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Rotary General Secretary General Ed Futa Bids Farewell

Here is General Secretary Ed Futa's speech from the RI Convention in New Orleans. In it, he shares his thoughts after serving eleven years in his role with Rotary International.

Eleven years ago, my name went up on the door of the general secretary's office at Rotary International headquarters. In just a few weeks, it will come down. And I will go back to my first Rotary job, which was and still is the most important job in all of Rotary: the job of being a Rotarian.

I've been a Rotarian since 1979, and so much has changed in those years. Rotary has changed, the world has changed, and our role has evolved significantly. But what has not changed is who we are, and the reasons we are strong . the fellowship and the friendship, the warmth of our Rotary communities, and the special bonds that unite us all. There is so much that is wonderful about Rotary, but for me, one of the best parts of it for all these years has simply been the experience of being a Rotarian, the privilege of being able to walk into any Rotary club meeting, in any corner of the world, put on a name-tag, and right away, be right at home.

And I am glad to know, that is something that will never change.

You know, a few years ago I read a news story about a construction worker who had just retired. The last job of his career was bossing a crew that rebuilt a bridge, just an ordinary bridge, over a river that ran through a city. He helped take down the old bridge safely, and together with the rest of his team of a few dozen people, all told, he helped put the new bridge up.

The day the new bridge was opened, a news crew came out to film traffic and do a few interviews. And there was the construction worker, on his first day of retirement, sitting there on a bench by the side of the river, watching the cars and trucks go by, and looking pretty content. Somehow he wound up getting interviewed, and what he said was this: "There are lots of different jobs out there, and every one of them is important. This job was mine. I didn't build that bridge by myself, and I couldn't have built it by myself. But along with the guys on my crew, I took down an old bridge that wasn't safe and put up a bridge that was safe and strong and will last 100 years. When I look at that bridge, I don't think, I did that. But I do think, I was a part of that. I helped."

Since the day Paul Harris founded Rotary, 106 years ago, so many of us have been part of building its history. So many of us have helped, in so many ways. Of all the achievements we are so proud of, there is not a single one that belongs to one person alone. Everything we do in Rotary, we do together, because that's what Rotary is.

In the last 11 years that I've been Rotary's general secretary, I've had the honor and the satisfaction of being a part of so many of Rotary's accomplishments: Future Vision, our strategic plan, and our transformation from a valuable, but sometimes undervalued community service organization, into a key player in the world of international health and development.

PolioPlus has put us in this new position. It has helped us to form dynamic partnerships with prominent international organizations such as the [Bill & Melinda] Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, CDC [the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], UNICEF, and USAID, to name just a few. We are trusted by governments and local authorities, and our international presence is unparalleled. No government, no NGO [nongovernmental organization], no individual has Rotary's reach, or Rotary's incredible potential.

During the past decade, Rotary International has developed, implemented, and revised a forward-looking strategic plan, and The Rotary Foundation has developed its Future Vision Plan and launched the pilot. We have also launched a worldwide campaign raising hundreds of millions of dollars to eradicate polio. We've brought polio "this close" to eradication.

And when we look at all of our accomplishments, one thing is for sure: In Rotary, the best is yet to come. We are only 106 years old, and we are just getting started.

Rotary has so much going for it, but its best resource is its people. And as general secretary, had responsibility for helping to support the two groups of people who make Rotary so great: the Rotarians and RI staff.

The goal of RI staff is simple: to help make Rotary service more effective, more efficient, and more enjoyable. I like to say that we are the servants of the servants. And I will tell you all, that all of the fantastic work of Rotarians is supported by a fantastic group of professionals working at our world headquarters in Evanston and in seven international offices.

Our staff members are idealists, just as Rotarians are. We attract a special kind of employee, people who want to make a difference, people who want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Our world headquarters is the hub of our great Rotary wheel, and over the last decade, worked hard to make that hub stronger, better organized, more capable, and more efficient than ever before.

Rotary has always had a highly educated staff, far above the average. The people we hire come to us from some of the world's finest universities, and with incredibly diverse experiences. Many of them have lived abroad and, put together, they speak dozens of languages. They are tremendously skilled and talented. At Rotary, they find a way to put all of those skills and talents to good use, and develop them even further.

To help our staff grow professionally, we have created an impressive list of in-house courses on a host of topics, from time management to cross-cultural communication, conflict resolution to customer service. In addition, we have partnered with Northwestern and Loyola universities to offer leadership and management training for middle and senior managers. We built an atmosphere that fosters growth and professional development, and which has significantly stabilized the Secretariat. Today, we have a highly professional staff that can provide outstanding support to our 34,000 Rotary clubs and is ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Looking back at my time as general secretary, there have been so many challenges, in Rotary and in the larger world. First, there was 9/11 and its uncertain aftermath, followed by a severe economic downturn. Just as we had fully recovered from this first economic disaster, a second one hit. We at the Secretariat struggled with cutting costs without significantly reducing staff or service to our member clubs. But we have come through it, and we are emerging stronger than ever.

Today, Rotary is in an especially enviable position. For only the second time in the history of the world, a deadly disease will be eradicated because of our work. And when that momentous time happens, the spotlight will be on us. We have to be ready. We have to be prepared. We need to know what is coming next, so that we can leverage that success into even greater successes in the future.

I am happy to say that my successor, John Hewko, is an ideal person to take the helm of the Secretariat at this pivotal time in our history. He brings with him a wealth of international business experience, along with a reputation as an outstanding leader in the international community. He and I have been working together to ensure a smooth transition, and I am truly impressed by his knowledge and enthusiasm. I feel especially confident because I know he will be taking charge of a competent and capable staff that will give him the support he will need as he learns the ropes of Rotary.

For my part, I plan to continue my Rotary life away from world headquarters in many ways. First, by promoting our polio eradication effort. I plan to be there cheering when the RI president announces that we now live in a polio-free world. And I have every intention of spreading the word about Rotary and our Rotary Foundation, and our work in bringing cleaner water, better health, improved education, and more hope to every corner of our world.

And with every new achievement, every child who learns to read, every family that becomes healthier, every child who walks straight and tall, free of polio, I will look on in pride, and say, I was part of that. I helped.

Thank you.

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