Rotary initiatives inspired by Constantine the Great

If we intend to solve a problem of monumental proportions we must develop a technique that breaks the problem and opportunity down to bite sized portions. In the instance of running a Rotary district of 2044 members and 93 clubs in 4 countries the steps may be defined as 1) discovering a penetrating and relevant insight about the people involved – the members and the beneficiaries, 2) developing a strategy that outlines clear action steps to improving the quality of life in our society, and 3) pursuing the virtuous life that approaches every problem as an opportunity by knowing ourselves and developing a deep understanding and love for those around us.

Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli historian and a professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He talks about the need for our societies to establish sets of stories that define our beliefs and ultimately guide our behaviour. He says that we have several stories that exist in our minds and in the event that one fails, we immediately latch on to another, because those stories are very important to our way of life.

In East Africa our stories revolve around democracy (or lack of it), capitalism, religion – whatever your brand of religion is, the values of the extended families in our social structure, tradition, ambition, and many other themes, both positive and negative, that define our way of life.

Since the beginning of time, no other species has ever existed that places such importance to these ideologies and constructs and this makes humans unique, giving us the ability to create complex social structures that have allowed us to dominate the earth. That peculiar nature also allows us to be able to change our behaviour tremendously fast because when we adopt a new story, we are able to alter our actions to align to its tenets — and to do so with a majority.

In developing a compelling story or philosophy as I prepare for the district governor role, Constantine comes to mind. Constantine the Great unified the Roman empire in 312 AD, and demonstrated compassion for the downtrodden and a desire to protect the weak from the strong. Of all Roman emperors he has kept the longest and most persistent presence in the consciousness of later generations mostly because it was during his reign that Christianity became a world religion.

Constantine was bold, willing to take great risk — and risks whose potential costs or benefits he understood full well. The qualities that he adopted were loyalty, efficiency, and hard work. These characteristics combined together in a long and remarkable career, which successfully restored the Roman Empire to its former glory.

Constantine was a man of great passion which was revealed in his relationship with the God he discovered as he searched for answers before the invasion of Italy. This God loved him, he firmly believed, and looked after him, and Constantine thanked and worshipped him for the guidance that he gave.

It was consistency, and the amazing energy that enabled him to carry out his vision of uniting the empire, that made Constantine not only one of the most successful emperors of Rome, but one of history’s most influential leaders.

From his career, three things emerge that we can use to create our story and that is, consolidation, collaboration and convergence.

To consolidate the district, it is critical to pay attention to Rotarians and to emphasise the need for all our leaders to do the same and incorporate learnings from the Hawthorne effect. When experimenting on the effects of lighting in the Hawthorn Works in Cicero, Illinois the managers discovered something unexpected, when during one night shift the lights in the factory were turned up, and the next day they found that productivity had increased. For the control element of the experiment they turned down the lights on the following night and were surprised on the next day to find that productivity went up even further.

It became clear to them that it was not the intensity of the light that motivated their staff, but instead it was the fact that the workers knew that they were being observed. The key motivational factor here is to pay attention to your team in order to get them to perform at optimal levels.

With this in mind we will pay particular attention to the training that we provide to the Club Presidents and Assistant Governors who support the clubs. We are working with the likes of Rotarian and President Nominee of the Rotary Club of Muthaiga, Paul Kasimu, the Group HR Director of Safaricom, to build on what we already have and deliver world class coaching across the district. Stronger club leaders result in stronger clubs and enable Rotary to deliver the brand promise of joining leaders, who exchange ideas and take action to improve lives in communities everywhere.

Collaboration refers to the efforts that Rotarians are making when clubs join hands to tackle particular issues in our society. It also refers to the joint efforts with The Rotary Foundation in providing sizeable grants for solving problems in needy communities. The greatest opportunities to scale up our outcomes lie in our ability to partner with large corporations, government and major NGOs. We are reaching out to our membership who sit in important Boards and who have high level influence to make this type of collaboration possible. The example of Rotary District 9212 and the Safaricom Foundation joint initiative is a perfect example of this and we intend to develop half a dozen partnerships of this nature.

The convergence of different schools of thought, expertise and philosophies that emerge out of modern management and social structures, especially those that we find in Rotary provides exciting possibilities. The innovations around Information Technology, locally and abroad, may have a profound effect on the way we communicate with one another and raise the resources that we need to have an impact. Working with the likes of Rotarian Moses Kemibaro of the Rotary Club of Karen, who has extensive experience in IT around Africa, we intend to open up new ways of giving to The Rotary Foundation and sharing success stories to motivate Rotarians across Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and South Sudan.

Finally, we are at the verge of eradicating polio. From 300,000 new cases per year in 1985 to only 15 cases recorded this year, we need to make the final great push to see it happen in our life time. This is not the time to sit back and wait for it to happen, but the last mile requires that we put in every dollar we can raise towards this effort, and we intend to have Rotarians in the district donate the highest amounts that we’ve ever raised for polio.

By gathering inspiration from one of the worlds most influential leaders, we have uncovered 3 steps to having a meaningful experience in district leadership, namely consolidation, collaboration and convergence.

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