Getting into the Groove of Rotary

It has been the way of Rotary to focus thought

upon matters in which members are in agreement,

rather than upon matters in which they are in disagreement.

                    –Paul P Harris, Founder of Rotary (1868–1947)

Though I served the Board of a Rotary Club for the first time during 1997–98, I was in the Board of five private limited companies as well as member of the Managing Committee of Consortium of Electronics Industries of Karnataka (CLIK) earlier. So I was familiar with the functioning of such governing groups. Many a time, I had observed in board meetings, some have the habit of deviating from the agenda to suit their personal agenda, apart from being not time conscious. Before giving my consent to become secretary, I made it amply clear to Ashis Dutta, the incoming President, that we should adhere to the established club by-laws apart from sticking to the agenda and timings during board meetings.

As many of you may recall, apart from liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation that were initiated by the government of India during 1991, growth of the Indian software companies thrived on the Y2K phenomenon, which had assumed serious proportions during last couple of years of twentieth century. Ashis was the director of a software company and had to travel frequently during 1998–99, thus leaving me with the responsibility of convening and managing Board meetings. On his behalf, I had also to participate in some of the District-level meetings. Rotary being a voluntary organisation, the position that we occupy is also voluntary. Over a period of time I realized that managing people and situations require a different skill-set in the realm of Rotary, unlike a business environment.

In December 1998, the then President-elect Vimala, along with a senior member, visited my home and requested me to take over the mantle of leadership when she would complete her term as President (1999–2000). Having represented President Ashis during the first half on a few occasions, I had understood the role to a large extent and so I consented. During the second half of the Rotary year 1998–99, I was holding two titles – Secretary and President-elect. The Rotary year 1999–2000 was special year for the club as one of our members, Narasimhan Ramji was to be anointed as District Governor.

Rotary International (RI) is typically managed like a multi-national company, except for the fact that the membership is by invitation and it is totally voluntary. It is an international non-profit organisation present in 200+ countries and for effective management the organisation is divided in to 34 zones, with each zone divided into many districts. Each zone shall have about 30,000–35,000 Rotarians spread over six to twelve districts and each district may have anywhere between 2,000–6,000 members spread over 50–150 clubs. Some of the Rotary districts not only spread across different States in a country, but also different countries where the number of clubs is less. Each district is headed by a governor, member of one of the clubs in the district, who motivates and drives the clubs to work aligning with the Manual of Procedures and objectives established by RI as well as directions set by that particular year’s RI President.

Being the home club of the District Governor, members have to put in more efforts during 1999–2000. Unfortunately during 1999, I had a severe set-back in my family. My only brother, who chose to remain a bachelor and worked in a distant country (Federated States of Micronesia, comprising of 600 islands spread across western Pacific Ocean) was diagnosed with cancer of oesophagus and stomach. He was brought back home for treatment during July 1999, but succumbed to the disease on the second of November 1999. Having already committed to take charge as President for the Rotary year 2000–01, I started working on forming the Club’s Board which had to be completed before end of December.

While forming the team, I was careful in selecting my secretary and treasurer as these two positions were vital from the governance point of view. I found in Hariharan Jaishankar, who had joined the club in 1996, an entrepreneur managing his own engineering enterprise, an initiative-taking extrovert. He was managing monthly family nights during 1997–98 by collecting contributions from members. When I requested him to be the secretary, he gave his consent. Ramesh Menon who had joined the club in 1997, having resigned from Indian Revenue Service had just established his own legal practice. Jaishankar had introduced him and they were good friends. Hence, I requested Ramesh to be the treasurer. It was difficult to identify the President-elect and we zeroed in on Prasad, who was employed with the Department of Technical Education, had shown keen interest to become Secretary earlier, when Ashis chose me. He gave his consent after taking advice of his mentor Prof. Jeevan. Retired Colonel Madappa readily agreed to be the Vice-President. I found in Partho Biswas, working in the aviation industry, another extrovert who had good potential to take the club along, suited well for Director – Club Services. Diwakar, a veteran banker who had just retired from Vijaya Bank agreed to be the Director – Vocational Service. Another Jaishankar who was also a Free Mason consented to be the Director for Youth Services and Muthaiah, a second generation entrepreneur agreed to be the Director for Community Services. The ever-young Basavanna was happy to be the Director for International Services. The service-minded duo, Prasanna and Srinivas, who had joined the club in 1996, agreed to be Joint Secretary and Sergeant-at-Arms respectively and Ashis agreed to be the Editor for the monthly newsletters. The whole exercise took me almost a month and the full Board was ready by end of 1999. Vimala as outgoing President was part of the board as Immediate Past President. I had later included Raman, a Past President and Lt. Col. Dr. Gupta, a veterinary doctor as Additional Directors and Immediate Past District Governor Ramji as a special invitee.

Having formed the team, I listed down a few important issues that the team should resolve and the main one was shifting the weekly meeting venue to Koramangala. Though the name of the club was Rotary Bangalore Koramangala, the weekly meeting was taking place in Hotel Kensington Terrace, near Mahatma Gandhi Road, about six kilometres away from Koramangala. Since the club was chartered (in 1986), the venue of weekly meetings had already changed three times. About forty percent of the club’s members were residing in Koramangala and the rest were from different parts of Bangalore. With the increasing traffic, members found it difficult to reach Kensington Terrace, which in turn resulted in dwindling of members. Generally there is resistance for increase in annual subscription and it was hence, necessary to increase the membership of the club to meet the expenses for weekly meetings and monthly family dinners apart from implementing service projects.

Koramangala, being closer to Electronics City, the hub for electronics hardware and software industries, had developed into a big residential layout by 2000 and many neo-rich professionals had moved in. Hence, there was great scope to attract new members. The newly constituted board heartily welcomed this move of shifting the meeting venue as many of them were living in Koramangala. Prof. Ramaswamy, former director of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore had established in Koramangala Indian Heritage Academy to promote culture and fine-arts. When we approached him to use the hall for our meeting place, he readily agreed with a condition that no non-vegetarian food or alcohol should be served in the hall. The meeting venue was formally shifted from first of May 2000 to Indian Heritage Academy. Having shifted to the new venue and with a well developed plan for the first Rotary year of twenty first century in place, our team was all set to give meaning to the incoming RI President Frank Devlyn’s theme – Create Awareness, Take Action!

January 15, 2020 | Ravi 31