Speech Sakuji Tanaka - Peace Philanthropy

President of Rotary International - 2012-2013

Good afternoon!

It is a pleasure to be here in The Hague, as a representative of Rotary International. Once again, I find myself among those who believe in peace.  I am honored to be in your company.

I have been a Rotary member for many years, and have held many different Rotary offices. In that time, I have talked about Rotary on countless occasions, in front of many different audiences.

I have been asked, many times, to explain what Rotary is, and what we do.

Over the years, I have answered in many different ways. My answer depends on who I am talking to, and how long they are willing to listen.

But the shortest answer of all, to the question, “What is Rotary?” is this:

Rotary is a way for people to make their world a better place. 

I believe with all my heart that the role of Rotary is to build peace. There is no shortage of problems in the world, from the small to the catastrophic. Every evening, we see on the news, the things that have gone wrong. We see poverty, we see hunger, we see illness, and we see despair.

Often, we feel that these problems are too large, and too difficult, for us to change. We want to help, but we do not know how. And so, we choose to do nothing. In Japan, this feeling is called Shikata ga nai. This means, it is out of my control, and there is nothing I can do. In English, you would say, I throw up my hands.

But Rotary is a way to change that. With Rotary, you do not have to throw up your hands. You can put your hands to work—and know that your work is having an impact.

As Rotary president, I traveled a great deal. Everywhere I went, I saw how Rotarians were making a difference. And I saw what can happen, when people set aside religion and politics, and focus only on helping others.

I saw many projects, that I will never forget. I saw an orphanage in Kenya, taking care of AIDS orphans. Unfortunately, there are many such orphans, and many of them have nowhere to go.

Local Rotarians saw this problem, and did what they could to help. With the support of other Rotarians, in other parts of the world, they established an orphanage and a school. The children receive more than just a bed, and meals. They are cared for. They are educated, and taught life skills. The goal was not just to keep these children off the streets—but to give them a home, and a future. This is something that the local community, could not do on its own—but through Rotary, many communities, could come together, to care for the children who needed their help.

In Israel, I saw a Rotary project that is bringing modern cardiac medicine to children in the poorest parts of the world. Specialists in pediatric cardiology travel to Africa, Eastern Europe, and China, to train local doctors in surgery and intensive care. There are no politics. There is only human kindness, and communication - and understanding that could not happen in any other way.

From local food pantries to clean water and maternal health, Rotary clubs engage in local and international service projects in thousands of communities all over the world.  Rotary members use the resources and networking capacity of an international humanitarian organization to accomplish incredible things. I believe that this is the best way, for individuals, from every background, to help build peace. 

Almost two hundred years ago, British statesman Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary, for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.”

History showed that he was correct. But it is equally true, that when good people step forward, to do good—then good will triumph. And often, good can triumph, in ways that we did not anticipate.

Rotary is a way for good people, to step forward and work for a better world. It enables the men and women who care, to act on their feelings. And it is a way for all of us, around the world, to transcend race, religion, nation, and politics—to come together, to give help to the people who need it.

Some Rotary projects are designed with peace in mind. For example, our Rotary Peace Centers.  Our Peace Centers, in Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Japan offer master’s degrees, and professional certificates each year to more than 110 talented professionals who want to study and work for peace.

The diversity of our students is incredible. They come from every background, from dozens of different countries. They are united only by their desire for a more peaceful world—and the Rotary Peace Fellows program, helps them to bring that world closer.

The education of our Peace Fellows is completely paid for, by our Rotary Foundation. Therefore, anyone who is qualified, can participate. And we have already seen how much our 700 alumni go on to achieve.  Today, they are in key decision-making positions in governments and organizations around the world.

Our Peace Fellows are very close to my heart. I have supported a Fellowship myself, and I take pride in knowing, that I am helping to build peace, in this very concrete way.

But I believe, very strongly, that all Rotary service, is also helping us to achieve this goal.

Rotary service is as diverse, as Rotary’s members. We are 1.2 million people, in more than thirty-four thousand clubs, in almost every country of the world. We have members in every profession, from every possible background. And all of us, work together, for the same goals.

We help bring clean water and better sanitation to the people who do not have it. We help to educate children, and to bring better health care to families. We are helping to train teachers and midwives, for a healthier and better future. And we are in the last stages, of our decades-long commitment, to eradicate polio.

These are the things that we have achieved, simply by working together.

Some of our projects have the word “peace” in their names. But every Rotary project, has peace as its goal. Whatever we do in Rotary, we are doing it together, to help people who need it. We are saying, “We care—and we will not walk away.”

My friends, I truly believe that the world today is better because of Rotary. We are not in a position to solve all of humanity’s problems. But that is not our goal. Our goal is simply to make things better than they are. Our goal, is to help in the ways that we can.

That is why we are all here today: because we know that the only way to build a better, and more peaceful world, is by working for it together, every day, in many simple yet profound ways.

Thank you.