Making a Difference

Last week I addressed a Rotary Club function in regional South Australia. As these are apolitical events I spoke about what I consider to be first-principles rather than partisan politics.

I consider these principles to be the building blocks of Australian life that are demonstrated so ably by service clubs like Rotary.

From modest beginnings over 100 years ago, Rotary International now has more than 33,000 clubs in over 200 countries. With a combined membership of over 1.2 million business, professional and community leaders, Rotarians provide an example of selfless service for us all.

But it is not all about helping others. The club I attended was also clearly about having a good time while doing good work. That alone could account for Rotary’s continuing success.

Many will be familiar with the achievements of their local Rotary Club. You might see them at the local fete, fundraising for community equipment or just lending a hand, yet few would be aware of their largest crusade.

For two decades, Rotary International and their global partners have been fighting to eradicate polio through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. They have met with stunning success.

Polio cases worldwide have decreased by 99 per cent and it now remains endemic in only four countries- Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Having raised over $800 million worldwide for this cause, they are now seeking a further $200 million in the hope that polio could be the first disease of the 21st century to be eradicated.

This initiative also demonstrates how community groups can work with government and non-government organisations to achieve amazing outcomes.

It also serves as a reminder that even a few people working together can have a major impact on their community and maybe even the world.

We see such examples every day. At the local sporting club, parents and friends meetings, church fetes and even protests and demonstrations, individuals unite to make a difference.

The maintenance of this ethos will be one of the challenges facing the community in the decades ahead. Despite the success of the volunteer model and the importance of it to many aspects of society, unfortunately it seems there are fewer people willing to step up to the plate.

There are many theories as to why the concept of belonging and volunteering is in decline. Some suggest it has something to do with the demands of modern life, the breakdown of the family unit or cost of living pressures.

Others say it is because we have become more ego-centric and seek to take more than we give.

Whatever the reason, we simply cannot afford to let it go. Without the myriad of volunteers, so much of what we take for granted could be lost.

The challenge then, for all of us, is to commit to making our own small difference by lending a hand. Whether it be by joining your local Rotary or other service club, helping out at Meals on Wheels or cooking the BBQ for the local footy team, every little bit counts.

By doing so, not only can we help defeat diseases such as polio, we will be setting a good example for our children and helping to make Australia the very best nation it can be.

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