How Rotary became the heart, soul of polio eradication

Ken Solow

By Ken Solow, past governor of District 7620

Have you ever wondered how Rotary became involved with polio eradication in the first place? I did. I used to use polio eradication as an example of poor goal setting in my presidents-elect training seminar classes. It was up there right next to world peace. I mean … really?

It turns out that one of the true giants in our story was a past governor in my district (7620). His name is Dr. John Sever. While you’ve probably never heard of him, I think when you learn his story you will be amazed. You will also learn about many other Rotary leaders who have been a part of the incredible story of how Rotary got started on our journey to eradicate polio. 

I wanted to tell this tale so that more members would have an awareness of our Rotary history. And it turns out to be a very entertaining story full of good guys and bad guys, conflicts and roadblocks, as our Rotary heroes put Rotary on the road to polio eradication. Many of the original polio eradication pioneers are still alive to tell their story on film so we get to learn about it in their own words.

Based on the book by Sarah Gibbard Cook, “Rotary and the Gift of a Polio-Free World, Vol. 1,” a recommended read, we made a new documentary called “Dare to Dream, How Rotary Became the Heart and Soul of Polio Eradication.” The movie is 56-minutes long, and is both highly entertaining and motivational in encouraging support for our polio eradication efforts.

The District 7620 Project Trust Fund owns the film, and it is our purpose that you can use it to inspire your members, introduce new members to your club, and educate your community about the work Rotary does.

The first 19 minutes of the movie are available for free as a club program. Once you show it to your club the excerpt becomes a teaser to buy the full-length movie where you learn more of the story AND make a contribution to PolioPlus. Approximately $20 of your $25 purchase becomes a tax deductible contribution to PolioPlus.

I’ve given you a FREE club program … you provide the popcorn!

6 thoughts on “How Rotary became the heart, soul of polio eradication

  1. Hi Ken. The oral polio vaccine was created in my home town when I was a young boy. When I was DG, part of my “Official Visit” program was the history of that development. I have since shortened, honed, and improved the presentation. Today it is a 25 minute power point that I have presented to eighty clubs in seven states. Most Rotarians don’t know that the oral vaccine was banned from U.S. testing in the mid to late ’50s, and it took a tragedy to get the government to give it a second look.


  2. Interesting article though not quite on the money .
    When Sir Clem Renouf was International President he was aware that smallpox had been eradicated .
    So he researched as what is the most likely contender for the world to consider bad enough to get out there and work to eradicate .
    John Sever and WHO were approached and in spite of WHO being quite sceptical that Rotary would be able to hang in there for the long haul the rest is history as to the International Polio Eradication Program .
    We will be happy to supply the full story if you are interested .
    Geoffrey Basser .
    Salamander Bay Rotary . NSW .Australia .


  3. The idea to eliminate polio started with one person in the Philippines in 1979. RI told the Philippine Rotary Club to concentrate on the 6 million Philippine children. Around 1984-1985 Rotary International adopted the elimination of Polio worldwide. The term Polio Plus was coined in 1988 when the World Health Organization joined Rotary International in the fight against polio. The Gates Foundation joined with Rotary about ten years ago. There were around four to five countries with active polio. Researchers have found the polio virus in untreated water throughout the world. The Gates foundation brought in much needed resources, both monetary and celebrity to help eliminate polio.


  4. Thanks for the sharing and update.
    Indeed an incredible feat by all Rotary International with the support from Bill Gates annual donations not less than USD300 Million for this worthy cause for the betterment of mankind.
    Credit also to all the Rotarians from Nigeria, people and Government for their commitments working together with Rotary International for the Eradication of Polio in Nigeria, Africa and the Face of The Earth.
    Million thanks to Bill Gates for his unceasingly support.
    How can Nigerians help their neighbours and pass on the Legacy?


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