Rtn. Brenda Cressey address to Rotaractors delivered at the Race to Zero event.


Granted; the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted our attention from our unwavering commitment towards polio eradication. However, this has consequently rubberstamped the need for Rotarians and Rotaractors to remain strongly committed in our fight against polio.

According to United Nations statistics, there are 1.2 billion youth aged 15-24 globally as of 2015, accounting for one out of every six people (17%) worldwide. This is predicted to increase to one out of every four people, which means there would be 1.3 billion youth by 2030.

Our generation will play a major role in global peace and justice; for good governance and inclusive development; and for global health challenges, such as eradicating malaria, polio, and coronavirus.

Today we celebrate that the entire African is at last certified free of the Polio virus.  Congratulations, this was only made possible by the tremendous support of Rotaractors and Rotarians. That is a tremendous achievement, thank you one and all!

So, the main message that I want to share with you today, is that you are the leaders who will shape Rotary’s future and the world. You represent the future, but what does that future look like? Well, some would say it’s a dark future.

Some people would see the daily images in the media of spiraling COVID-19 cases, economic and political turmoil, and severe climate change and conclude that the challenges your generation faces are unprecedented.

But I have a different view. I am optimistic for several reasons.

First, because you chose to be a part of Rotary and an equal partner as a Rotaractor you have demonstrated that you are part of a generation who wants to do something about our most serious humanitarian problems.

Second, the reality is that our world in many ways is in better shape than it’s ever been. In terms of global health, poverty reduction, increased incomes and personal freedoms, and overall conflict levels, we’re on an upward trajectory.

And, as you all know, thanks to Rotary’s signature initiative, we are coming closer to the day when polio — a disease which once brought terror to millions — will be eradicated from the face of the earth.

You are aware of the immense power of technology for good, and you’re the most tech-savvy generation, growing up with all the resources of the internet and smartphones. 

But we know that making an impact in today’s world is about more than being able to use technology. Whether it’s an education project, a health project, an environmental project or a peace project, you are acting with passion and purpose to make a real difference.

I want to thank you in particular for all you are doing to fight COVID-19.  You have done an extraordinary job helping those in your community most impacted by this lethal disease. 

To date, the Rotary Foundation has awarded more than $21 million dollars in global and disaster response grants in response to COVID-19.  I’ve been inspired to see our members taking action, and our clubs quickly adapting to hold meetings in a manner that is safe for everyone. 

The coronavirus has further forced us to rethink how we connect and serve. To give just one inspiring example, last month, Rotary’s first-ever virtual convention attracted more than 183,000 viewers during its weeklong program.

And following the Convention, we are acting quickly to address some of our world’s most pressing challenges. We need your problem-solving abilities, your entrepreneurship, and your leadership for positive change.

When Rotaractors and Rotarians work together, our accomplishments are limitless. Take for example Polio, which we have reduced by 99.9 percent worldwide since we kickstarted the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988.  

But we also know that we need to adapt to thrive in this century.

After all, Rotary was designed to reflect the needs of its members and its communities. And these needs and communities evolve.

We need to evolve to serve the rapidly changing world in which we operate. This means sustainability for the impact and outcomes of our service projects, but also, as President Knaack has earlier said – sustainability for the environment. 

One of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic is that it has shed light on the relationship between environmental degradation and threats to public health. In response, both boards of Rotary International and the Foundation decided to add a new area of focus—supporting the environment—that will offer Rotaractors another dedicated channel to increase our positive impact.

Now that Rotaractors can submit global grant proposals to the Rotary Foundation, I invite you to get involved and work with other clubs to kickstart new service projects that you are passionate about, whether that’s the environment, entrepreneurship, public health, peacebuilding or anything that will make a sustainable impact across our areas of focus.

This is an important year for Rotary.

It is the year in which, despite the immediate pressures of fighting coronavirus, we must seize new opportunities to create a better future. And our success will depend on if we can really put our strategic plan into action.

At the heart of this plan is our vision statement: “Together, we see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change — across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.”

Now, to achieve our vision of creating lasting change, I believe we must be both innovative and flexible.

We must innovate because if we don’t respond to the rapidly changing world we exist to serve, we run the risk of being left behind by a new breed of disruptive innovators.

And we must experiment with club models that are attractive to new generations – models that are flexible in meeting schedule, format, and membership types.

We must commit to incorporating you- our Rotaractors – into Rotary. We will thrive if we unleash your talents to play a meaningful role as an equal, equal, partner in developing and carrying out projects. 

We must ensure that Rotary’s diversity reflects the diversity of the communities we serve and connect to them in meaningful ways. 

In the long term, our health and vitality as an organization will be determined by how diverse and inclusive, we are.  Our strategic action plan focuses on expanding our reach and enhancing participant engagement because we need to ensure that every person who engages with us has an experience that demonstrates that they are valued, welcomed, and respected. 

Research tells us that organizations, workplaces and enterprises that are more diverse and reflective of society are considered more welcoming, more creative, more productive, and more stable and have more engaged participants.  We need diversity in our clubs, and we need that diversity to be reflected throughout our leadership at all levels.  That is the change we are trying to affect.

Rotary leadership is determined to back our words with tangible, measurable action. Rotary International has made several changes recommended by the Elevate Rotaract Task Force, to give you the opportunity to amplify your impact.

Effective this year, Rotaract clubs will be able to establish a new club with or without a sponsor. Rotaract clubs will be open to all young adults at least 18 years old.

Rotary districts are encouraged to include Rotaractors in every district committee, so that you can have a say in the decisions which direct our future.

But we didn’t stop there.

We also set a goal to increase the number of Rotaractors to 1 million by 2029.

Just think of that possibility – 1 million dynamic social entrepreneurs, bringing us closer to the promise of a better future, bringing us closer to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of zero poverty, zero hunger, equality, peace, justice, and more.

It’s an ambitious target, but I believe, as I hope you do, that anything less than high ambition will not bring the lasting change we need to come out of this crisis and build a world that is fairer, more resilient, and more inclusive.

The world needs Rotary now more than ever!

The world needs you – our innovators, our champions of change, and our pioneers of progress – to make it happen.

Ultimately, we need your input on how we can do more. Your continued engagement, and that of all the Rotaractors in the world, will allow you to make an impact on the issues you care about.  It will help to implement the changes we need to take Rotary to even greater heights.

Now is our time to lead, to shape a new and better world as we emerge from this crisis.  

Together, let us seize the moment because that is what Rotaractors do.

Article by;

Brenda Cressey

The Rotary Foundation – Trustee 2017-2021

Chair, The Rotary Foundation 2018-19

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