank Devlyn, is the most successful ever and the most well attended, based on the total registration figures, including those who had registered for the virtual convention. On the last day, RI Secretary General Ed Futa reported over 24,000 registrants. In addition, there were another 51,000 registered for the virtual convention, not counting those who browsed the convention website without registering.

The Convention organizers had certainly gone to great length to boost attendance and to make it a convention with a difference. All convention-goers were given a surprise gift of US$10 food and beverage voucher, a copy of Frank Talk that I would talk about later, two pairs of sunglasses, free or discount vouchers to visit various outlets or attractions, two one-litre cups for beverages and so on. Rotarians were also encouraged to obtain a Convention Passport to Excellence by obtaining chops from all the Task Force booths and signatures from 25 Rotarians from 25 different countries. The winners will be able to attend the Barcelona Convention free. The scheme had inadvertently made us from Hong Kong very popular.

This year also saw the first ever RYLA International Convention. Our District sponsored one candidate who was well spoken of by the Convention organizers. Jimmie Kwan would later share her experience with the District leadership with a view to enhancing the District RYLA Programme with an international perspective. The participation of the Rylarians, Rotaractors and Interactors at the second Plenary Session of the Convention had certainly made a difference. The young people literally livened up the place. Before the session proper, they were dancing, singing and networking. During the session, particularly when their representatives spoke, they made everyone so very happy and joyous that President Frank Devlyn had to pause a number of times to allow for the applauses and excitement they generated. The young are different. I am glad that RI has decided to do it again next year.

There were emphases on partnering with other organizations. One by one, panelists representing different organizations spoke with so much passion, conviction, forte, love, humility and desire to partner with Rotary that it will make anyone with a heart weep, weeping with love, joy and hope for humanity and for the people who need help, the helpless children in particular. For the first time, I learnt of the Children of the Dumps. These are kids who could barely walk, but who are scavenging for food in landfills together with wild dogs and animals. I learnt of the vision of the Wheelchair Foundation and its philanthropist Chairman to provide wheelchairs to every disabled individual on earth and his willingness to match any donations, not to mention the outright grant he made during the Convention. I learnt more of the initiatives of organizations to fight avoidable blindness, hunger, polio and communicable diseases. All of them pledged their unqualified support for Rotary and our World Community Service projects. I am glad on the one hand that most of the panelists were already Rotarians, but I am troubled by the fact that some of the projects had to be slowed down or put on hold because of lack of funds for matching at the Rotary Foundation. No doubt, the issues involved are not as simplistic or straightforward, but it would help a lot if more Rotarians were made aware of these projects and of their responsibility as world citizens to help one another. As a start, they would be more forthcoming and ready to contribute towards the Rotary Foundation.

There were quite a few other speakers from outside organizations, all very good and all heaping praises on Rotarians and on Rotary International. I was humbled more and more as they spoke. Some had come to accept awards and recognitions, others to talk about their projects and to recognize our work. Without exception, our leader Frank Devlyn would seek the consent of the Convention to make them honorary Rotarians on the spot and to present them a copy each of his new book, Frank Talk. This is a highly readable book that one can finish easily on a transatlantic or transpacific flight. It is about why people joined this wonderful organization or movement called Rotary and it has ideas on how to motivate and inspire people to join us. On its cover, it says that it would tell you how you can make a difference in your career, your community and your world through membership in Rotary.

I think only Frank can do it with such flamboyance, savvy, humour and fun. Everyone at the Convention enjoyed it; and after the first one or two presentations, expected it and was waiting for it. It was great fun. Miss Texas got it, except that she had to autograph one back for the author. Frank Devlyn is certainly a smooth and effective marketing man, but I say that Frank Talk will become a best seller not because of him, but because of the product itself.

There were plenty of emphases on the future and the future generations at the Convention, and quite rightly so. I was quietly pleased that we had chosen “Back to the Future” as the theme for our last District Conference. The future is certainly vital and change is the only certainty for the future. Any organization that does not or is not willing to embrace change is doomed to fail and will be dead in no time. Rotarians and Rotary clubs have introduced changes in their clubs, in their community and in the world, either proactively or have acted as catalysts for changes. This must continue. More importantly, we must recognize that “the future ain’t what it used to be.” That was a strong message from a session of the International Institute, at which I was the only representative from the District. This year, and again for the first time, President Frank had opened the International Institute to all Rotarians. I urge you to attend the one next year, if it is still open to all. It is worth your time.

Back to the future and it being not what it used to be. It means that the future is a moving target. It means that we must continue to learn and to learn how to learn. It means that we must embrace technology, partner with other organizations and work with the new generations wholeheartedly and without prejudice. The baby boomers may have inherited the earth and ruled the world, but they will have to give way to the Generation X whether they like it or not.

Talk to you soon.

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