The 104th Rotary International Convention in Lisbon provided a very legitimate excuse to finally explore Portugal, which proved to be a breathtaking and very welcoming country with delicious wines, port, roast chicken and natas! Neither Wei Chien nor myself had ever attended an RI Convention and we were unsure of what to expect. I was excited to hear the speakers, especially Leymah Gbowee, Jane Goodall and Emmanuel Jal, and was looking forward to the networking opportunities but also a bit nervous about how we, as young professionals coming from a rather unconventional Club, were going to fit in to the older and more traditional Rotary culture.
In many ways the convention was a very positive and enjoyable experience. Being in such a multi-cultural, multi-national environment was something I won’t soon forget. The flag ceremony, acknowledging Rotary Clubs functioning in almost all countries across the world was impressive. I definitely felt some Rotary pride as all the flags were being hoisted up to the top of the stage. The speakers, in particular Leymah Gbowee who spoke on the importance of community, were phenomenal. It was beneficial for us as Rotarians to learn more about the larger structure of Rotary, get the latest info on PolioPlus and learn about the seemingly infinite number of Rotary Action Groups available. Furthermore, we were overwhelmed with the amount and creativity of the Rotary swag available for purchase in the house of friendship. It was an exciting and stimulating, perhaps sometimes over-stimulating, atmosphere.
On the flip side, there were several aspects of the Convention that left a sour taste in my mouth. Two examples:
• The introductions generally took the following (sexist) format: “Honorable Dr. John Doe and wife”.
• A speaker discussing how the global economy was making it difficult for young men to prove themselves in the business world and provide for their families.
Sadly, blatant sexism, hidden racism and even ageism are deeply engrained in Rotary culture. As an organization, Rotary has a long way to go before entering the 21st Century in that regard. I hope to see changes in this culture and am taking an active role on the young professional engagement committee in District 7070 to do my part in making change.
Another annoying thing was that the cost of the convention-associated activities made them inaccessible for young professionals. However, we managed to see the majority of what Lisbon had to offer for a more reasonable cost on our own schedule, spotting Rotarians (the city was literally swarming with us) along the way.
Overall, we enjoyed our experience in Lisbon and at the RI Convention. We met a lot of really great, like-minded Rotarians and Rotary Peace Fellows. We have returned to RCTS with a lot of great ideas to improve our club, a better understanding of Rotary and its programs and some great pins to add to the collection.