Editor’s Note: In September 2020, Rotary formed a task force charged with assessing the current status of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in Rotary and shaping a comprehensive action plan to help us further value and live those principles throughout the organization. This is the latest in a series of blog posts from DEI Task Force members reflecting on their work on the committee and why it is critical for the organization.
Sunghee Nam received her doctorate in Education from Yeungnam University in 2001 and is currently the president of Daegu Health College. She is a founding member and past president of the Rotary Club of Daegu-Sooryeon and has held various leadership positions at both the club and district level. She is currently RI President’s Representative for District 3610. Read her full bio
Q. In 2005-06, you became the first female district governor in Korea, serving District 3700. Can you talk about your path to get there?
Sunghee Nam: I joined Rotary in 1998 and attended the district conference a few months later. That year’s district governor was former RI Director Chang-gon Lim. He received a standing ovation whenever he got up to speak, and it made me think about the respect he was given because he was willing to serve others for a year at the expense of everything else. I decided I wanted to be district governor someday.
I began to work hard in Rotary, serving as club president twice. We increased our membership and giving to The Rotary Foundation and received recognition as an outstanding club. When the process began to elect a governor for 2004-05, I felt it would be ideal to have the first female district governor in Korea’s history during Rotary’s 100th anniversary. I spoke to leaders in my district, and they agreed. But they also felt it was important to build consensus across districts in Korea. Many of the other governors were in their 70s, and as I was in my 40s, they felt the timing wasn’t right.
But a year later, I was nominated for governor. Although I was disappointed not to serve during the centennial, I made it my motto that we were beginning the next 100 years with an increase of women in leadership.
Q: How has your example inspired other women to seek leadership positions in Korea?
Sunghee Nam: A month or two after I was nominated as governor, another woman was also nominated as governor in District 3690. Suddenly, Rotary had two women governors in Korea. Each district began to form active women’s committees. I was invited to training programs and traveled all over the country giving speeches.
I knew it was important to take the right steps because as the first Korean woman governor, I would be viewed as a role model. I worked hard and later served as a training leader for the International Assembly. I continued to donate thousands every year to the Foundation.
When I visited our sister district in Japan, people were surprised to learn I was governor. Even now, women make up only about 6% of membership in Japan. But in 2007-08, Japan had its first female district governor, and I believe that decision was influenced by the fact that Korea had nominated female district governors.
Q: You are a member of RI’s DEI Task Force. How does DEI help women in Rotary?
Sunghee Nam: DEI is about recognizing and respecting differences and treating everyone with dignity and respect, allowing everyone’s voices to be heard, and providing equitable opportunities for fellowship, service, and leadership. Rotary has emphasized DEI and created a code of conduct to help women – and others in Rotary – feel comfortable within an environment that is collaborative, positive, and healthy for everyone.
When I became governor in my late 40s, most district leaders were in their 70s. When they met me at meetings, they just called me by my full name like I was their daughter. I didn’t feel comfortable, but it was hard for me to raise my voice. With DEI, we are striving to create an environment where everyone, regardless of gender or age, feels comfortable speaking up.
Q: What have you valued most about your service in Rotary?
Sunghee Nam: I often say that the two best decisions I have made in life are the decision to have children and the decision to join Rotary. The fact that someone I love will continue to live on this planet makes a big difference in my life and gives me increased motivation to make the world a better place.
For society to work well, altruistic actions are needed. Rotary is the driving force for people to do unselfish acts around the world and in their communities. We spend our money, time, and energy doing something for other people and for society.
In Rotary, I have helped solve problems and resolve conflicts. I have met people from all walks of life. My world has expanded and I have learned a lot.
Learn more about Rotary’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statement and meet other members of the task force. Join us for the premier broadcast of the Rotary People of Action Champions of Inclusion gala on Saturday, 10 June 2023, at 10:00 a.m. (CST Chicago time) featuring the inspiring stories of our six honorees and other Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) thought leaders. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for updates.
Thank you, Sunghee Nam, for stepping boldly into this position. Women Rotarians
Pingback: Korea’s first female district governor speaks about women in leadership - Rotary Club of Medford Oregon