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The president of Rotary International, Sakuji Tanaka, paid a weeklong visit to Ethiopia. He visited humanitarian activities supported by Rotary International in Ethiopia including efforts to eradicate Polio, provide shelter, water, education, improve health coverage and provide meals for the hungry. Rotary initiated the eradication of Polio project in 1988.
Two decades ago, the reported annual cases were close to 350 thousand globally. As of July 27, 2012, the global reported Polio cases have dropped to 100. Rotarians have mobilized more than USD 1.2 billion for the fight against Polio. As they celebrate this achievement, Capital’s Pawlos Belete spoke with Tanaka about Rotarians and their contributions globally.
Capital: Rotary International has been serving humanity for more than a century now. How do you assess its achievement over the years?
Sakuji Tanaka: Rotary developed gradually. We started serving humanity 107 years ago. Now we have 34 thousand clubs in more than 200 countries around the globe. Rotary club members differ depending on the community and so the services they provide differ. In that sense we try to build an organized and strong community globally. Rotary has developed in to an international humanitarian organization by making local communities better and stronger through service in each club around the world. It is a gradual move started a century ago that has made us one of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations with strong and vibrant members. Its achievement has shown positive developments over the years. It is like moving from strength to strength serving humanity across the globe.
Capital: Rotary strives to create an ethical society. Is it possible to maintain similar ethical standards across the board in a community with different cultural settings?
Tanaka: I have to start answering this question by explaining a classification system that is very unique to Rotary. First of all, through this classification system Rotary consists of community leaders in their own business and profession. For instance, if we take a business, it has customers. Without winning the trust of its customers a business cannot survive, cannot be successful. So, if the person who is running the business in a given profession is not honest, if they lack integrity toward their customers, their business will not grow. In Rotary, we have four guiding ethical principles that govern us despite our cultural differences. These principles are truth, fairness, goodwill and better friendship, and being beneficial to all concerned. I started explaining this in a business sense because most people spend most of their life doing business and having a vocation. However, it doesn’t mean that Rotarians stick to these four core values in their businesses alone but in their daily life as well. It is through these ethical values that we build a strong humanitarian organization. These values are universal regardless of the cultural differences that might exist across communities.
Capital: In order to build such an ethical society, you need to recruit people who demonstrate integrity in their daily life. Are there any criteria to recruit members, is it open to anyone?
Tanaka: Personally, I believe that being a Rotarian is a very good way of growing as well as making your life better. It is a good way of self improvement. When we seek new members, we share the value we have gained in Rotary. We invite those we wish to share with us those good values. I think, this is the best way to recruit.
Capital: Rotarians played a part in writing the United Nation’s formation Charter. Now Rotary enjoys a permanent seat in the international organization. Do you have any influence in policy?
Tanaka: I believe there are a number of international NGOs in the world. However, Rotary is very close to the UN. Rotary cooperates with the UN to promote many activities around the world. The UN charter was written by 45 Rotarians. From its inception, the UN shares common values with Rotary. They are very similar. We have Rotary Day in the UN. It is celebrated every year in the first week of November. This year it is going to be the third of November. I will address the public on that occasion. I have never thought about whether Rotary has influence or not because that is not the nature of our relationship. But as Rotary is an organization of likeminded people, we have likeminded goals. You can influence each other without realizing it. For instance, the UN Development Goals are the same as the ideals of Rotary. We are not influencing each other in real terms, we work together to achieve the same goals for communities around the world.
Capital: Since your arrival in Ethiopia on July 28, you have met some officials including the President and the Minister of Health. Can you share with us the theme of your discussions with them?
Tanaka: The major project of Rotary is the eradication of Polio. We have been involved in the fight against Polio since 1988. I thanked them for their cooperation in the global fight against Polio. I also asked the government of Ethiopia to incorporate the vaccination of children in its program. Because this is one of the activities Rotary is doing. Without vaccination of children, it is impossible to eradicate Polio 100 percent; It is very difficult to see a world free of Polio. At least 95 percent of children need to be vaccinated to accomplish this or we run the risk of experiencing an outbreak of the Polio virus once again. I also advocated that the government funds the fight against Polio. Both the president and the Minister are aware of the role Rotary plays in the fight against Polio. The theme of our discussion touched this critical concern of our organization. I also met leaders of the African Union and United Nation Economic Commission for Africa. I want to thank everyone for receiving me despite their busy schedule. I was really surprised when I arrived at these institutions. I was there to say thank you for their cooperation in the fight to eradicate Polio. However, they thanked Rotary. That is really what surprised me more.
Capital: Can you tell us about the role of Rotary International, WHO and UNICEF in the fight against Polio?
Tanaka: Rotary mobilizes the funds necessary to fight Polio from Rotarians around the world as well as donors. Usually Rotary does not get any credit though it mobilizes funds and social efforts. This is not to brag about ourselves but to let the general public understand the role of Rotary in the fight against Polio in relation to WHO, UNICEF, CDC, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and JICA. These are all equal partners. Each of these partners has something unique to offer. As far as Rotarians are concerned, we are a grass roots organization. We can mobilize community; we can mobilize people. Some partners provide money; some medical knowledge. CDC has the research with drugs and WHO has a wide range of statistics. So, each partner is collaborating with its own specialty. One is not stronger than the other. Though everyone in this organization needs to get its due credit, we can say that Rotary is the major player in the fight to eradicate polio around the world. We are succeeding in that regard with the help of our partners.