This speech was delivered at the opening session of the Rotary District Conference held in Abuja, Nigeria between the 18th and the 22nd of May 2022. The event hosted by District 9125 attracted 1,092 delegates from across Nigeria.
I am delighted to attend your district conference because Nigeria is my home away from home. However, it is my first visit to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, and I am overwhelmed by the magnificence of the city, the vibrancy of the people and the excellence of your hospitality. District Governor Ayo and his wife Moji have welcomed Jane and I as close companions, and our aides Chris and his wife Nkem have made us feel perfectly at home.
My first visit to Nigeria was at the invitation of Past Rotary International Vice President Yinka Babalola, then District Governor of district 9140, which through his drive and ambition, has expanded into two powerful districts. I was a keynote speaker at his district conference and inadvertently picked up the nick name Joe de Joe.
I enjoyed myself so much that I secretly haboured intentions to stay here for the rest of my life. Indeed the conference chair at the time Past District Governor Pearl Ijeoma confirmed that they too had considered not letting me go!
But alas, both duty and circumstance compelled me to head home. However, I returned at every opportunity including my first assignment as Presidents Representative at Past District Governor Charles Oniawa’s district conference in 2014.
Past RI Vice President Yinka Babalola who invited me for my first visit to Nigeria.
I have drawn a tremendous amount of strength and inspiration from Nigeria and a significant amount of my aspirations for my district were motivated and sparked by Rotary Nigeria. Your Rotarians and leaders alike have shown a great love for humanity specifically, and for mother earth in general.
These feelings of responsibility have produced great outcomes such as the unprecedented success of kicking polio out of Africa. Polio still remains Rotary’s biggest priority and for good reason. It is only after we have fully wiped this disease off the face of the earth that every child can be safe from suffering and disability.
The recent and distressing news of new polio infections in Malawi is a case in point, and it provides a compelling reason to reaffirm our commitment and continued investment in polio eradication to meet our long standing promise.
Other impressive outcomes from Nigeria include the incredible membership growth. By April this year you had acquired 2,753 new members, or 59% of Africa’s total membership growth!
District 9125 ably led by DG Ayo is not to be left behind, and he has grown District 9125 by 868 new members in existing clubs as of April 2022, and your district proudly ranks 7th overall in approximately 530 districts worldwide.
I am filled with the utmost admiration and respect for this outstanding achievement. Membership growth as you know is Rotary’s other corporate priority, along with the End Of Polio initiative.
The luminaries of Rotary District 9125 including Past Rotary International President Jonathan Majiyagbe and his wife Ayo, District Governor Ayoola Oyedokun, and the Past District Governors.
When the Coronavirus pandemic shook the world, Rotarians around the world rose to meet the crisis head on. District Governor’s, Club Presidents and Rotarians across the globe joined hands with government, the private sector, and other NGO’s to demonstrate Rotary’s truth; an unrelenting commitment to addressing the ills of the world, spreading hope, and extending an able hand to those who need our help.
We have displayed our resilience for over two years now, and I pray that we are witnessing the end of this curious disease. I can confidently affirm that the work we have done to fight COVID-19 has limited its effects on our people. At the same time it has strengthened the relationships we have with each other, with members of the community, government, influential companies and numerous development partners.
Fighting the pandemic also re-emphasized the stark and frightening truth that alone we are vulnerable, and that the effects of our actions have limits. However, the other side of that very coin, and what our joint response to the Coronavirus showed was that together our impact is boundless, and that united we can achieve anything within our reach, our vision and ultimately our imagination.
Working together like a well oiled machine depends on trusting relationships, and we all know that meaningful relationships demand time, resources and nurturing. Indeed, enlightened society admires devotion, understanding, self expression, support, love and all other positive attributes of lasting friendship.
People who live within groups that have a strong sense of community tend to live longer and more meaningful lives than those who don’t. It appears that close and frequent interaction with others provides knowledge of the inherent goodness of humanity, which creates hope that together we can make this world better, and that hope leads to wellbeing.
After 30 years in my career and 20 years in Rotary, I have come to believe that nurturing trusting relationships is the single most important thing that drives achievement and advancement. This coupled with vision, grace, integrity and compassion, makes all things possible, and you can overcome any barrier to success.
Therefore the payoff of meaningful relationships is both achievement and wellbeing.
DG Ayoola Oyedokun has led his district to great heights including membership growth and donations to The Rotary Foundation.
When I was club president, I was the youngest member of the club and I relied on relationships to advance our causes and strengthen our club. As district Governor we would not have been able to break a few performance records and achieve a few global firsts were it not for the powerful relationships we formed with club presidents and Rotarians across the district.
We were 3rd in membership growth worldwide, raised over half a million dollars from Rotarians for the Foundation and COVID-19 response, launched the worlds first ever fully digital district governors newsletter, and signed six long term partnerships with influential local and international organizations who partner with us in service, including United Nations Environment Program and the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Education.
For me, unrestricted investment in relationships is a 180 degree turnaround, because I was entirely task focused when I started out. I would trample over other’s feelings to get what I wanted, and did not give the slightest thought about how we felt about each other when the job was done.
This insensitive approach has come right back to bight, because there are many with whom I am at odds, and I can’t for the life of me remember why. The work we did together, and the results for which I was fiercely focused on, eventually fizzled out of memory. All that is left now is a bitter taste and the shame of relationships in tatters.
Nurturing relationships within a framework of planning and execution is a sure way of achieving your aims. Invariably there will be disappointment or disagreement but it is still beneficial to prioritize harmony and camaraderie. This is because 20 years down the road you will forget what the conflicts were about and you will only be suffocated by the state of relationships as you left them.
I therefore urge you, that as you take your next step in society, in your career and in Rotary, that you will invest wholeheartedly in meaningful relationships with your colleagues. And if indeed you surround yourself with people who are like minded, who share your vision and are prepared to do what it takes to make that vision a reality, the quality of your relationships will be the magic that conjures unprecedented outcomes that are revered for years to come.
DG Ayo, as you conclude a successful year having taken your district to the highest level, may God bless the vision on your mind, the love in your heart and the work of your hands; and may he grant you, your family and all the Rotarians in your district with good fortune, sound health and abundant love.