Rotary International (RI) is a service club with the stated purpose of bringing together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world. RI has over 34,000 clubs and over 1.2 million members around the world. The current RI President Sakuji Tanaka took office on July 1, 2012, with the vision of “Peace through service”. Tanaka is former president of Tanaka Company Limited, a leading wholesale firm in Japan and has since 1975 served in various positions in RI, including as RI director and regional Rotary foundation coordinator. Tanaka arrived in Nepal on Monday to chair a two-day program, Rotary Vocational Award. Excerpts from his Interview with Republica:
We learn that you visited Nepal two decades ago. How has the country changed?
I feel people’s need then and now have not changed much. It is necessary to understand the need of particular communities. Responding to at least people’s basic demands has to be the priority of government and other organizations working in Nepal. Ensuring food, health, nutrition and education should be among those priorities.
What were your agendas while filing your nomination for RI President? What do you hope to achieve during your one-year term?
We hear the word peace through media a lot. We use it in our conversations and we talk about it in Rotary as well. But what is peace and what does it mean? Peace can be defined as a state of no war. It means that you are not in danger. But peace can also mean freedom of thought. It can mean security and confidence in the future and a stable society. It means different things to different people. No matter how we understand the word, Rotary can help achieve peace through service.
You focus is “Peace through service”. But isn’t peace building a long-term project, while you serve as RI president only for a year?
Although I get only a year as RI President, it will be my great achievement if all 1.24 million Rotary activists in 34,000 clubs contribute to peace building. I have set the agenda, but peace should not rely on individual leadership. We need to respect the diversity amidst our differences. Finding strength rather than faults in people is important. I goad Rotary clubs to discuss the meaning of peace and to work together to achieve our goal of peace through service. Rotary’s motto ‘Service Above Self’ reminds us that one cannot live aimlessly and alone. When we live for others we focus on our role as an individual, and in the family, community, and all humanity, at national and international levels. Then, we make our own place in the world.
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In what ways does the Rotary theme of “Peace through service” help build peace in Nepal?
You are a Nepali and you must have realized the root causes of conflict in your country. My interpretation is that people can’t live without food, education and medical assistance. And if they can improve their livelihood, by our help, they can develop long term peace and harmony. Through our Rotary services, we know that cooperation is more productive than conflict. We learn to value each other. We know that each of us has something to give, and everyone has something to teach. Rotary’s six focused areas are peace through conflict resolution and prevention; water and sanitation; maternal health and child care; disease prevention and treatment; basic education and literacy; and economic and community development—all implemented in Nepal through the involvement of Rotarians.
Most Rotarians belong to high class. Given this reality, how does it fulfill your “Service Above Self” motto?
It is a misconception that only rich people can be Rotarians. I was very poor when I was young.
Before I joined Rotary, my view of the world was narrow. We were poor, everyone we knew was like us. But I have become the RI President. Everyone is equal in Rotary.
Doesn’t it indicate people’s lack of interest in Rotary club that it has managed to enlist just over a million members in 200 countries?
To increase membership is not our goal. The 34,000 communities come face to face and spell out their vision on future programs. This is the main strength of our organization. Rotarians are doing their best in Nepal and I am impressed with their performance.
Last RI President Kalyan Banerjee had a vision of making the whole world literate. How will that vision be implemented during your tenure?
Our Future Vision Plan is going to be launched soon. It will be combined with our six focus areas I have already mentioned. Literacy is important to emerge from poverty. In my visit to Africa, I found that illiteracy was the root cause of most of their problems.
What is the amount of budget Rotary allocates to literacy?
The RI does not have any specific budget. Whatever particular clubs or districts deem necessary is spent in the area.
Are you planning to meet government representatives in Nepal?
No matter where I go, I take the opportunity to meet top government officers and convey the message of peace through service. I will be grateful to meet the top level leaders of Nepal as well.