Speech by Bhichai
Rattakul, Rotary President 2002-2003, at the International Assembly
at Anaheim on January 30th, 2002
"President Rick King, Past Presidents of
Rotary International and my Rotary friends:
You have gathered at this International Assembly
in order to prepare for one of the most incredible experiences you
will ever have - your term as a district governor.
At this point, I wish to echo what President
Rick King has told you - that this indeed is a great moment for Rotary
International. In this august assembly is the cream of Rotary's leadership,
not only for the coming year, but for many, many years to come.
So it is my privilege, as a member of your
team - our team - to welcome you to this International Assembly. Here
we will work side by side - we will create objectives and goals for
the coming year and we will share our Rotary know-how to build the
mechanism, which will help us reach them. Here we will come into a
larger fellowship, surmounting the barriers of race, culture and religion,
united by the bonds of humanity.
Rotary accepts every person for who he or she
is. Rotary does not demand perfection, but Rotary does expect a person
to live up to his or her best. Rotary inspires us to dream of the
world the way it ought to be - a world of brotherhood, of service,
of idealism, of peace, of harmony. A world of love.
You, district governors-elect, are the Rotary
leaders of tomorrow. You have the responsibility of guiding the clubs
and Rotarians in your districts to the ends of their horizons.
Our vision of a world fellowship on a person-to-person
basis remains clear and undimmed. And this keen vision is most desperately
needed today. Never before in recent memory has our world faced as
great a threat as the September terrorist attacks that brought blood
and tears as thousands and thousands of innocent people perished.
There is, therefore, urgency to our meeting, and to our calling as
leaders and as Rotarians.
As Rotarians first, we know that it is the
club and its members - not the district governor, not the directors,
not the president of Rotary International - who do the work of Rotary.
Our clubs are the heart and soul of Rotary, so during your terms as
district governors, I will ask you to focus your attention on nurturing
every club in your district.
To strengthen our clubs, we will work from
the "bottom up", rather than from the "top down."
"Bottom up" means that I won't be
giving you new rules to follow, new procedures to learn or new quotas
to meet, because that's a "top down" approach. Just as I
ask you to work from the "bottom up," I will do the same.
"Bottom up" means that the strength
of your district's clubs is the true measure of the success of your
term as governor. Your greatest satisfaction will come when the clubs
in your district grow strong and reap bountiful harvests of service.
"Bottom up" means that for us, the
leadership of Rotary, it will be far more important to see than to
be seen, far more important to listen than to be heard, and far more
important to love than to be loved.
To improve our clubs from the "bottom
up," we must place them firmly in charge. To support this goal,
the Presidential Citation Program will turn to the clubs for their
initiatives and ideas. We will, of course, stay focused on membership
growth with the continuation of the Global Quest campaign. But after
that, it is up to each club to decide how they will carry out their
activities in all of the Four Avenues of Service. They will report
their plan, and if they fulfill their commitments, they will earn
their citation. The choice is to let Rotary clubs strengthen the operations
and administration of their clubs, making them stronger. Let them
spend their own money to meet their community's needs and to fund
their own priorities.
....Perhaps one club will want to retain their
current membership throughout the year or to have only one new member
in one year. Perhaps another club will want to strengthen their club
by focusing on fellowship activities and encouraging better attendance
at the club's regular meetings, district conference or international
convention, or perhaps another club will want to provide scholarships
for young people. Another club may want to sponsor recreational programs
for older people. Another club will choose to commit its resources
to microcredit loans for launching small businesses or to help children
in their community orphaned by AIDS. In short, let them set their
Every project and every activity is worthy,
because every act of service we perform is like a seed, growing a
bountiful crop of love throughout our world.
Service is one of the timeless principles upon
which our beloved Rotary is built. I have now been a Rotarian for
more than 43 years and I can say that no one experiences the real
magic of Rotary without direct participation in service.
When I first came into Rotary, so many years
ago, I prided myself on being a good Rotarian - I paid all of my dues
on time and I had perfect attendance. But in truth, for over a year,
I was not a Rotarian at all. I avoided each and every call to service.
It so happened that our club was organizing
a weekend trip to the beach for some fatherless boys in our community,
and at the Wednesday meeting before the outing, our president made
a plea. Not for money, not for donated goods. He wanted us. He needed
more members to drive boys to the beach and spend the day with them.
I kept my head and my hand down and assumed
I had successfully avoided another call to service until I got a telephone
call at home that Friday night. It was our club president, in a state
of panic. One of the volunteers had cancelled at the last minute and
if he didn't find a replacement, there would be some brokenhearted
boys who wouldn't get to go to the beach.
Brokenhearted boys, in those days, meant less
to me than my weekends. But I reluctantly agreed to help, only because
I didn't want our fledgling Rotary club to lose face with the more
established Rotary club across town.
So there I was the next morning, spending my
precious Saturday in a car full of excited boys, heading to the beach.I
took an immediate dislike to one fellow, and I justified my dislike
when I noticed that none of the other boys liked him, either. He was
scrawny, withdrawn, peculiar. And as fate would have it, this boy
attached himself to me. Every time I turned around, there he was.
I wished with all my heart he would go away or that this day was over.
But as the morning wore on, I started to ask
myself why this little boy was bothering me. And then the answer came
He needed me! Something in my selfishness gradually
found its way to the realization that when one life is changed, the
world is changed. Could I do that? Could I change that one life?
I realized then that a person who wants to
do something finds a way, rather than an excuse. I wanted then and
there to find a way to meet this child's needs. Simple things - like
getting a good canoe for the two of us to paddle around in. Finding
him a good place in line for lunch. Making sure that he wasn't left
out just because he was awkward and a little different from the others.
After doing everything I could to get out of
participating, I found myself wishing that the day would never end.
For the first time in my life, I felt the joy that comes from an unselfish
During the ride back home, I made sure that
this boy was in the front seat next to me. Although we didn't say
a lot, we both felt good.
Once we were back, the kids grabbed their wet
bathing suits, towels and clothes and went inside. But my little friend
did not go in. He and I just stood there in the dark. I was glad it
was dark. No one could see my eyes tear up when his little arms suddenly
wrapped themselves tight around my legs and I heard his little voice
say, "I wish you were my dad."
....Now, I do not doubt that every one of you
has experienced the joy of service firsthand. But perhaps it has been
a while since you've been actively and personally involved in a service
project. We all know that the best leaders lead by example, so this
is the year to get involved again.
But there is another reason I told you this
Think about that club president - can you imagine
how he felt? Calling people at home on a Friday night, pleading with
them, being told no, calling the next member, staying with it until
he succeeded. What gave him the strength to do it?
His faith in Rotary.
He knew that if you simply get people to show
up, the magic will happen. My life was changed by one child. One little
boy was all it took to awaken the heart of a selfish man.
Promote direct participation in service and
support every opportunity for direct Rotarian involvement with all
of your heart. And you show up, too. The presence of a district governor
at any Rotary event is so meaningful, and it is one of the most important
things you can do to support your clubs and their leadership.
And don't be afraid to give a well-placed nudge
now and again. I will forever be in debt to that club president. Without
his persistence, I don't know if I would be in front of you today.
My friends, as the leadership team it is up
to us to inspire our fellow Rotarians. It is up to us to bring Rotary
into their hearts. We have no way of changing the past, but we have
endless ways of changing the future. Destiny is not a matter of chance,
it is a matter of choice. The future is not an opportunity to be wasted,
but rather a work to be built!
Rotarians are indeed architects of the future
if we act on our commitment to service. But in drawing up the blueprints,
let us build on our already strong foundation.
In Thailand we talk about a cow that forgets
its footprints. While we look forward to the future and the tasks
that await us, let us not make the same mistake. Let us remember and
honor our origins. Let us not forget the basics and the fundamental
principles and philosophy of Rotary.
Fellowship in our clubs creates the environment
in which service thrives. And lively club fellowship needs a healthy
mix of experienced members and new members. We must continue to seek
That is why we are continuing the Global Quest
campaign next year. Rotary's once-explosive membership growth has
come to a virtual standstill. 16 percent of the world's Rotary club's
have fewer than twenty members.
These clubs would not even be admitted to Rotary
if they were applying for a charter today! And - what's even more
shocking - is that during the last few years we lost more than 35
percent of the Rotarians in existing clubs- some 400,000 Rotarians
left our ranks. We must address this issue, because we need a sufficient
number of qualified members to meet the demands of our business.
Please note that I make a particular emphasis
on "qualified." In order to meet our membership goals, I
ask you to encourage your clubs to follow the classification principle,
so they can maintain a balanced membership - one that is representative
of the community it serves. This factor has always been a source of
Rotary's strength, and it begins with an up-to-date roster of classifications.
This roster should include the many new kinds of businesses that have
been created in our fast-moving world, particularly in the technology
Encourage your clubs to commit to the classification
principle, not only to recruit new members, but as a cornerstone of
one of Rotary's timeless principles: Vocational Service. Vocational
Service is one of the Four Avenues of Service -along with Club Service,
Community Service and International Service. Recognizing the worthiness
of all useful occupations by inviting qualified people to represent
those occupations in our Rotary clubs is the first step to fulfilling
the goals of Vocational Service.
..And when we speak of Vocational Service,
we must also speak of another timeless component of a Rotarian's life
- a commitment to high ethical standards in all businesses and professions.
It is critical that we serve as role models. Our high standards and
the level to which we follow them determine our credibility.
In a recent commencement address at Stanford
University in California, USA, American television journalist Ted
Koppel urged the graduates, and I quote: "Aspire to decency.
Practice civility toward one another. Admire and emulate ethical behavior
wherever you find it. Apply a rigid standard of morality to your lives;
and if, periodically, you fail as you surely will adjust
your lives, not the standards." unquote.
As you see, high ethical standards have not
gone out of fashion. As Rotarians, we should be proud of our noble
tradition of promoting exemplary business practices among our members.
As district governors, I expect you to lead by example. Live by the
highest ethical standards in your Rotary lives, and in your professional
All of these things: empowering our clubs,
increasing our membership, recommitting to Rotarian ideals of high
ethical standards and community leadership, will strengthen Rotary.
And as we have seen, over and over again, a strong Rotary has the
power to change our world.
Just one example of what I am talking about
is the Lighthouse Literacy project.. The first Lighthouse Literacy
project began when Rotary clubs in Australia and Thailand worked together
to fight illiteracy in the rural provinces of Thailand. They used
an Australian teaching method - the Concentrated Language Encounter
- and adapted the method to the Thai culture. The initial pilot was
wildly successful, rippling through four rural Thai communities as
the students rapidly learned to read and write and then taught their
parents. The program was adopted nationally when the Thai Ministry
of Education incorporated it into the National Economic and Social
Since then, Rotary clubs have teamed up with
governments in many countries to use this program to combat illiteracy.
None of this would have been possible without that first effort of
just a few Rotary clubs. Lighthouse Literacy is a model for what Rotary
can do. By getting a program started and by committing the resources
to develop it, we can attract partners in service, which include governments
and other non-government organizations.
Of course, the most shining example of this
is the PolioPlus campaign. This great global endeavor began with a
few Rotary clubs responding to a local need - immunizing children
in the Philippines. That project was a seed, a seed that grew into
the most large-scale project in Rotary's history.
We are justifiably proud of the accomplishments
of PolioPlus, but right now, let us think about the work that remains.
We are at the most critical phase and we must not fool ourselves.
Twenty years of progress could be lost unless we commit fully to the
completion of this project. As governors, you are the messengers.
We need more vitality and we need more funds in this final thrust.
We need Rotarians to help find corporate and government donations,
we need clubs to sponsor PolioPlus Partners projects and we need Rotarian
hours, not just Rotarian checks.
It should not escape our attention that we
have completed 99 percent of the job, and the greatest obstacles to
completing that final 1percent are being caused by wars and other
conflicts. We must succeed, because we must show the world that the
answer to hatred and terror is love and peace.
When I think about the hostilities raging in
our world, I often wonder what would happen if everyone had the opportunity
to have an experience like the one we are having here at this Assembly.
We have gathered here from every part of the
world, representing different races, countries, languages, religions,
politics, and cultures.
We come knowing that the love you give is sowing
further seeds of love.
....My dear friends in Rotary, in the coming year,
I will be asking you to live and work by our theme.
"Sow the Seeds of Love"
I ask you to Sow the Seeds of Love and plant
the essence of life.
Survival is, of course, the essence of life.
But survival alone has no value, it is who you survive for that is
So Sow the Seeds of Love in your club, in your
vocation, in your community and in your world.
The seeds of love are hardy. They will grow
in any climate, and in any soil. Some of the seeds we sow will begin
to sprout almost immediately, and like wildflowers, begin to seed
themselves, spreading love throughout the air. Other seeds may fall
on hard and rocky ground, and they will require more nurturing. But
by cultivating them with Rotarian commitment and action, I guarantee
that we will reap a bountiful harvest of humanitarian service.
To Sow the Seeds of Love is to find opportunities
to serve every day, every moment of our lives. To Sow the Seeds of
Love is to think of others first, and ourselves in terms of what we
can do for others.
For Rotary is not really Rotary unless it is
engaged in high moral principle, and indeed we are. As Rotarians,
we have such a purpose today and always. To make kinder the face of
the country, and gentler the face of the world.
We therefore have work, much work to do. As
Dr. Jonas Salk once said "The greatest reward for doing is the
opportunity to do more."
My friends, let us all move forward from here
with love and hope and confidence and hold to our cause dearly and
effectively, for if we have the strength to live with uncertainty,
there is hardly any obstacle that cannot be overcome.
If we stand together and work together for
this great cause - the ideal of service - then we must keep our eyes
straight ahead. Then we shall not only survive, but we shall be victorious,
then we shall not only win the peace, but also the future.
Yes, my friends let us go forth then . . .
let us go forth to Sow the Seeds of Love."