Recognizing belonging structures our identity certainty, defines our historical and geographical spaces, and connotes cultural and intersubjective sharing.
When after thirty-six hours of travel, alone, you sit on the other side of the world from where you live, you are inevitably gripped by a sense of disorientation and confused loneliness. Then it happens that in the bus that takes you to your hotel you recognize, from the logo tunic, a Rotarian and in that moment you rediscover belonging, coordinates and meaning and fully embrace the universality of the Rotary family.
You experience, then, that being a Rotarian expands your boundaries, situates you in the world, roots you in globalization and stabilizes you everywhere.
I arrive at the hotel, and already I no longer feel like a stranger when the phone rings, "Mavi, have you arrived? We've been waiting for you to have dinner." They are other Rotaractor friends whom I have never seen in person but with whom I have shared projects, outbursts, laughter, and pandemic online parties. "We are in an Italian restaurant so you feel at home!" And who tells them now that there is nothing Italian about fettuccine Alfredo or Cesar Salad! But I still feel at home.
There are six of us at the table. Italy, Denmark, Iceland, Chile and the USA.
So begins my Rotary International Convention (RICON) Melbourne 2023.
Friendship, energy, hope and optimism were the common thread of these four days so full of activity that I only felt the presence of a beautiful city like Melbourne without ever being able to visit it. Four days whose intense experience I want to try to share with you.
The Rod Laver Arena (home of the Australian Open for tennis fans) hosted the plenary sessions led by the fantastic couple María Björk Ingvadóttir and Ásthildur Ómarsdóttir, mother (Rotarian) and daughter (Rotaractor). The arena stage, then, saw a succession of speeches by local and international leaders and change-makers and moments of engaging musical entertainment with the Tenors, a Bee Gees cover band, and Gaby Morena
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee, Liberian pointed out that: "Peace is not just the absence of war, but the presence of conditions of dignity for all of us," reiterating with RI General Secretary Jonh Hewko the importance of Rotary service in building Positive Peace.
President Jennifer Jones then summed up her term of office, which has been dedicated to inclusion in order to envision an increasingly universal Rotary.
She proudly announced that the winning project of the Ladder Program is dedicated to the prevention of cervical cancer in Egypt, which unfortunately still raises the mortality rate in the country in the state. President-elect Gordon McInally said he is determined to combat the stigma surrounding mental health issues and expand access to care, urging Rotary clubs to create a safe space to improve the mental health of Rotarians themselves as well.
President Nominee Stephanie A. Urchick stressed the importance of continuity and the action plan.
The beating heart of the Rotary International Convention, however, was the Melbourne Exhibition Centre the site of the breakout sessions and the House of Friendship, forges of exchange and meeting between Rotarians, Rotaractors, Alumni and partners from around the world.
I have had the honor and privilege of being invited to contribute to many different training sessions:
- three breakout sessions,
- a Quick-chat on stage at the Rotary International Action Plan Center
- presence in the booth of the Institute for Economics and Peace, Rotary International's strategic partner in building Positive Peace;
- a workshop and informal meeting with selected Rotaract leaders from around the world on the meaning and future of Rotaract.
- In the Integrate Fresh Perspectives and Young Leaders, I was invited to report on the meaning of young leadership and how listening and integrating different perspectives is necessary to the evolution and vital thrust of an association that aims to be a bringer of change. This panel discussion was moderated by Nicki Scott, RI Vice President 2022/23, and shared with Ignacio Gonzales, an Elevate Rotaract symbol Rotaractor, representative of International President Jennifer Jones, and member of the Melbourne Convention Organizing Committee; Philip Muneer Flindt, first Rotaractor to be appointed Rotary Public Image Coordinator for Zone 18; Ulf Bingsgard, Governor of D2390 for 2021/22 and 2022/23, one of the youngest governors in his class and the first to appoint a Rotaractor as his Assistant.
- In Building Rotary's public image, I brainstormed on the importance, significance, and opportunity of the proper use of the Rotary Brand, with Andre Suharto, Rotary Public Image Coordinator for Zone 10B/C 2020/22, and Julie Johnson, Public Image Committee Chair for District 9510 2022/23, in a discussion moderated by Nina Hazhala, Senior Specialist and Regional Leader Support Rotary International, and shared
- In Building Local Peace, I facilitated along with Summer Lewis, manager of the Strategic Partnership between Rotary International and the Institute for Economics and Peace, and Charles Allen, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Economics and Peace, a workshop dedicated to understanding and building the pillars of Positive Peace, in one's own club and community.
House of frienship.
- In the quick-chat Celebrating our Uniqueness and Value, together with Becky Giblin, representative of International President Jennifer Jones and member of the 2023/25 Rotary International Membership committee, we testified about our experience as members in four clubs that are technically very different but united by Rotary values.
- At the Institute for Economics and Peace booth in the House of Friendship, on the other hand, I discussed Positive Peace and how to participate or contribute to the Rotaract MUN Salerno 2023 project, which will be held in Salerno next September and will bring the voice of Rotaractors from around the world to the United Nations.
- Rotaract MDIO Chairs Agile Workshop, a brainstorming and discussion with Rotary International staff and board on the future and needs of Rotaract after Elevate among selected Rotaract representatives from around the world.
Added to all these were experiences as an audience member and extra activities, among them the interview for Rotary International on the importance of attending International Conventions, and the takeover of Rotary International's Instagram account on the final day for which I had the opportunity to experience the closing ceremony from backstage.
On the return journey, during the long flight, I was not short of food for thought, chief among them the pride of recognizing that I fully belong to the Rotary family and receive from it great opportunities for education. The sense of service, lived out in an international dimension, certainly cancels out the continually experienced difficulties that exist in individual Rotarian and Rotaract clubs, made up of relational contexts that do not escape tensions, ambitions, misunderstandings and discontents and that often subjugate serving the other to serving one's own interests and gains.
Service is a great ideal, it is a desire and a goal that does not nullify the frailties and weaknesses of each one of us, which can only be overcome by a project of globalization that in the small group of the Club becomes the exercise of a truly inclusive, supportive and empathic practice that incorporates the contribution of each individual member and that supports the other in the common membership.
I must thank my district, and in particular Governor Alessandro Castagnaro, who allowed me to participate in and enjoy this experience, will be that of an ongoing commitment to operationalize, in my own small way, all those values that structure fellowship, coexistence and Rotary projects.
When I met Jennifer Jones, the first female president of Rotary International, in 2020, she told us all a personal anecdote, namely that her Rotarian life, from the very first moment she entered her club was connoted by hugs, a symbol of full and inclusive welcome. Perhaps this is why the atmosphere of the Convention, and of the entire Jones presidency, seemed to me to be a universal embrace, warm and welcoming any diversity.
Therefore, before I thank you, I give you all a virtual hug and bid you all farewell till we meet in Singapore.