Your past can propel you to future victories

This speech was presented at the installation of Franklin Masinde as the President of the Rotary Club of Hurlingham

27th July 2019

Marcus Garvey said that “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” I’d say the same for Rotary clubs because if the members don’t know where they’ve come from, or the journey it has taken to get where they are, it becomes very difficult for them to plan a glorious future.

And as we often don’t write our history, it passes down the line through word-of-mouth, which as we know is not very efficient. In Africa we are well aware of oral history and how it can distort the images of the past and allow traditions to transform more rapidly than they do in societies where the literature is laid down in books that are preserved through the years.

The history of civilizations are drafted by the conquerors, and in a similar fashion the narrative of Rotary clubs are defined and recorded by the men and women at the helm. And because, in our part of the world, these records are stored in the most sophisticated computer known to man, the brain, then it follows that the only way that we can review our history is to retain our past presidents.

When you consider the nature of the high performing clubs around the world you find that those with active past presidents thrive, and those that have lost their past presidents wallow in the doldrums of despair. So, Mr. Garvey was right, that those who know their history, origin and culture have strong roots that allow the tree to grow strong and weather the storms of life.

The Rotary Club of Hurlingham has a strong, yet checkered heritage, which I am aware of because I have had the honor to walk through part of it with you. The Rotary Centennial club presidents have a special bond and while I was the president of my club in 2004-05, I became close to your president at the time, Elizabeth Kimkung. It so happens that Elizabeth and I worked in the same building on Mombasa road and visited with each other frequently to exchange notes and discuss emerging issues in our clubs and the district.

On several occasions we would inadvertently meet in the parking lot when leaving for the day, and spend about an hour talking about Rotary. These discussions were extremely helpful during my presidency. However, one day when we were in the twilight of our leadership as the Rotary year was about to close, she informed me that the members of Hurlingham Rotary had decided to return their charter and close the club.

Needless to say I was shocked and dismayed and offered all the support that I could muster to keep the club alive. Elizabeth therefore invited me to a meeting between the remaining members of the club and senior Rotarians including the District Governor at the time, Mohamed Abdula, Past District Governors and other well well-wishers. This meeting happened at the poolside of the Holiday Inn and it was the most unique Rotary meeting that I have ever attended.

The usual cheer and banter that fills the air at the start of regular Rotary meetings when members arrive was replaced by a pensive mood and quite greetings as people trickled into the pool area. When the meeting began the air was tense, but it eased up when the Yusuf Kodwavalla, a Past District Governor, laid down in no uncertain terms that the district could not allow this club to disappear into the annals of history. With that there was a glimmer of hope that flashed among the participants, which grew into a renewed energy and by the end of the meeting everyone in the room had pledged their support and committed to playing a role in the revival of the Hurlingham Rotary Club.

I attended every club meeting thereafter for almost 6 months, bringing potential Rotarians, guests and speakers, and I would play the role of Sergeant-At-Arms in some evenings, cracking boring jokes as usual and raising money from fines. I was appointed Assistant Governor a year later and naturally Hurlingham Rotary was one of the clubs that I supported.

The club is part of the great legacy left behind by the late Sam Owori, who as District Governor held a 30-year record of chartering the highest number of new Rotary clubs within a year. Rotary Club of Hurlingham was one of those clubs chartered by Sam, and it launched with great promise and aspirations. Years later I came to discover that the club and my mother club, Rotary Nairobi-East (the coolest club in town), were peers, having been chartered a few months of each other, with Nairobi-East being chartered on the other side of the Rotary year.

The rites of passage of a human being and a Rotary club are similar. At the beginning it is a bundle of joy, bursting with energy, and at this stage in a Rotary club everyone wants to be the president; there’s healthy competition for the role. By the time it gets to 12 years, it thinks it knows everything and seniors are considered old fashioned and irrelevant to the changing times. As a teenager, it becomes broody and antisocial, and in Rotary, this is the stage when nobody wants to be the president and there is a considerable amount of conflict that upsets the harmony.

This was the stage that Hurlingham found itself in when they considered handing in their charter, and like the years of puberty, it underwent several physical changes to get to where it is now. Most of those changes have been to do with getting a younger set of members, and the trend of retaining past presidents is very encouraging.

Nairobi-East was fortunate to go through a transformation earlier when it handed over its leadership to a 29 year-old, bright eyed and bushy tailed Rotarian – yours truly. Thereafter the new generation joined the club in significant numbers to make a difference in its course and now the club is one of the largest and strongest clubs in the district.

The reason I bring this up is because as a peer club it has shed light into what is possible with your club. That you can elect vibrant and energetic leadership, who set audacious goals that inspire the membership to put in their best effort to serve the community, and execute those plans to the letter bringing both pride and joy to everyone involved.

In President Franklin Masinde you have found another vibrant and energetic leader who will carry on the wonderful work from the tremendous effort of the past presidents in the club. The club is now set for great achievements and therefore it is time to get out of your comfort zone and set goals that will take the club to the heights that your peers have gained.

Don’t set the easy goals that you will achieve without much effort. I challenge you to increase your membership to 50, give $50,000 or more to the foundation, increase your participation in service projects and let these major plans be reflected in goals that you set for yourselves. It is time to bring the Rotary Club of Hurlingham to the point where every community that you serve outwardly adores you for your compassion, and the public respects you for the sustainable impact that you create.

President Franklin, you have been elected to serve at the pinnacle of the Rotary Club of Hurlingham because the members believe that your leadership will enhance the performance of the club, and I have full confidence that you will succeed and succeed grandly.

May God bless the vision on your mind, the love in your heart and the work of your hands, and may He bestow you, your family and your members with good fortune, sound health and abundant love.

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