‘We want to make South Asia 100 percent literate’
Kalyan Banerjee is the current Rotary International President. He took the office of the RI President on July 1, 2012 with the theme “reach within to embrace humanity”. Director of India’s largest manufacturer of agrochemicals, United Phosphorus Limited, Banerjee has been a member of the Rotary family since 1972.
He has been felicitated with the Citation for Meritorious Service and Distinguished Service Award, two of the very prestigious awards in Rotary, from the Rotary Foundation.
As a South Asian, you have been leading one of the largest service organisations of the world. What expectations people residing in this region, including Nepal, can have from Rotary during your presidential term?
Rotary is an international organisation which is made of parts in different countries and each country has its own strengths. In the South Asian level, Rotary can work on strengthening the relationship among the countries here by joining hands to change the quality of life in the region. To me, all countries in the Indian Subcontinent are the same and I am working for their betterment. As far as Nepal is concerned, it is a growing Rotary country and since the last few years it has
its own Rotary district. Now it is easy to support the initiative of the Rotarians of Nepal. It could be in the field of heath care, women empowerment, literacy among many others. I always encourage Rotarians to find out the government’s priorities and take them forward together.
It’s been eight months since you took the leadership and you will complete your tenure in four months. Are you satisfied with the achievements since you took up the global leadership?
One should never be satisfied but I am trying very hard. At this point of time it’s not correct to judge by whether you are satisfied or not. One needs to work hard and focus on what are set out to be done. The main focus for us now is Asia for the expansion of the Rotary and I am working hard for it. The contribution from the South Asian region to Rotary compared to the GDP in this region is highest in the world.
Isn’t the 1.24 million Rotary membership still low when you compare it with numbers of countries it is operating in and its global image?
I agree. Perhaps we can see its growth in the next few years and we are working hard on it. Earlier, Rotary used to be America-focused, but now it has changed and now it is expanding well in Asia. I am hopeful that its growth is going to be significant by 2020/25, mainly among the youth, which is sure to change the present picture. But compared to the other service organisations we are still the largest in the world. The Rotarians have contributed over $1 billion for polio eradication and have raised over $8billion from governments across the world. This is enough to show our contribution.
Your theme for 2011-12 is ‘Reach within to embrace humanity.’ What initiatives are you taking to act as per the spirit of the theme?
I am trying to make Rotarians more introspective. One has to know what one’s goals in life are and what has an individual done to make one’s life meaningful and others’ lives happy. Embracing humanity is not simple. For this, one has to reach within oneself first that makes one understand the need of the other and embrace others in the sense that everyone is close to you.
You Chair United Phosphorous and Uniphos Agro Industries Ltd, one among the largest agrochemical manufacturersin South Asia. How do you set your priorities for two demanding offices—Rotary and your own company?
At the moment I am not engaged in business. I attend the Board meetings if I am available in Mumbai where the central office of the company is located. However, neither the days for the meeting are changed for me nor I try for it. Business of service and business of Rotary is my priority right now.
Rotary is organising the South Asian-level conference on literacy here in Nepal. What are the main expectations from the conference?
Through the conference, we want to come up with a detailed draft plan on how to make South Asia 100 percent literate, hopefully in the next one decade. As senior government representatives and education experts from this region are participating in the event we hope to come up with long-term strategies after the three days of discussions to achieve our goal.
Is the conference an indication that the priority of Rotary is shifting from Polio eradication to literacy?
More than anything else, it’s literacy that is holding us back. Everything is possible from economic growth to improvement in human development when we have a literate nation. Unfortunately, we could not give enough priority in the past. Now all the governments are focusing on literacy. Though the main priority of Rotary has
been Polio eradication, the South Asian countries are becoming polio free, except Pakistan. Once Polio goes, we will have total concentration on literacy.