By Mary Eileen Shackleton, 2020-21 governor of District 7230 and multi-district conference convener
I was thrilled to be at the 2020 International Assembly when then Rotary International President-Elect Holger Knaack revealed his presidential theme, “Rotary Opens Opportunities.” Knaack gave those present a small puzzle based upon his theme as a memento. Little did I realize that it would later lead to an epiphany.
A few months later, COVID-19 was devastating Rotary District 7230 and my home of greater New York City – the United States epicenter of the pandemic. I was forced to cancel our in-person District Leadership Team Installation. Frankly, I was depressed, scared, and wondering how to pull it all together. It was then that I felt the full force that Rotary and three words can have. With a quick glance at Knaack’s theme puzzle, I realized I was going to have to put the pieces together and build our own doorways to opportunities.
Not long after, TV and movie actress Téa Leoni appeared on cable news to promote a telethon that she was hosting for UNICEF. Following in her grandmother’s and father’s footsteps, the actress is a board member of UNICEF USA and a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. UNICEF is one of our partners in the fight to eradicate polio. Our district was getting the hang of virtual events, so I thought maybe we could build a doorway to invite Téa to speak about her work by planning our own celebration.
As the Rotary District where the United Nations (UN) Headquarters is located, our local Rotary family has welcomed Rotary members from around the world during the annual Rotary Day at the United Nations. But we haven’t tapped into our own district’s members and their deep connections with the UN in a long time.
Senior-level officials of the UN have been members of our local clubs. Many will be speaking at the upcoming celebration, 75 years of action between Rotary and the United Nations, which will be streamed live on 10 April 2021. They join an inspiring list of speakers who include:
- Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who will deliver our keynote address;
- Melissa Fleming, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications;
- RI President Holger Knaack
- Téa Leoni, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and National Board Member of UNICEF USA, reflecting upon her and her family’s generational commitment to children and the importance of partnerships, like the Rotary and UNICEF partnership.
- A panel of Jennifer Jones, Rotary International President Nominee, RI Director Valarie Wafer, Past Trustee Carolyn Jones, and Sylvia Whitlock, the first female Rotary club president;
- Ambassador Francis Okelo, our district International Service Chair, who worked directly with Kofi Annan running the UN’s peacekeeping missions;
- Mahbub Ahmad, our immediate past district governor, who played a key role in crafting the UN’s internet presence during his long career as a senior staff member at the United Nations Secretariat;
- Helen Reisler and Matts Ingemanson, past district governors, along with other members of the Rotary Club of New York, who lead a monthly “International Breakfast” that draws senior UN officials as guests;
- Tom McConnon, a past assistant governor who wrote a book about Rotary and the UN.
A series of miracles began when Jason Gonzalez accepted my invitation to become Programme Chair of the event. A member of the Rotary Representative Network, he is also immediate past president of his Rotary club and co-founder of a Rotaract club. Jason bought into my concept and took it to a whole new level by inviting the Rotary Representative Network and its United Nations contacts to collaborate with us, and assembling a team of local-and global Rotary members to host our celebration!
I wrote a note to Téa’s public-relations team inviting her to be a speaker, and they wrote back to say yes! Interviewing Téa about UNICEF added just the right amount of sizzle.
The momentum snowballed from there, as Ahmad invited his former boss, Stéphane Dujarric, and he invited his boss Melissa Fleming to record comments. About the same time my dream panel of Jennifer Jones, Valarie Wafer, Carolyn Jones, and Sylvia Whitlock accepted. Other Rotary districts hosting United Nations agencies and offices in Rome, Geneva, Nairobi, and Addis Ababa also became part of what is turning into a true celebration.
I am still amazed at the power of our Rotary family and can’t wait to get this party started! You are cordially invited to join the livestream on Saturday, 10 April, from 10:00 to 13:00 Eastern Daylight Time. For further details and registration, visit www.75yearsofaction.live.