The 2012 RI Convention opens in Bangkok, Thailand

RI President Kalyan Banerjee opens 2012 Convention

A royal appearance, and entertainment fit for a king, kicked off the 2012 RI Convention in Bangkok, Thailand, 6 May, where Rotarians gathered to celebrate past accomplishments and future friendships.

Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn represented His Majesty the King at the opening ceremony, thanking Rotarians for their good work around the world. “I’m truly impressed by the unity of all Rotarians in devoting themselves to charity work in a spirit of selfless benevolence and dedication as befits Rotary’s own motto, Service Above Self,” said Princess Chulabhorn. “I am confident that your unwavering commitment and good intentions will reap due reward for our common cause.” RI President Kalyan Banerjee presented the princess with a gift of appreciation. Flags of the 200 countries and regions where Rotary clubs serve their communities were presented on stage, followed by a performance of the national anthem of Thailand by Thai pop music star Tata Young.

In his opening remarks, Banerjee said Rotary is stronger today than it was at the beginning of his presidential term.
“I came into this year determined to make a difference, to leave Rotary stronger at the end of my year. And those goals were met,” said Banerjee. “But if there is one thing I have learned in this incredible year, it is that the changes that I have seen, the lives that have been touched haven’t been because of me. They have been because of you.”

Banerjee praised the Rotary projects that he and his wife, Binota, saw during their travels throughout the year, sharing how overwhelmed with pride and joy he was for their great work. This year, Banerjee visited projects from New York to the newest Rotary country, South Sudan, where Rotarians from several countries are working with the government to build a multimillion dollar hospital. He also highlighted the recent project partnership agreement between RI and ShelterBox, a grassroots Rotary club-sponsored disaster relief organization. “We Rotarians pride ourselves on being the first to arrive when help is needed – and the last to leave. By partnering with ShelterBox, we’ll be able to do even more,” said Banerjee. “I hope this will be only the first of many project partners, as we look to expand our reach with more volunteers, in more places than ever before.”

Youth, social media vital to Rotary’s future - Banerjee said the best way to raise Rotary’s public profile and ensure its future is to bring in more young people. “You only have to look around yourselves to realize that this is a problem we have to face,” said Banerjee. “Young people have to know what Rotary is, and why they should want to be a part of it.” RI is already using social media like Facebook and Twitter to help spread the word. “More and more of our clubs are using these tools that excite and inspire and that are drawing in new members – especially younger members, who are so key to Rotary’s future,” Banerjee said. The opening plenary session also featured a Thai cultural dance performance by Creative Destination Management, and the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra.

Speakers urge Rotarians to fight global poverty -- 7 May 2012. Muhammad Yunus commends Rotarians for their work in developing microcredit loans for the poor during the second plenary session. Poverty and hunger were the targets of the second plenary session of the 2012 RI Convention, as a variety of award-winning speakers encouraged Rotarians to use their ingenuity to solve these global challenges.

Microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, commended Rotarians for their work in developing microcredit loans for the poor. The founder of Grameen Bank also encouraged Rotarians to pursue social business enterprises that would work with microcredit-funded businesses not just to produce revenue but also to return profits to the communities where they operate.

As an example, Yunus highlighted a joint venture between Grameen Bank and Danone, a European food company, to produce high-nutrition yogurt for children in Bangladesh. The goal is to reduce malnutrition while creating manufacturing and distribution jobs. “In today’s world, we use money to make money, not solve problems,” said Yunus. “If we use money creatively in a business framework, we can solve any problem.”

Recently, Grameen Bank also joined forces with Adidas to produce shoes that cost less than US$1 per pair. The affordable shoes help prevent infection by foot parasites in poor communities. “My dream is to one day take poverty out of our society and put it in a museum that our grandchildren can visit to see what it was like,” Yunus said. Antipoverty crusader Hugh Evans, cofounder and CEO of the Global Poverty Project, said Rotary can use its considerable influence to fight poverty.
“Like Rotary, we believe that mass mobilization of individuals can effect real change in the world,” Evans said. “When we focus on the needs of others, our own burdens become lighter. Our perspective sharpens.” “This idea, the same one that drives you as Rotarians, guides our work at the Global Poverty Project,” he said.

UN connection - Gillian Sorensen, senior adviser and national advocate at the United Nations Foundation, encouraged Rotarians to work with governments to solve global problems including poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

“What is clear is that problems like this are too great for governments alone to resolve,” said Sorensen, who has served in many positions at the UN including assistant secretary-general for external relations. “They need partners of every kind, from private sector to civil organizations like yours, who have the means to contribute and lead.” Sorensen said Rotary, which has a 66-year relationship with the UN, continues to be an active and influential presence at the organization’s headquarters in New York. “You play a similar role with UNICEF, UNESCO, and WHO,” she adds.

Angelique Kidjo, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and activist , said the world has many health issues for which there are no solutions, but added that “the most frustrating are the ones for which we have a solution and not enough is being done.” Kidjo, who was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2002, said Rotary’s “This Close” campaign is the right message to help eradicate polio for good.

“What I love about [the campaign] is that a simple goal is set,” she said. “We know eradication is possible. With your goodwill and energy, this goal is achievable.” Kidjo also performed several songs.

In other convention news, Rotarians attempted to create the world’s biggest smile during an event at the Convention Center 6 May. Exactly 2,012 attendees wore blue and yellow ponchos and stood in the form of a smiley face. The event will be registered with Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

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