Making history with people of action

This speech was presented to a joint meeting of the Rotary Clubs of Kirinyaga, Embu, Meru, Muranga, Nithi, Nkubu and Nyeri on the 10th of March 2017.

I’d like to express heartfelt gratitude to the President of the Rotary Club of Kirinyaga, Rotarian Judith Karimi for her gracious invitation to share my ideas and thoughts with you today at this Mega Joint Fellowship of the Rotary Clubs of Kirinyaga, Embu, Meru, Murang’a, Nithi, Nkubu and Nyeri. I’d also like to express my gratitude to Presidents Ruth Ndwiga, Morris Mwiti, Esther Murage, Loyd Kibaara, Christopher Ndegwa and Faith Mbarire to welcoming me and Rotarians from all over the country to this congenial fellowship which is like no other.

As Rotarians, the massive impact we have in our communities is not only because of our desire to deliver a better world to the next generation, but also because we have visionary leadership that is inspiring and motivates action. District Governor Richard Omwela, you have started a new era in Rotary’s District 9212 and the spread and consolidation of our dear humanitarian organization is beyond a doubt. On behalf of all the Rotarians in the district I’d like to say thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for your leadership, dedication and commitment that allows us to be better for the world.

It is a relatively new concept for generations for district governors to set comprehensive plans for the district together and in our district it is working perfectly. To District Governor Elect Peter Mbui, you have our admiration for taking the mantle after DG Richard, and you have our uncompromising support when you gain the pinnacle of the district. And to District Governor Nominee Jeff Bamford, you too have our respect and support, and your resolve to continue the quest to be the greatest district in the world following your predecessors will be matched by the strongest will and unstoppable action by the Rotarians that you lead when you assume the highest office.

If you want to move fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together – this describes the district in its current state as the Club Presidents have made history with the number of joint fellowships that have occurred in this Rotary year. Congratulations to you all for turning up the energy of Rotary like never before! I am entirely grateful that I walk among giants, and together we are making history.

I spend a considerable amount of my time studying the greatest people that ever lived, be it in leadership, sports, business, profession or other fields. I’d like to know what it is that drives them; what it is that sets them apart from the rest of us. I’ve followed the stories of Constantine the first Holy Roman Emperor, Kamal Atatuk, the Father of the Turkish Republic, Sir Alex Ferguson the English Premier League manager with the most wins. I’ve also absorbed the stories of Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta, Margaret Thatcher, Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, looking for insight into what it takes to be the best that you can be, and to have an irrevocable influence in society.

In the course of my search I have found that true genius is the ability to take complex ideas and dumb them down, or simplify them. So after a length of time reading, studying and conducting research, I finally found a fundamental truth on the golf course. Having bet heavily against my playing partner on an odd day in Limuru Country club, and seeing my chances diminishing after every hole played, my mood shifted from desperate, to despair, and to acceptance, and finally to philosophy; perhaps there was a greater reason that I was there on that day. It didn’t help that my playing partner coincidentally chose a philosophical discussion to console me.

He said that in his long standing golfing experience he’d had an opportunity to observe many types of players. He’d come to the conclusion that there were those types of players that had natural talent, which carried their game and fortunes through time. These types of players didn’t need to put in much effort or time in training and practice in order to play well and if they did put in time they performed exceptionally.

The other types of players were more like he and I, who without much natural talent we relied on persistence, time and great effort to play acceptably and improve our game. By putting in several hours a day, spending considerable time with a coach, reading, watching instructional videos, and doing those things that sharpen skill, we are able to advance our performance to a level where we can compete with the best. Many of us fall in this category, and therefore we associate with the saying that ‘genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’ as if to make ourselves feel better about the fact that we are devoid of any talent to speak of.

The last group of people are those who have incredible luck. They don’t have talent; they don’t put in the time or effort; yet they are able to achieve considerable success. He then went on to explain how one of the former golf captains achieved the highest office even though he had an uninspiring swing and a handicap of 28! It was a story of beating tremendous odds, of good providence, and in line with the saying that fortune favors the bold.

I believe that as I speak you can identify people in your lives who have one or the other of these attributes — talent, persistence, or luck. Though in reality, depending on the situation, we all tend to apply a blend of these attributes at different points in time.

In order to win in education, our careers and in our personal lives and in Rotary, we use talent, persistence and luck in varying degrees where we can control them. Raw talent is God given. Persistence is what you as a human being have to give to any endeavor. And luck is pure chance.

So now we have a formula that we can use; but there is something else that the people with the greatest achievement use; something that separates them from the masses. I believe that is is simply the will to win. In ordinary circumstances, when there isn’t very much at stake, talent, persistence and luck will get us through. But where there is a high amount of competition, limited resources and a sense of urgency, it is the will to win that gets you to your goal.

There is someone I know and admire who has the will to win, and many of you here know him. Out of 1.2 million Rotarian’s he is the first person in our region, East Africa, to get to the helm of the organization. Rotarian Sam Awori from the Rotary Club of Kampala, Uganda is the RI President Nominee; only the second black African to ascend to that position in 112 years, and we are very proud of him because he represents our aspirations and is a role model, not just for Rotarians, but for all people. Among his great credentials is the fact he held the record for the most number of clubs created in one year, during his year as District Governor in 1987-88; a record which was held for almost 30 years.

My mother club, Rotary Club of Nairobi-East, was one of the clubs in formation during his year as Governor.

I first interacted with Sam when he was Rotary International Director and I was the Rotary Public Image Coordinator for Africa and we were involved in an initiative that is always close to his heart — Rotary membership, and specifically the growth of Rotary in Africa. Specific action plans to grow membership in our Rotary Zone were orchestrated in the Rotary In Africa (ROTA) committee that was constituted in 2009-2010 and chaired by the very able Past Rotary International Director Tom Branum Snr.

Tom popularized a leadership concept of 3 generations of District Governors working together in concert to advance Rotary’s objectives in each district. In the past, District Governors in succession would generally want to out-do one another, and as much as this friendly competition created a high performance environment, it also generated waste when initiatives started in one year were halted in the following year irrespective of the amount of effort and goodwill that went into launching them.

The Troika of District Governors have since began to plan their activities together, bringing in newly elected nominees into the fold in time, and thereby improving the transition and driving the collective energy in the same direction for greater impact. They focus on delivering Rotary International’s strategic plan around improving humanitarian service, strengthening clubs and enhancing the public image.

Our powerful Troika is here today represented by District Governor Richard Omwela, District Governor Elect Peter Mbui and District Governor Nominee Jeff Bamford and you can be well informed that they are working extremely well together and the momentum created by our past District Governors is headed to greatness in their hands.

Seven years ago, the Rotary membership in Africa stood at 25,000, and as you know we are part of a zone that has been divided into two. Zones and districts have certain numbers of clubs and Rotarians which are set for administrative management. Zone 20A belongs to Sub-Saharan Africa, and excludes the Maghreb, as North Africa is part of Zone 20B that includes the middle east, and parts of eastern Europe.

At that time the, RI Board had raised a challenge that if Africa increased its Rotary membership to 35,000 we would get our won Zone. Sam was categorical about his opinion of this challenge. He said that we didn’t expect any favors and we will do it out of our will to win and thereby be recognized for our own effort and achievement.

Through the determined action of the  Rotary In Africa committee, the Governor Trokia’s in our 14 districts, the Rotary Coordinators, Rotary Public Image Coordinators and Regional Rotary Foundation Coordinators, and the support of Rotary leaders around the world, we achieved 30,000 Rotarians in Africa last year.

Even though we haven’t completely met that target, Africa remains the fastest growing region, and last year the Re-Zoning Committee considered the numbers and declared that from 2019 Africa will be a complete zone of its own.

With 30,000 Rotarians out of a population of 1 billion people we have a percentage of 0.00003 and Sam’s new challenge to us to to bring that percentage to at least 0.0001% or 100,000 Rotarians. South Korea has a population of 50 million and they have 60,000 Rotarians. Germany has the same number of Rotarians with a total population of 80 million. Don’t you think that it is possible to grow to 100,000 Rotarians within a total population of 1 billion people?

Sam’s vision is to have at least 2 districts in Kenya, rather that the current multi-country district we have, which as the District Governor will attest, is an administrative nightmare. 2 districts in Kenya would be extremely manageable — and imaging the great impact that 4,000 Rotarians can have on the needy communities in the country.

No one but you can double the number of Rotarians in Kenya, not the RI President, not the RI Director, none of the committees or teams of coordinators can do this. The onus is on you and I to find within ourselves the inspiration that will spark that fire in our bellies, to motivate legendary leadership, encapsulating compassion, and the determined action to deliver the Rotary promise, promote the brand, create a memorable and enjoyable experience for members, and to take the next step which is to habitually invite people from your circle of friends to join Rotary.

Remember, the Rotary brand promise is to join leaders, who exchange ideas and take action to improve lives in communities everywhere.

If we use our natural born talents, act with persistence, pray to our deities for good fortune, and finally use our will to win — then it is only a matter of time for us to get to 100,000 Rotarians in Africa.

Finally, I’d like to leave you all with a blessing.

May God bless the vision on your mind, the courage in your heart, and the work of your hands.

Thank you.


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