Over the course of 2017, a few friends suggested that I should consider serving as Country Chair, Rotaract Kenya and (or) District 9212 Rotaract Representative in the next year or two. I quickly dismissed them; my idea being that I needed 5, 6… more years as a member before aspiring for country / multi-country leadership. I had just transferred from an institution-based Rotaract Club to a community-based Rotaract Club; I was making new friends every so often; participating in service projects and delivering on the tasks which I was assigned – that was good enough. My sisters agree with me that our Dad is the aloof kind. However, he had commented about my many weekend travels and late nights after Rotaract events. Taking up country responsibilities would only make a tricky situation, worse. Besides, I was in my final undergrad year.
All these considerations made me dismiss, almost immediately, any suggestion of taking Country or District roles in the next year or two. This was up until I saw a ‘DRR 2019-20 Nomination’ e-mail notification late December 2017. A charming e-mail it was: at least all qualifications seemed familiar. I mentioned it to a few friends within and beyond my Club and they weren’t letting this pass. Mid-March 2018, then DRR Elect, Adam Aberra called in enquiring whether I was willing and available to serve as Country Chair 2018-19. These two opportunities were now so close to home that accepting seemed more logical than the opposite. Now, I’m just completing my year of service as Country Chair, Rotaract Kenya and looking forward to taking up the District Rotaract Representative – DRR – role for Rotary District 9212: Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Eritrea from 01st July 2019 to 30th June 2020.
Rotaract Clubs unite students and young professionals, ages 18 – 30, to: expand their professional and social networks; exchange ideas and take action to create lasting change across the globe, in our communities and in ourselves. Having Rotaract Clubs in most universities, communities and towns across the world, Rotaractors are offered a global opportunity of networking, travel and fun while implementing impactful community service projects. Working in co-operation with Rotary Clubs, Rotaractors have limitless opportunities of mentorship and apprenticeship. I recommend membership to everyone. Let’s talk about leadership, shall we?
Leadership is already complicated, right? Voluntary leadership of volunteers is … First, there is no adequate hand-over because the outgoing person is in a hurry to leave; the JD doesn’t seem very clear and the financing is rarely mentioned. Further, one should step-up a voluntary country / multi-country team. Remember, an appointment and (or) election is a show of confidence: members believe one shall improve, or at worst, maintain the status quo. Following my appointment as Country Chair 2018-19 and election as District Rotaract Representative 2019-20, I took it upon myself to listen to my predecessors, Rotarians, Rotaractors – everyone who seemed to have some insight. The expectations only doubled my doubts. I read previous District annual plans and reports and downloaded all relevant documentation from Rotary’s website. The three months prior to 01st July 2018 were all about planning and re-planning.
Starting off with 59 active Rotaract Clubs in Kenya, we’re on track to hit 70 by end year. Visiting the Clubs and interacting with Rotaractors from across Kenya: Malindi to Migori; Bungoma to Tharaka Nithi; Rongai to Thika; Eldoret to Voi and so forth has been my most memorable highlight. The strength of Rotaract is our inspired members who every day are doing good things while having a good time. As Country Chair, the opportunity to share ideas with each one of them has been humbling.
In 2018-19, we organized multiple events but the Rotary Day at the UN 2018 stands out. For more than 6 months the organizing committee, led by Dr. Salome Gitoho and District Governor Elect Joe Otin, toiled to ensure the annual #RotaryUNDay – being held in Africa for the first time; previously held in only New York and Geneva – was inspiration to and insightful for the Rotary world. Previously RotaryUNDay recorded less than 20% youth attendance, in 2018 more than 50% of the attendance was below 35 years. That was my day’s highlight. In the evening, the Rotary International President 2018-19, Barry Rassin, joined over 800 Rotaractors for a party.
At the start of the year, a common concern was appointment and management of the country team. Either students; recent graduates, like myself; interns; first-time employees and (or) start-up businesspeople, every eligible team member seemed too occupied to volunteer some hours to advance Rotaract’s vision and at the same time maintain active club membership. Besides, each one keeps a family, social, spiritual life and has many aspirations. Bringing together a team required many considerations: – it was tough, insightful and fun. Looking back, I have enjoyed very cordial work relations with the team and formed life-long friendships. In a team, it is not about the right people – it is about the right inspiration.
I would go on and on. However, as my Country Chair year ends; on 01st July 2019, I start one year as the District Rotaract Representative responsible for advancing Rotaract’s vision in Rotary District 9212: Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Eritrea. As Rotary International General Secretary, John Hewko, stated in a recent article, there are more new ideas to be explored; friendships to be made; opportunities to be realized and lives to be improved.
I derive much value from Rotaract membership and even so much more from Rotaract leadership.
This article was first published on 21st March 2019 on Samuel M. Karanja’s LinkedIn Profile.