Rotary named world’s outstanding foundation in 2016
The Rotary Foundation, the charitable arm of Rotary – a global network of volunteers committed to improving lives and communities around the world – has been named the 2016 Outstanding Foundation by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).
From its first contribution of $26.50 almost a century ago, The Rotary Foundation’s assets have grown to approximately $1 billion, and more than $3 billion have been spent on projects that promote peace, fight disease, provide clean water, support education, save mothers and children, and grow local economies.
From the October 2016 issue of The Rotarian
A couple of years ago, researchers at Princeton and Stanford released a study of American political attitudes that was, in a word, terrifying.
The most shocking finding was that political prejudice is now more acute than racial bigotry. What’s more, it is voters who are driving the cycle of contempt and confrontation in Washington. Those intractable politicians we love to rant about are, in fact, acting on our orders.
Another study, by political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster at Emory University, offers more grim news. Americans are increasingly engaging in a practice they call “negative partisanship,” which means we vote based more on fear and loathing for the other party than on a positive identification with our own.
These negative views, by the way, are not grounded in a sophisticated objection to the policies advocated by the opposing party. They are tribal in nature.
Abramowitz and Webster do note that an increasing number of voters identify themselves as independents – Gallup put the number at 43 percent last year – which would suggest a decline in partisanship. Unfortunately, actual voting data reveal that these folks are choosing to label themselves as “independent” to avoid the perception of mindless loyalty to a particular party. In fact, they almost never cross party lines. The “swing voter” is a dying species in American politics.
Bill Bishop’s 2008 book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, chronicles the larger cultural shifts that have stoked this polarization. His basic point is that Americans increasingly self-segregate. We surround ourselves with people of the same class, level of education, and ideology. Forget red and blue states, we’re talking about red and blue neighborhoods.
At the same time, our very definition of “politics” has changed over the past half-century. We used to consider politics a collective civic endeavor, the means by which our society sought to solve common crises. These days, politics functions as a form of identity. We regard those in the other tribe not as neighbors who share many of our basic goals and values but as an abstract set of strangers who seek to desecrate all we hold dear.
I still remember watching the 1980 presidential election returns with my parents and a group of their friends. Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter that year. Our living room was filled with jubilant Reagan fans and downcast Carter supporters, but the general air was one of amicability. Try to imagine the same scene today.
Which brings us, alas, to the brutal presidential race playing out in front of us right now. Regardless of how you feel about the outcome, we can all agree that Election 2016 has represented a new low when it comes to political acrimony.
So the big question is this: How do we begin to depersonalize politics? How do we cure ourselves of political prejudice?
“Agriculture is the lifeblood of Arkansas; it’s the state’s original business,” says Sharon Tallach Vogelpohl, an Arkansas Rotarian for nearly 20 years. But that business has become more challenging in recent years as row-crop farming has become more commoditized, making it difficult for families who have been farming for generations to make an adequate living.
Vogelpohl, who was club president during the Rotary Club of Little Rock’s centennial year in 2014, says club members wanted to mark the milestone with a project that would have a lasting, local impact. “With all the good that Rotary has done internationally, we wondered what we could do to bring that good home here in Arkansas, which is a very impoverished state,” she says. “What could we do to help our friends and neighbors in our own backyard?” The conversation quickly turned to a farming project.
The Little Rock club (nicknamed “Club 99” because it was the 99th Rotary club chartered) meets weekly at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, which is a tomato’s throw from the headquarters of Heifer International. Heifer is a nonprofit, founded in 1944, that seeks to end hunger and poverty through sustainable agriculture. Given the proximity – and that several Heifer employees are members of the Rotary Club of Little Rock, including Ardyth Neill, president of the Heifer Foundation, and Ben Wihebrink, operations director for Heifer USA – the two organizations teamed up to help Arkansas farmers.
Around the world, Heifer teaches farmers how to increase production sustainably and access new markets. It also helps small-scale farmers form cooperatives, where locals can buy produce directly. The goal is to increase a farmer’s profits by about 30 percent while providing the community with more locally grown produce. A key component of Heifer’s method, and the Arkansas project, is the formation of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) network – a food subscription service in which consumers buy produce in advance at a fixed price, guaranteeing farmers a market for their crops, regardless of how weather or other factors may affect their output.
In Arkansas, Rotarians fund Heifer’s training efforts, including an informational video, and members offer advice in their areas of expertise, like marketing, finance, and business planning. “Heifer helps the farmers with technical expertise,” Neill says. “Rotary gives them access to individual club members who want to help them directly. That means local folks helping local folks to make a difference.”
Celebrating 50 Years of Doing Good in the World
On 24 October, World Polio Day, Rotary will bring together partners from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative for an update on our fight to end polio. As host and moderator of the event, our organization plays a key role in amplifying one of the most important public health concerns in modern history.
When we first took it up as an organizational cause over three decades ago, polio affected 350,000 children every year, mostly in lower-income countries where poor sanitation and limited access to clean water facilitate the spread of the virus.
Our collaboration with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, local health workers, and national governments has helped reduce the number of cases to just 74 last year. When the final case is behind us, polio will be only the second disease, after smallpox, ever to have been completely wiped out.
This year's event, the fourth to be live-streamed and the first to be held at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, is our opportunity to put the fight to end polio in the public eye.