DGE Joe Otin Speech at the Rotary Club of Nairobi Gigiri Installation Ceremony
22nd June 2019
The late Sam Owori was a good friend and a mentor to me. When I first met Sam he was so high up in the Rotary food chain that I’d often get asphyxiated when interacting with him at his level. His meteoric rise eventually saw him elected to serve as the Rotary International President Elect — the second African to ever ascend to that role. Unfortunately before reaching the pinnacle of the organization, he was called prematurely to the heavenly abode.
Sam was greatly admired and dearly loved and his mastery of Rotary and ability to drive positive change was unmatched. He often liked to say that ‘if it’s not happening in the clubs, it’s not happening at all’, meaning that the Rotary International gained its influence from the actions of the individual clubs spread across 200 countries.
Over time I have come to recognize the significance of that phrase and, within its simplicity, how it carries illuminating wisdom that is undeniably relevant to us now. The quote also gives us an insight into the man, who with a quiet confidence and steely resolve gained the reputation as a man-of-action and earned the right to sit among great and important leaders.
His rise to the top was not without event because he grew his leadership muscle in Uganda when the tyrant Idi Amin Dada was at the helm. The air in the country was filled with uncertainty and it was not uncommon for prominent individuals to go missing. Sadly, Rotarians were not spared from the general harassment and subsequently membership plummeted.
Two years after the tyranny ceased and with an extremely weakened Rotary, Sam was elected to serve as District Governor for the district that stretched from Zambia in the south up to Ethiopia in the north. It was a daunting task no less, but a responsibility he assumed with energy and aplomb.
They say that your legacy is determined by your successors and not only did Sam succeed in his year as Governor, but we have many reasons to thank him for, including membership growth in the district in general and Uganda specifically. For over 30 years he held the global record for the most number of clubs chartered in a year by any governor and the district that he oversaw has been split into several parts to manage the subsequent surge in membership and impact.
Today, Uganda remains a powerhouse in Rotary for its strength in numbers and the substantial donations to the foundation.
Remember, it all began from a time when there was no hope, the future was bleak and fear ruled the day. It was a dark, cold and damp day in Rotary; the very surroundings that would extinguish any fire and kill the promise of igniting a spark that might set off new beginnings. But within the Rotarians who remained, there was a steady glow that simmered ceaselessly, like the embers of a forgotten fire; and when the time came, and the wind of fortune blew its way, it once again reawakened and burned in raging glory.
We are part of that legacy and thus we have a pedigree for hard work, determination and resolve. The Rotary Club of Gigiri was launched with success in mind based on the fact that it was formed in an excellent membership catchment area. The UN Campus is located in its vicinity and most of the officers employed there are potential members. However, it has been an uphill battle and the initial promise of a large club has dwindled gradually over time as there has been a decline in membership since inception.
Therefore the club’s capability to participate in community programmes is diminished. Moreover it is an administrative nightmare to carry out substantial projects when you have a membership that is under 20 members. The history of our district shows that the minimum number of members that a club needs to operate effectively is 20 and if it is to thrive, it should have over 25 members. It is thus critical that the Gigiri Rotary Club grows its numbers without delay.
We can take some lessons from Sam Owori and implement them so that a turnaround is in sight. To start with Sam and the Rotarians in Uganda during the tough times had a strong sense of belief. Belief in your purpose and in your ability to cause change is necessary if you wish to carry out anything worthwhile and people around you can sense it. When they encounter your desire and drive for positive outcomes they generally get on board.
Secondly, you need to build a culture of positive energy. Developing a positive corporate culture requires time and a deliberate effort and the team members should own the process and the outcomes. I often compare the the development of culture with a home garden where you plant flowers and vegetables. In the garden you will take time to prepare the ground, plant the seeds, spread manure and water it frequently so that they can grow healthily. Anything that you don’t deliberately plant and grows on it own is harmful to your original crops, including the weeds that deprive them of nutrients, water and space. Thus, be weary of culture that springs up on its own around the culture that you intend to nurture.
Thirdly, celebrate your achievements and ensure that your members are recognized for their actions, passion and ingenuity. Start with the goals that can be achieved in a short period of time so that everyone is engaged and in rhythm; such as giving every Rotarian a target to bring in one new member within six months. And when they achieve the results in any measure, send an article to the district magazine, post it on your social media and publish it in your newsletter. Don’t forget to write a personal thank you note to those members who are responsible for the success.
Effecting a turnaround is a major project and that is why we applaud leaders who carry them out effectively. The Rotary Club of Gigiri has a strong foundation consisting of committed members who have great connections and intelligent ideas. With the leadership of President Esther Muchiri, I project that the turnaround is in sight and that the membership numbers will reflect the dedication and inspiration that she brings to the role.
May God bless the vision on your mind, the love in your heart and the work of your hands, and may He bestow you and your families with health, good fortune and long life.