Rotary targets end of polio with unique brand of philanthropy

Of the many voluntary or philanthropic clubs around the world, Rotary has stood out as one that has consistently championed the ideals of service to humanity and backed it up with long term commitments in critical global causes such as the eradication of polio.

Kenya is one of the African countries where Rotary continues to grow its membership and footprint but also one of pockets of the world that remains at the risk of intermittent polio outbreaks.

Gary Huang, the Rotary International President Elect visited Kenya this week and talked to the Business Daily about philanthropy and its role in the global fight against polio and why the club is pushing for membership recruitment from among Africa’s growing population.

Two Rotary International presidents have visited Africa and Kenya in the past two years and now here you are visiting again. How important is Africa to Rotary International and why?

Africa is a prospering continent with motivated and well educated Rotarians, who want to serve their communities. As an organisation, we are specifically focused on causes that improve human life and have set eradication of polio from the face of the earth as a critical part of our mission.


Nigeria, an African country, is one of three polio endemic countries worldwide making it a focal point for Rotary’s activities.

Rotarians in Africa have been supportive of this initiative through donations, fundraising, advocacy as well as raising awareness about the disease.

The two past Rotary International presidents declared the club’s intention to make polio only the second disease ever to be eradicated. How have your progressed towards the achievement of this goal?

Since Rotary launched its PolioPlus program in 1985, new cases have dropped by more than 99-percent, from 350,000 per year to just 223 cases in 2012. Last year reported the least number of cases in the least number of places in history. Progress continues to be made in the few remaining polio-endemic countries - Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. However it is important to remember that a recent outbreak in the Horn of Africa accounts for the majority of cases so far recorded in 2013.

Does that outbreak mean that we are losing the fight against polio in this part of the world?

No. The reality is that outbreaks will continue to threaten previously polio-free countries until the disease is completely wiped out.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (that is jointly run by the Rotary, WHO, Unicef, Gates, along with governments) has accounted for this in its 2013-2018 Strategic Plan. If this plan is fully funded, the fight against polio in the endemic countries will be stepped up even as we respond to fresh outbreaks in polio free areas.

That’s why Rotary remains committed to fundraising and advocacy to ensure the program has the money it needs to finish the job.

How big is the amount of money needed to finish this job and is it fully funded?

About $5.5 billion is needed to see the programme through to 2018. Of the total, $4 billion was pledged at the Vaccine Summit in April leaving a financing gap of $1.5 billion.

The challenge for the entire Global Polio Eradication Initiative is to ensure that those pledges are met and the $1.5 billion gap is filled. To that end, Rotary has recently announced a new fundraising campaign in conjunction with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Every dollar donated to Rotary for polio will be matched 2-to-1 by the Gates Foundation. This is up to $35 million per year through 2018. Beyond this new campaign, Rotary has contributed $1.2 billion and countless volunteer hours to help protect the world’s children from polio.

Africa is one of the regions where Rotary membership is growing steadily. What is the club’s appeal to Africans?

Rotary has traditionally appealed to business and professional leaders of all ages who are interested in addressing important issues on both local and global scale.

Rotarians in Africa appreciate the art of giving back to their communities and connecting with Rotarians worldwide. With Rotary they can use their talents, skills, and energy to improve the lives of other people.

Kenya has pressing humanitarian needs, other than polio; are you involved in any of these areas?

Indeed, Rotary has six areas of focus, including peace and conflict prevention/resolution, disease prevention and treatment, water and sanitation, maternal and child health, basic education and literacy and economic and community development.

During my visit in Kenya I have had the pleasure of visiting a Nakuru water Project that is supported by Rotary.

The initiative helps families to build water tanks to harvest rain water. Each family is taught how to build the storage tank with a capacity of 10,000 gallons of water, sufficient to last the entire dry season.

You are the president elect of a prestigious international club, what do you intend to achieve in your term?

Rotary is one of the largest non-profit humanitarian service organisations worldwide. It is a global network of community volunteers made up of businesspeople, professionals and community leaders.

Rotary’s main objective is service in the community, at the workplace, and around the globe. We encourage young professionals to join Rotary and get the opportunity to make a difference.

My goal is to increase membership with emphasis on female and young people.

Rotary being an organisation of business and community leaders is obviously a complex institution to lead. How does one qualify to lead such a group?

Rotary provides members with an opportunity to exercise leadership. I have greatly improved my leadership and communication skills since becoming a member of Rotary in 1976.

I have since served as Rotary International vice president, director, Rotary Foundation trustee, district governor, International Assembly training leader, regional session leader, task force member and coordinator, and committee member and chair.

When you think about the leadership, you have to cherish the power of influence with other leaders to produce real changes.

Philanthropy is becoming more prominent these days, with industry captains like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet giving significant amounts of their wealth to social causes and encouraging their peers to do the same. What is the attraction here? 

The primary focus of philanthropy is to help others and we all know that the world is replete with challenges, including control of infectious diseases such as polio.

Philanthropists who have shown strong support in the area of health have zeroed in on critical international issues such as the fight against HIV/Aids and polio.

Bill Gates highlights the opportunity to reach a polio-free generation. The Gates foundation recently announced a bold new partnership chapter with Rotary in the campaign for polio eradication.

This came during a critical phase for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Rotary and the Gates Foundation are determined not to let polio make a comeback. When this is done, it will be one of the greatest philanthropic achievements.