By Ryan Hyland and Arnold R. Grahl
Photographs by Alyce Henson
Innovation was the theme at Rotary Day at the United Nations on 10 November. Nearly a thousand Rotary leaders, members, and guests from around the world met in Nairobi, Kenya, to hear about creative solutions to challenging world problems.
The annual event, held at the only UN headquarters in Africa, recognizes Rotary’s long-standing special relationship with the United Nations. UN officials and humanitarian experts inspired participants to find innovative strategies for addressing humanitarian needs both locally and globally.
The event honored young innovators and their role in creating change. Six Rotaract and Rotary members age 35 or under were also honored as Rotary People of Action: Young Innovators. All of these leaders spoke about how they used ingenuity to launch efforts that brought about measurable and lasting results.
General sessions and workshops covered the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the technology revolution, and young people’s role in creating change. A special session on the environment emphasized the importance of sustainable development and suggested concrete actions that people of all generations can take to build a clean and healthy future.
For the first time, the event also featured an Innovation Fair where Rotary clubs, businesses, and other organizations exhibited projects and cutting-edge technology designed to address humanitarian challenges.
Keynote speakers included RI President Barry Rassin, who is a member of the Rotary Club of East Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas, and Sushil Kumar Gupta, Rotary International president-nominee and a member of the Rotary Club of Delhi Midwest, Delhi, India.
Rassin said the Innovation Fair inspired him to pair Rotary’s older generations’ resources and experience with the energy and ideas of young people.
“We want to take you on as equals, as colleagues,” Rassin told the young audience members. “You bring to the table your ideas, your ambitions, your perspective on the world’s problems. We help you to enlarge your horizons, to think big, and to make your innovations practical.”
He added, “Youth innovators and Rotary can make the impossible possible.”
With more young people in the world today than ever before — more than 50 percent of the population is under age 30 — it’s imperative for them to harness their talents, said Hanna S. Tetteh, director-general of the United Nations Office at Nairobi.
“For a more peaceful and more sustainable world for all, we need the active participation and leadership of young people,” said Tetteh. “I’m grateful Rotary is representing that here today.”
1.Albert Kafka, of the Rotaract Club of Wien-Stadtpark and Rotary Club of Wien-Oper, Austria, who launched Intarconnect, an online platform for establishing mentorships and encouraging service across generations, including helping to build houses for the poor. He was assisted in the project by Phillip-Sebastian Marchl, Peter Rabensteiner, and Rotary clubs in Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
2.Charlie Ruth Castro, of the Rotary E-Club of Sogamoso Global, Boyacá, Colombia, who leads a program that teaches vocational and business skills to women in prison in Colombia. Castro, who visited prisons across Colombia for her project, said education is the way to empower women, even those who are imprisoned. “In prison, there are seeds of peace and reconciliation. We are teaching these women how to create a new beginning and how to use their skills to create innovation even with very few resources.”
3.Christina Hassan, of the Rotary Club of Calgary Fish Creek, Alberta, Canada, who launched the nonprofit FullSoul, which trains midwives and supplies safe, sterile childbirth equipment to hospitals in Uganda. Recounting her experience witnessing a mother die while giving birth in Uganda, Hassan emotionally spoke about how her project, with Rotary’s support, has safely helped 65,000 mothers deliver healthy babies.
4.Paul Mushaho, of the Rotaract Club of Nakivale, who organized a Rotaract club in a Ugandan refugee settlement; the club conducts service projects in the camp and fosters a sense of family among the refugees. “Our refugee community realized our local challenges needed local solutions. And that we can solve them ourselves,” said Mushaho. “We are not beggars, we are a generation of change and inspiration.”
5.Shadrack Nyawa, of the Rotary Club of Kilifi, Kenya, who traveled to remote areas of the country to supply toilets and handwashing stations to schools most in need.
6.Ludovic Grosjean, of the Rotaract Club of Melbourne City, Victoria, Australia, whose Ocean CleanX company is developing technology to monitor pollution and remove it from waterways. Calling it a “scary statistic,” Grosjean noted that each year 8.8 million tons of plastic gets into the ocean, causing continual distress to marine life. “I always wanted to save the oceans. We have to stop the pollution at its source,” he said, adding that the effort must start with removing plastic from the land.