by John Borst

May 31, 2011

Accepting Bill and Melinda Gates PolioPlus challenge was a no-brainer compared to the challenge put before Rotary by Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar during the 2011 New Orleans convention. After all challenging Rotarians to raise money, even $200,000,000 is just more of the same. But challenging them to put aside over 100 years of history and practice, now there indeed is a challenge. And that in varying degrees is exactly what Stenhammar has done.

One can only imagine the level of frustration, fed by years of trying to convince Rotary’s elite to seriously consider his ideas for change, which must have lead Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar to lay out his agenda before a convention plenary session.

Stenhammar is no maverick upstart. On the contrary his years of faithful and trusted service to Rotary places him among the elite of the elite. Having served as both an R.I. President (2005 – 06) and chair of its Board of TRF trustees (2010 – 11) demands that we at least engage in a debate over his ideas.

Briefly those ideas include:

  • Lengthening the term of a TRF trustee from 4 to 6 years;
  • Electing the TRF Board of Trustees chair for a 4 year term rather than annually;
  • Merge Rotary’s strategic plan and its Future Vision Plan more thoroughly;
  • Elect Rotary presidents to four year terms instead of one year terms;
  • Enable someone under 70 years of age to become an R.I. President hence make the position paid.
  • Develop a permanent theme.

Radical, yes; yet Rotary speaks constantly  to the need to embrace change if it is to grow and thrive, rather than just survive the 21st Century. So why is it that the powers that be already appear to be burying Stenhammar’s obviously unexpected speech since it cannot be found among those published to date.

We only need to look at our own current political leaders, Barack Obama of the USA, Stephen Harper of Canada and David Cameron of the UK. Each was in his forties when first sworn in as leaders of his country. Cameron still is only 45 while both Obama and Harper are now in their fifties.

Is this a goal Rotary should try to replicate? Obviously, Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar would say yes.

Some at social media sites already appear to imply Stenhammar is motivated more by power and fame rather than the good of Rotary. On the contrary he has risked his considerable reputation to put these ideas on the table in the fashion he did. That doesn’t speak to personal aggrandisement but to taking Rotary’s motto “Service above Self” and living it fully.

It is time for Rotary’s political leaders to instruct its secretariat to release Stenhammar’s speech so we can all debate accurately and fully the ideas he has had the courage to put before us.