By Celia Giay, chair of the 2020 Rotary International Convention and a past RI vice president
When RI President Mark Maloney invited me to be the chair of the 2020 Rotary International Convention two and a half years ago, I accepted the honor, aware of the responsibility of being the first woman Rotarian to serve in that position, but motivated by the opportunity to organize such an important meeting.
Led by President Mark, we worked hard to organize our convention in beautiful Honolulu, Hawaii. But the global COVID-19 pandemic happened and we had to cancel the in-person convention for the health and safety of participants. It was a sad moment, especially because we have long believed that Rotary is at its best when we meet and serve together freely and openly.
Through the pandemic, Rotary clubs have adapted and changed the way we connect, serve, and learn. And they did it almost instantly, mainly because Rotarians never lost sight of the power of connection.
Inspired by our theme “Rotary Connects the World,” we saw the opportunity to innovate and decided to organize a virtual convention convinced that the time for Rotary to connect the world is now more than ever. Our goal was to bring the Rotary family together in an unprecedented way by using the online platform to gather our participants to celebrate our resilience and experience the spirit of Aloha.
In less than three months, we prepared the 2020 Rotary Virtual Convention held 20-26 June. The program included many excellent speakers and conversations with experts about channeling the experience into action, preparing our communities for the future, and raising funds for COVID-19 response and to support polio eradication.
This virtual convention has shown us our ability to stand up and support the family of Rotary in any circumstance by adapting and innovating.
The program also displayed many examples of the great work Rotary clubs are doing to respond to COVID-19 in their communities and how Rotary’s polio eradication infrastructure is assisting in the battle against the coronavirus. During breakout sessions and the post convention Youth Exchange Meeting and Rotaract Meeting, participants have the chance to gain new skills and interact with people from around the world. A first-ever Virtual House of Friendship and a Walking Challenge were exciting elements of this year’s convention.
We were so happy with the proactive way Rotary members answered our invitation. More than 66,000 people took part. In Latin America, where I am from, more than 17,000 participants registered. In my own District 4895, Buenos Aires, Argentina, at least one member registered from all 89 of the clubs, making a 100 percent club participation. These are great achievements.
Because you did not have to travel or pay a registration fee, many Rotarians had the opportunity to take part in a convention for their first time. In spite of it being virtual, the joy people expressed in chats was real.
This has been a year of exceptional service for Rotary, especially during these times as we face the pandemic. Rotarians are assisting communities, providing help, and adapting to the current situation. The virtual convention is a perfect example.
I would like to personally thank President Mark and his wife, Gay, the convention committee, and the capable and committed staff for their efforts and hard work in making this virtual convention a success. I am proud to be a Rotarian and serve with all of them.
As we think about the times to come, this is not the first crisis Rotarians have faced, and we will emerge stronger than before. This virtual convention has shown us our ability to stand up and support the family of Rotary in any circumstance by adapting and innovating. This first-ever Rotary Virtual Convention proved that “Rotary Connects the World,” and unleashed a transforming energy that is carving a path of success to the Rotary of the future.
It’s not too late to experience the Virtual Convention. Enjoy it on demand.