18 September, 2020

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The Work Of Rotarians & The Future

By Ranil Wickremesinghe

The digital age has radically changed the way we communicate and interact with each other. Social media can both complement or replace face-to-face association. It has also extended the community beyond the neighbourhood.

But at the same time, social media has its ills. No doubt you have already understood the degree of alienation from social realities in youth – given the diversity, richness and excitement of cyberspace realities; and no doubt you have already taken steps to target and recruit youth for your organizations. Because as noted earlier, I am sure you will agree with me that the success of a service organisation’s ability depends on its capacity to adapt to evolving changes in the global sphere – and to connect and be close and relevant to the younger generations. It is they who will sustain and drive the service organisation in the next few decades.DSC_4271

Prime Minister’s Speech at Rotary International 2016 Convention – May 29th, 2016

The Rotary International President Ravindran,
The Prime Minister of South Korea, the Honorable Hwang Kyo-ahn,
The Secretary-General of the UN, Excellency Ban Ki-moon,
Honoured Rotarians and Guests,

Thank you for inviting me here to Seoul, to help inaugurate the 2016 Rotary International Convention.

It is an honour to be here, and a great source of pride to us in Sri Lanka that you have chosen someone from our rather small country, to head your great organisation this year.

We do not have polio in Sri Lanka. We have not had it now, for more than twenty years. We eradicated it at the height of an armed conflict and terrorism. And the fact that it happened as it did, was due in no small part to you here—to the work of Rotary, and the work of Rotarians at that time in Sri Lanka – inspired by none other than Rotarian President Ravindran.

Back in 1995 a few Rotarians together with the UNICEF got in touch with the Health Ministry. They wanted to do an NID, a national immunization day. Rotary pledged to bring in one and a half million dollars for it, and was looking for the balance from the government, in order to vaccinate the whole country against polio – in one shot.

The officials at the Ministry agreed that it was a good and tested idea; they thought that all children in the country should be vaccinated – except those in the conflict areas of the North and East as the government did not have access or control over those areas at that time.

But the Rotarians had insisted that this was not acceptable as this was Rotary money which could not be used to vaccinate only half the country.

Apparently the Ministry of Health officials had looked at these crazy Rotarians and said, “If you haven’t noticed, there’s a war going on. We don’t have control in the North and the East, so what is it you want us to do?”

The Rotarian President Ravindran had answered them saying, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of the war.”

In the end the Ministry of Health said, OK, go ahead, if you can stop the war, then we can vaccinate the whole country.

A couple of months later your President Ravi came back with a letter, delivered to his office and to the UNICEF office. It was a letter from the LTTE in the North saying, “You can have your ceasefire. We will lay down our weapons, if your Government will lay down yours, on the days designated as NIDays”.

A ceasefire came into being – they laid down their weapons. We laid down ours. And the Rotarians, UNICEF, Red Cross and other health workers went, with their white flags, on their jeeps, into the North and the East of the country where no one would have dared to go.

We called them Days of Tranquility. And they gave us a polio-free Sri Lanka.

And I think those Days of Tranquility, the experience of that NID,  also gave us something else. They gave us hope—that we in Sri Lanka, did indeed love our children, more than we feared each other.

This would not have been possible without Ravi. He played a key role in arranging a ceasefire to vaccinate the children in the conflict-affected area. Unlike others, he did not give up hope but plunged into the polio vaccination campaign with a wholeheartedness that only a few display.

In times the country has undergone conflicts and disasters Sri Lankan Rotary has been at the forefront in providing an enormous service to our people. During the tsunami in 2004 Rotary helped to rebuild 25 new schools and a maternity hospital in the aftermath. And I am aware that even in the face of the current crisis in Sri Lanka – floods and landslides during the last few week Rotary has mobilized itself to help out.

We are glad to have Rotary in our country, for we have seen for ourselves that a community with Rotary, in fact, a country with Rotary, is better off, in every way, than one without.
A Rotary club as well as other such service organizations provides a country with something that every community, in every country – needs – irrespective of its stage in development.

It provides a function that is complementary to government; by offering a way for people who want to make a difference in their community to do it for themselves, together, without having to run for office first like me.

And that does not for one moment absolve those of us who are in government of our responsibility. Perhaps the opposite—it provides a greater impetus, for us to do our jobs better.

Your project to globally eradicate polio (only the second time in the history of earth, has this happened), has shown, not just to us in Sri Lanka, but to the world, that Rotary is a tremendously valuable resource to government, not only in developing nations, but in developed countries as well.

You are able to go places where Governments fear to tread, in a way that no one else can emulate. And I think that the governments of the world should begin to take advantage of this, by engaging more with Rotary as a partner, as well as with other service organisations to explore greater avenues for cooperation.

This is a necessity at a time when the roles of the Government and the roles of the service organisations are undergoing massive transformation.

The great financial crisis of 2008 has resulted in many Governments resorting to austerity as a means of reducing their budget deficits. Fiscal stress has led to cutbacks and uncertainty in Government spending- particularly in the social sector. Some Governments have been trimming down the welfare state for decades – on the basis of their structural adjustment programs. In this background, service organisations have a larger role to play in mobilising personnel and resources to fill the gap – created by government withdrawals.

Yet, monetary restraints, budgetary control and reducing the Budget Deficit do not mean that the Governments can abandon responsibility for some of its welfare services. It only means that we have to think of partnerships with service organisations or even contracting out services to service organisations as modes of service delivery – perhaps as a far more effective mode of delivery.

The Public Services too have to undergo transformation with great emphasis on delivery. This is a more cost effective method of the Government discharging its obligations to provide welfare services.

This new model will also require closer cooperation amongst service organisations as well as with government. However it is essential to avoid competition, overlapping and confusion between service organisations at a time when there is blending and blurring of sector distinctions. Governments could thus tap the specializations of service organizations – while of course ensuring their autonomy, where necessary by law.

Another role that service organizations can play is to officially act as an oversight body on the function of a government establishment in their field of expertise. This is already happening in countries like India where for instance, a public trust is overseeing some of the programs of the Indian University Grants Commission. No doubt that this would mean that government establishments would need to pull up their socks – leading to greater efficiency and productivity.

Thus both government and service organizations need to look within – at themselves – in times of change. Do we both have the capacity to be sensitive to – and to respond to – these external changes? One area that requires a lot of work is in the area of women’s representation both in government and in service organizations. Women need to be included not only as members and support groups but also as office bearers at local levels as well as in the highest echelons of governance. I am aware that a number of national Rotary Clubs have taken some initiatives to invite and encompass the entry of women into the workforce, to professions, to entrepreneurialism, and to corporate culture – during the last few decades. However, what is required is a policy decision at the highest ranks to ensure that women’s participation in Rotary is promoted at all levels of the organization.

Then there is also the expanding role of informal volunteerism arising from expanding mobile and internet/web connectivity and the host of social media platforms. The digital age has radically changed the way we communicate and interact with each other. Social media can both complement or replace face-to-face association. It has also extended the community beyond the neighbourhood.

But at the same time, social media has its ills. No doubt you have already understood the degree of alienation from social realities in youth – given the diversity, richness and excitement of cyberspace realities; and no doubt you have already taken steps to target and recruit youth for your organizations. Because as noted earlier, I am sure you will agree with me that the success of a service organisation’s ability depends on its capacity to adapt to evolving changes in the global sphere – and to connect and be close and relevant to the younger generations. It is they who will sustain and drive the service organisation in the next few decades.

This is why we have to ensure that the younger generations are at the centre in service organisations and no longer at the periphery.

We in Sri Lanka have been proud to lend you your President for this Rotary year. He has already made an extensive impact by pruning down the Rotary Board meetings from five days to three, driving down costs and giving recognition to merit. But we will be glad to get him back, when the Rotary year is over in June.

While looking forward to expanding our historic ties with Rotary in the coming years as well as forging new partnerships to engage with the challenges of our times, I give you my best wishes for a very successful 107th International Convention.

*Prime Minister’s Speech at Rotary International 2016 Convention – May 29th, 2016

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Latest comments

  • 3
    8

    Don’t know about the Rotorians, but going Digital has provided Batalanada PM a chance to give Yahapalana suckers a new dimension to their life style.

    Now we can see Colombo chicks with undies and even without undies on Digital screens.

    School kids in Colombo spend more time on Digital Sex than on learning assignments,

    And the Yahapalana UNP Minister who is in charge of our Binary Technology is calling opposition MPs Ammata Digital enriching our rude vocabulary .

  • 6
    4

    I dont think PM-Ranil Wicremesinghe ever read George Bernard Shaw;His wife Maithri would have certainly read Shaw.

    The Rotarians have met and dined; Thats all!

    • 5
      2

      Plato,

      The misplaced and callously irrelevant remark “to Rotary and to lunch” has been attributed variously to GBS and Oscar Wilde. With this excellent address in English Ranil proves to the gathering of champions of business and commerce in the world that a sound English education in today’s world has no substitute to win friends and influence people.

      The debonair and elegant K.R. Ravindran, a successful entreprenauer in the print trade in Sri Lanka, has brought far greater honour and recognition to this country being the first Sri Lankan elected as head of Rotary International – an internationally respected body of
      successful champions of business and commerce since the early 1900. Usually Rotary Presidents come from the developing countries – the exceptions being some from India – as far as I know.

      BTW, Ranil is a voracious reader for decades. I am sure GBS is not new to him – coming from a family of eminently educated people. This even before he married Maithree – a Professor in English.

      Kettikaran

      • 1
        0

        On re-checking I notice Oscar Wilde died in 1900 whereas Rotary was founded in 1905. So it could be GBS who made the critical remark.

        Kettikaran

      • 1
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        Kettikaran,

        A Google search confirms that it was George Bernard Shaw who said it
        in 1920.

        Regards,

        Dr.RN

        • 1
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          Tku, Dr. R.N. Since 1920’s Rotary has come a long way and has
          gained plaudits from leaders all over the world for their
          outstanding humane service down the decades.

          Rgds
          Kettikaran

    • 2
      2

      And Tamils always clamour for more than half the cak, thanks to the promotion of tamils and suppression of Sinhalese by the colonial powers.
      . Look at Tamil Nadu in India, the most corrupt state in India.

  • 11
    5

    Just get on with your damn job and implement the Hundred Day promises. Nobody is interested in your Rotary speeches.

  • 6
    2

    A relatively empty speech for a man who had the opportunity to live life to the fullest for nearly 7 decades.

  • 3
    0

    Very glad to hear that a Sri Lankan is the new Rotary International President. It is also a pleasure to hear of his crucial role in eradicating polio in this country.

    These are achievements we can be proud of.

    Plato, thanks for reminding me of George Bernard Shaw’s caustic remark. It is also true in the case of many peripheral clubs.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 9
    2

    The people of Sri Lanka are not interested in the Rotarians and you.
    What they want is to get their lives that is in tatters together and continue living. If you want to dabble around with the high and mighty or with satan himself thats your decision, but in the name of God get on with what you were elected to do or plain just bugger off.

    There is something in you thats just plain unlikeable, just disgusting, just not normal, just not Godly.

    So ! just do your damn job to make our serene island once again the pearl of the Indian Ocean or just damn bugger off.

    ” DISCE AUT DISCE DE “

  • 6
    1

    Nice speech Mr Prime Minister, there is a lesson to learn in eradicating polio from the entire island as you described- that is, if there is a will there is a way to do it, and if a delivery of an outcome well explained and its timing well defined there is a chance to establish collaboration whether it is between parties entered into a simple contract or between two warring groups.

    Rotary aside, get a crack on the promises made before Jan 15, there seems to be a big bag logs piling up, and people started pondering whether you have the guts to fulfill them in full, will you?.

    • 1
      1

      Mr.P.M. we are in doubt about the some promises you kept before Jan.15 will see the light of the day.I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw in the web the person who organize a protest campaign when you visited a funeral at Balapitiya & tried Harm you physically in prasense of Police who is accused of swindling millions get a MSD guards for protection.It was pathetic a person of your caliber who was P.M for many times while being Opposition Leader receiving such treatment while person who orchestrated are treated with such dignified manner.
      It was like comedy of errors you speak publicly austerity measures privetely let your so called friend in CB ruin the economy. I saw in papers other day he had bought a valuable coat which he says have to be borne by CB funds.I believe “Charity begins at home” .When President Obama won 2nd time I forwarded some proposals which immensely benefited the US economy.This is true good to be true story but true he didn’t implement them blindly he had exhausted discussions with FEDS & Advisors then implemented.Sadly your very first budget was flop it self.Our country needs home grown economist to home grown problems not the people whose foothold in Singapore head only Sri Lankan.If not our economy will be test tube baby with premature death.

  • 1
    1

    Kettikaran.

    Misplaced?
    Irrelevant?

    Debonair & elegant K.R.Raveendran[you seem to know his initials as well] you say.
    OK.Plato may not be elegant & Debonair.
    So what you say is what matters is class.
    You are by no means a Kettikaran then!

    • 1
      1

      Dear Plato

      Class and Elitism matters everywhere – irrespective if it is German, French or English. Look at the ill educated neuve riche who climb the social ladder here through stealing and thievery in politics. Almost to the man, or woman, they send some of their issues to England “to learn ingrisi well” as did that smiling drug-trafficker-politico Bharatha Luxman. I don’t know how far successful Hirunika is in speaking the Queen’s English but I suspect it is as good as Gammanlpillas broken Aussie English. The high standards of English the apey anduwa culture destroyed in the early 1950s is unlikely to come back. How much of
      the proceedings will Maitripala Sirisena understand as it happens when he sits with the world leaders in the G7, Davos and elsewhere. It is different with the non-English speaking Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. That’s a different argument.

      Mahinda Rajapakse, like many others, did a poor attempt to bring back the heights of our earlier English. They have all failed so far. Comparatively, urban India is making vast strides. Most Middle and Upper class Indian homes see to it their present generation of children speak English also at home, without giving up the mother tongue. Indian Writers have won the Booker Prize more than once. Some of the best English writers in the world today are Indian. Circulation of Indian English dailies and magazines have increased exponentially in recent decades.

      Admit it. Sinhala Nationalism messed up our case missing the woods for the trees.

      Kettikaran

  • 0
    3

    “We do not have polio in Sri Lanka. We have not had it now, for more than twenty years. We eradicated it at the height of an armed conflict and terrorism. And the fact that it happened as it did, was due in no small part to you here—to the work of Rotary, and the work of Rotarians at that time in Sri Lanka – inspired by none other than Rotarian President Ravindran”
    The Government of Sri Lanka policy throughout is the same towards the minorities. The then Government and the new good Government as can be seen are the same. After changing the Leadership for Reconciliation and cosigning the UNHRC agreement there is no change in the policy towards Tamils even now. The leadership to do good for the whole Country then was taken by the LTTE and not by the rulers of the Country. The Leaders always want to look for excuses to go on oppressing the Tamils as what we all see even today.

    • 0
      1

      And Tamils always clamour for more than half the cak, thanks to the promotion of tamils and suppression of Sinhalese by the colonial powers.
      . Look at Tamil Nadu in India, the most corrupt state in India.

  • 2
    1

    The government’s 100 day programme might be slow but honoring Ravindran and the work of the Rotarians is the right thing for a PM to be doing. Ranil has also used the opportunity to plug for greater inclusion of women. I see that he is going about it with absolute focus at every opportunity. With that kind of drive from the PM I think we really are going to see women taking their rightful place in Sri Lankan society.

    Ranil has also disabused my mind of its prejudice against the Rotarians from the time I saw a relative of mine, a bank manager, getting hamper after hamper (each with a bottle of liquor) during Christmas from his Rotary Club friends while he had to give back nothing in return. Some of them were people who never would have had access to this cousin’s house except for their being Rotarians. I had therefore thought of the Rotarians as disconnected people who had expensive dinners together; of the Rotary Club as a place where people without class sought class and such classless businessmen sought to hobnob with bank managers to get their loans and overdrafts.

    While some of that might still be trues, I now stand corrected (and apologize for how I thought of them) after hearing of their role in eradicating polio.

  • 1
    0

    Can the Rotarians address corruption of politicians and public servants in our country?

  • 2
    0

    UNP oriented Ranil W… led economic policies of governances has to know that entire our house is now running in the disorder since 2015 January 9th.

    Power shifted to MS-President, UNP-Ranil W.. and Ex-President of CBK are leading figures of policy makers in Republic of Island.
    No doubt, no argument that power shifting one class to others that demand by urgently needs for New policy changes.
    Which has not taken place in the last 18 months by new ruling governances as key leaders of UNP’s.

    The overall political, economic and social of System in disorder, with that unending, uncertainties of rule of governed of democracy came into being.
    Your leadership of Ranil W… are to ‘blame for everything’ the past MR led alliances ,the departure from economic development by current ruling parties and persons that they are totally that moving from the principles of democracy and its revolution.

    Well, that needless to say Situation more out of control by centre and anarchist oriented political are playing key role against by undermined the very foundation democracy -SL by TNA and JVP and Muslim Congress-MC.

    No measures are being taken by UNP leadership that against without that redress put into order by key leaders of UNP’s.
    Meanwhile the political-economic and social crisis is mounting in
    Sri lanka and system of catastrophe is drawing even nearer than past 68 years of post-independent nation.

    US and Indian combine of new era of capitalism by eye of era of bank and financial capital ,the epoch of gigantic capitalist monopolies, hence private empires by US oriented of peculiars of Multi-Nationalist corporations is growth of monopoly capitalism of hyper globalization; into certain major part of state capital has clearly shown an extraordinary strengthening so-called democratic state machine of US led politics in world.

    UNP -Ranil W.. has to draw capital from them not by leaders of Rotaries clubs of world but by capital remain in newly emerging nations. Primer is addressing Rotaries want give any results for trading and capital development our nation. In fact Primer is wasting his valuable time and time of the country under ongoing deep crisis at this time by dealing with rotaries .

    I want Primer has to stop spend Tax payers money not that worth while purposes .

    The address the Rotary Clubs by Primer running on economic “illusions” by club of politics who are having NO at any accountability or serve for the masses of people our country! By and large of these clubs or institution are parasitises undoing politics of democracy.

    The very Rotatories are not an investors, they are NOT that work for vital interest of development of economies of any country that including Sri lanka.

  • 1
    1

    Kettikaran.

    Relax.Good-hearted banter should not be taken seriously.
    Anyway,having said that,I know only too well that Ranil is a voracious reader;
    In fact Dr.Bahu once told me that he was taken aback by his knowledge on various subjects.How he found the time to do so much of reading with a busy Political career,since 1977 is a mystery.
    His father Esmond and my [Late father] passed out of Law college in the early 40s-both with first class.

    D.R.Wijewardena who founded Lake House had an uncanny gift to spot talent
    Esmond was taken on board and the rest is History.
    S.J.Crowther-My Late Mothers uncle who won the English Liturgy prize at STC-MtLavinia also was taken on board Lake house upon his return from Oxford.

    Frankly,what I liked about of GBS is that he was a laughing iconoclast.
    G.K.Chesterton humour is of a different vintage.

    What is life without humour!

    • 1
      0

      Plato.

      “What is life without humour!”

      Brilliant.

      However, 99% of the comments are typed by those who hate humour, fun, pun, …. whatever is free and enjoyable.

      Tamils and Sinhalese need to be taught how to live their life to the full, with a bit of fun and more sex, without which both are going to die as people.

  • 0
    0

    I am old enough to remember Sir John Kotelawala, another political leader who showed disdain and irreverence to the social norms and customs of the majority people. He was unceremoniously booted out of office. There were many popular songs of the day about how Sir John killed and roasted a calf at a social event. The newspapers of the day published photos of Sir John with his signature whiskey glass in one hand and cigarette in the other hand, things which the common people could not relate to in any way. His comments about tarring the heads of Buddhist priests completely alienated him from the Buddhist clergy. Due to public perception, Sir John, the Anglophile,
    could never connect with the people and was perceived as a lackey of the former colonial masters.

    Rotarians are an exclusive club consisting the richest top-rung businessmen of the world. Membership is by invitation only. With the exception of a small number of wealthy businessman in Colombo, many ordinary people have never heard of Rotary nor will they have the means or opportunity to join.

    It is incumbent on all political leaders to connect with their majority constituencies for credibility, acceptance and legitimacy. Identifying with exclusive groups only serves to fuel public perception that they are out of touch with reality.

  • 0
    0

    Apparently the Rotary Club of Colombo is doin good work. They have a dashboard as well, with several several having obtained full funding:

    http://www.rotarycolombo.org/

    example:

    “57%
    FUNDED
    Rs. 86,000.00
    MORE TO GO
    10
    DONORS
    Immediate and long-term help for all those severely affected by the recent flooding in most parts of Sri Lanka.”

    A model for government, dont’t you think, dashboard and all. Maybe the partnership between government is where the government does less work because it has less funding is that fair?

  • 0
    0

    The majority of Sri Lankans are not interested in your Rotary activities. Your first priority is to help the poor SL community to bring their living standards to a better, higher level. People elected you to do that. Therefore go ahead and do it, without these nonsense.

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