AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO THE ROTARY INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION AND ROTARACT PRECONVENTION
In the lead up to this year’s Rotary International Convention and Rotaract Preconvention in Seoul, Korea, Rotaract Australia Treasurer, Brett Sham, explains why he is so excited about Convention and reflects on his past convention experiences, and what you have to look forward to at this year’s convention and why you should join him, and thousands of other Rotaractors and Rotarians from around the world in Seoul. Registrations are still open, but only for a short time, so be quick!
By PDRR Brett Sham PHF
Brett with the Big West Rotaract MDIO Leadership and RI General Secretary John Hewko and his wife Margot at the official Zone dinner
Each year, the Rotaract Preconvention (Precon) and Rotary International Convention (RICON) is a major highlight on my calendar and something I really looking forward to. This year’s convention in Seoul, Korea, will be my fourth Precon/RICON experience since joining Rotaract in 2011. In fact, I’m so hooked on Precon and RICON that I had registered for this year’s convention whilst still at the Convention last year in Sao Paulo! For me, being at Convention is where you truly see what the International in Rotary International means.
You may be thinking, why would I want to fly half-way around the world to sit in a convention hall and listen to speakers for 6 days. Well there is much more to Convention than that – there are workshops, the House of Friendship, networking and interactions from around the world, cultural experiences and social events. Each of us join Rotaract or Rotary, or are involved with Rotary projects and programmes, for our own interests and reasons and there’s something at Convention to cater for everyone. For me, Convention fever hits once I step off the plane in a foreign country but still feel so at home once I see the many friendly faces and Rotary logos everywhere I look – from posters and billboards to t-shirts and baseball caps.
Attendees at the Rotaract workshops, Rotary International Convention, 5 June 2015, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Last year’s Preconvention was a huge affair, with over 520 delegates from more than 40 countries in attendance, and this year is shaping up to be another large turnout. It’s great to meet Rotaractors from all around the world and spend two days engaging with many great presenters, panels and workshops, covering topics from leadership, fundraising, partnerships with Rotary, managing conflict and making your club shine. Despite participants coming from all around the world, they are always able to overcome the language barriers and there are many ideas that are shared and lessons learnt that we can use to benefit our clubs here in Australia. In previous years I’ve had the opportunity to run workshops on District Rotaract Representative (DRR) training and membership growth and engagement and this year I’ll be presenting on strategic planning. However, my highlight of any Preconvention is the opening plenary session and in particular the Roll Call of Countries, with the now synonymous “Service above Selfie”. It was great to see everyone representing their country with pride and passion and observe how truly international Rotaract is.
What is also clear at Preconvention is that no matter where we come from, we are all united by our commitment to serving our communities. The outstanding projects panel showcases some of the leading Rotaract projects from around the world – in Sao Paulo this included an anti-bullying campaign which is being implemented in schools throughout Italy and has led to the Rotaractors meeting with the Education Minister to drive real change; a project in India to up skill and train women to allow them to move from being toilet cleaners to new jobs, lifting them out of poverty and raising their social standing in the community; and a nutrition program to provide fortified biscuits to school children in India, which now benefits thousands of children across the country. Listening to these Rotaractors share their stories and successes left me with a renewed energy to get involved with my club and help drive real change and make a difference with our projects, and I hope if you attend, you too can walk away inspired.
Those who have attended a Rotary International Convention know what an amazing spectacle it is; walking through the entry gates, through the House of Friendship and into the convention hall for the excitement of the opening plenary session with tens of thousands of Rotarians and Rotaractors. The calibre of speakers at RICON is always impressive, and there were two that stood out for me last year. Bella Field took us through her inspirational personal journey of tragedy and loss and how she turned that around and the good that has come from it. Following the death of her sister at a young age from an aggressive brain tumour, she has worked to raise over £90,000 ($190,500 AUD) for a local children’s hospice that supported her sister during her battle. What is truly remarkable is that Bella is only 10 years old and has been fundraising since she was aged 6. The other was Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who spoke about his leadership in achieving peace and political stability in Central America. Both these speakers received rousing standing ovations from the audience.
Past RI President Gary Huang with ten-year-old Bella Field at the Rotary International Convention, whilst she receives a standing ovation from the audience for her story of tragedy and inspiration
The best part of convention is being able to get involved and to use your personal experience in Rotaract to contribute back. I was honoured to be invited to present at the Rotary International Convention on Thirtysomethings: How Clubs & Districts Can Provide Rotary Experiences for Young Professional, which aimed to shift away from the current narrow focus of many clubs and districts on membership, to a broader focus on engagement with young professionals, and look at many the many elements of the Rotary “ecosystem” including Rotaract, RYLA, alumni associations and community corps. I talked about my personal journey through Rotary, from RYLA to Rotaract and the power of these programmes to attract young people. It was a capacity crowd, so it’s reassuring to know that this is a topic that many Rotarians from around the world take seriously.
But beyond the speeches, panels and workshops, much of the appeal of the Precon and RICON are the cultural and social activities that take place away from the convention halls. In Sydney this included a cruise along Sydney Harbour, in Sao Paulo it was a bar crawl along its infamous party strip, Rua Augusta, a carnival parade and dancing the night away at Odoborogodo, an authentic hole-in-the-wall samba club. These events are the perfect opportunity to reconnect with familiar faces from previous conventions and catch up, as well as be introduced to new friends.
In Sao Paulo I was also able to further continue Rotaract Australia’s collaboration with Big West Rotaract (the MDIO covering the west coast of the USA), and I attended their official Zone dinner with their Chairman Mitty Chang and General Secretary Jermaine Ee and Director Bobby Marsh, where we got to mingle with their Zone RI Director and Director-Elect, as well as RI General Secretary John Hewko.
Another great thing about travelling overseas for Precon and RICON is the opportunity to do a post-convention trip. After last year’s convention, I was fortunate enough to have two and a half weeks in Brazil and the US. I travelled to Rio de Janeiro with Rotaractors from the US, where we met up with Rotaractors from Germany and the Caribbean and hung out with Rebounders (past Youth Exchange students) from Brazil. I then spent time with many Rotaractors across California, including my good friend Erika Rodrigeuz, who some of you may know from her time as a member of the Macquarie University Rotaract Club whilst here in Australia on exchange. This year, after Seoul, I’ll be heading off to Hong Kong and Macau with some of my international Rotaract and Rotary friends.
“The foundation upon which Rotary is built is friendship; on no less firm foundation could it have stood”
– Paul Harris.
I’m forever grateful for the opportunities and experiences that Rotary has provided me, through RYLA and Rotaract, and always come away from Convention more inspired to continue along my journey in Rotary and follow the mantra of Service Above Self. Preconvention and RICON is something you should experience at least once in your Rotaract life (and I bet if you go once, you’ll want to keep going). Life is all about opportunities, and you’ve taken the first step by joining Rotaract; now take the next along your Rotary journey. The friendships you form, the memories you make and the energy and passion you leave with are what make traveling around the world to attend the Rotaract Preconvetion and the Rotary International Convention absolutely worth it.
I hope to see you in Seoul!
The 2016 Rotary International Convention will be held in Seoul, Korea. There will be a Young Leaders’ Summit on Friday 27 May; Rotaract Preconvention on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 May; with the Rotary International Convention running from Sunday 29 May to Wednesday 1 June. To register, go to riconvention.org
You can also watch an exclusive interview Rotary International did with Brett whilst at the Sao Paulo convention at goo.gl/VmQgHX