Updated: Jun 7, 2019
Written by Katey Halliday
Do you need an excuse to travel? Well I've got a good one!
After feeling a bit of #FOMO during the Sydney Rotary International Convention in 2014, then again each year since, I knew that 2018 would be the year I attended my first RI convention when I learnt it would be held in Toronto, Canada; a city I'd wanted to experience for years. What better reason to travel? I set my eyes on Toronto four years ago and set a financial goal that would make this dream a reality. Coincidently, it also fell right after my year as President of the Adelaide City Rotaract Club so I used it as an incentive and reward for the goals I had set out to achieve during my Presidential year.
After having this goal in mind for some four years, and seeing the convention highlights roll past each year, my expectations were high and it's fair to say that my expectations were met, with some exceptionally high-calibre and motivational speakers, and the opportunity to meet over 25,000 like-minded individuals from all over the world!
While there were many great opportunities over the course of a week (including the Rotaract Pre-Convention), I've summarised a few of my highlights.
The travel (duh)
When you go to a RI Convention, unless it's in your home city (and let's be honest, it's not likely to ever be in little old Adelaide), you get to travel and explore a city with 20,000+ of your Rotary family and friends! But why stop there? While so far from home, I extended my trip to a month long adventure visiting friends across America in San Francisco, Denver, New York and New Orleans - it would have been rude not to call in whilst in the area! From Toronto, I took a day trip to Niagara Falls, experiencing the Canadian (and better) side of the majestic site and took a ride on the 'Hornblower' cruise where I got up close to the falls. Ponchos were provided, coincidently in the Rotaract colour. Travelling alone was no issue, as I connected online with other Rotaractors I'd never met and booked a tour to the Falls together. I shared accommodation with Crystal, a Rotaractor from The Rotaract Club of New York at the United Nations, a girl who quickly became my friend and offered to host me in her Brooklyn apartment when I visited New York following the Convention. The Rotaract Host Organising Committee put on a series of social events where the networking continued, including participating in Toronto's annual Pride festival, and a gala celebration of Rotaract's 50th anniversary.
2. Experiencing the impact of Rotary
Other than making great travel companions and offering free accommodation, the opportunity to meet people who have the same world view as you on many social issues is heart-warming. Even more inspiring however, is the fact that these people, with Rotary, have the power to make a real difference! Rotary is so close to eradicating polio and the challenge was put to us - what next? We in Rotary have the ability to make an enormous impact, one speaker noting that this is the first time in history that we have the necessary skills and resources to end poverty - imagine that! With Rotary's track record and global alliances, it's actually not silly for us to dream that big.
I was told that attending a RI convention for the first time is often where people go from being 'Rotary Members' to 'Rotarians' and I could certainly feel that vibe as the people there were very genuine and dedicated to Rotary. Meeting like-minded people in such an inspiring and friendly atmosphere was a great experience in itself.
3. High calibre presentations
I was also encouraged by the huge amount of support for Millennials demonstrated by the emphasis on topics covered in both general and breakout sessions. The support for young volunteers in Rotaract in particular was incredible with new RI President, Barry Rassin, throwing down the challenge to DOUBLE the number of Rotaractors this year! To achieve this, we need to be innovative and supportive of new ideas and remember that "we own our traditions, they don't own us". It was encouraging to hear stories of Rotaractors moving onto Rotary into clubs who have welcomed them, their ideas, and made changes to be more inclusive of our ever changing society. There is still a long way to go though, with only an estimated 5% of Rotaractors moving onto become Rotarians. Hearing from Rotarians and Rotaractors passionate and supportive of changing this statistic, with practical tips about how to do so, has inspired me to spread the word back home in the hope of making our District more diverse and inclusive to continue the great service work being done.
The general sessions showcased a range of high-profile speakers showing their appreciation for Rotary, including the likes of former First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush, and the Canadian Prime Minister himself, Justin Trudeau, who was presented with Rotary's Polio Eradication Champion Award. Another highlight included James Marggraff, an Entrepreneur and Rotarian who founded products including LeapFrog, which he went on to develop into a literacy tool in Dari and Pashto providing education for Afghan women. All of the general session presentations, and some breakout sessions were recorded and can be found on Vimeo - take a browse at https://vimeo.com/rotary/videos.
Of course I could go on but I'd rather encourage anyone thinking about going to a RI Convention to do it and find out for themselves what all the fuss is about! What takes your fancy? Hamburg in 2019, Hawaii in 2020, Taipei in 2021 or how about Houston in 2022? Set yourself a goal like I did, and make it happen! The sooner the better, especially while the cost is so heavily discounted for Rotaractors. I've registered for Hamburg already and hope to be joined by some other Rotaractors representing Adelaide. http://www.riconvention.org/en/hamburg.
Immediate Past President 2017-2018