Sunday, July 25, 2010

Save Social Assets: Rotary's clarion call

Build Communities: Bridge Continents. The theme is of great significance in our present times, and here I share what I could understand from the theme, I am sharing it here.

Ray Klinginsmith, interpreting the theme, said that “it is important to remember that Rotary is a “spirit of service” as well as an organization of Rotary clubs, and we need to share our core values of service, fellowship, diversity, integrity, and leadership with other people and organizations. I considered many words and phrases to capture the essence of Rotary, and the words I finally selected to describe Rotary’s current mission and to highlight our achievements are what we do best: Building Communities – Bridging Continents.”

Indeed a very significant thought, and indeed, the need of our times, since today, the world over, the social scientists are expressing concern over breaking down of community feelings in the society, what they call “social asset” of any civil society.

The social scientists definie it as SOCIAL CAPITAL of any nation or that of our world. Social Capital of a nation is build in the DAILY LIVES OF THE PEOPLE, i.e. goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy and social intercourse among group of individuals and families who make up a social unit.

Way back in the 19th century German sociologists describe Gemeinschaft (community) as more cohesive and tighter social entity since it characterizes a “unity of will” amongst its members. Social scientists also believe that community ensures security and freedom, i.e. “the members of the community become free enough to share and secure enough to get along”. People working together with shared understandings and expectations are what provide a place of strong community.

But at the same time, the social scientists have lamented the disintegration of the community culture in industrialized society. People are falling apart. The Social Capital is depleting. Though the younger generation out of sheer desire to be a part of a community or a group are building newer communities in the cloud, on the internet, and you see the popularity of various social media like Orkut, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, to name a few. Some ‘net communities’ or the ‘virtual habitats’ of the younger generation have a cause or a purpose to work on, most of the others are just loose entities that do not go beyond connecting people and giving them a label of belonging to a group. Nevertheless, one common binding factor is the human innate desire to be a part of a community.

Remember the time when the entire village used to celebrate every family event together? Even in the joint families there were houses that were built with a common verandah in the middle so that everyone could get together.

There was the concept of dining together, where family would come, sit and eat together. Today everyone in the family is either watching a tv, listening to music, talking on mobile, and then eating,…each in one’s own room.

Today, we do not know our neighbor. We are not concerned at what is happening next door.

The community culture has just disappeared. Look at the cities and towns, and you do not find any community feeling, the feeling of belongingness despite the physical proximity to the place we live in.

In this age of depleting social capital, the social scientists describe a ray of hope in the ‘third sector’ of the civil society, i.e. the private organizations, activists, non-government organizations, etc, who perpetuate the community feeling among people, who are sustaining our society by engaging people with a common purpose in the spirit of fellowship and general good.

In building social capital the role of NGOs is vitally recognized which are trying to sustain and protect this social capital in the civil society.

Coming back to the state of ‘social capital’ in the world today, a recent research in US revealed the breaking down of social assets in US over the last 25 years, which is manifesting itself in social strife, strikes, and protests. In the community, it is revealing itself through three key elements, i.e.

· attendance at club meetings have fallen by 58 percent,

· family dinners are down by 33 percent

· visits to friends homes has gone down by 45 percent.

Isn’t it the same issue that we discuss day-in-and-day-out in our Rotary clubs? We lament the absenteeism. We nostalgically remember the great time that we used to have 20 years back. We no longer take time out to spend a few hours with friends in the coffee house.

We hardly find the hangouts that one would walk to in the evening and spend great time together. Initial years also saw a great bonhomie at the Rotary club meetings where families enjoyed pot-luck or Sunday picnic or an outing to a village to chat with the locals and find out their problems.

Ray Klinginsmith would not have expressed this growing concern of depleting ‘social asset’ more aptly than through his theme since it is the Rotarians who are keeping this vital social capital alive, and it is time that we as Rotarians can put our shoulders together to rebuild the vanishing community feelings.

This depleted social capital has also led to make us drift apart from each other as ‘continents’ which to my mind has been used more as a metaphor emphasizing the geographical and cultural differences that are drifting people away from each other.

The need today is definitely to re-build this social capital and revive the community feelings amongst ourselves that can only ensure a secure, safe and healthy world for our children. The challenge for all of us in Rotary is to step out, call up a friend, definitely a Rotarian friend too, and ask for a cup of coffee or a family dinner together.

Let’s ignite the spirit of camaraderie, a strong community of like-minded people working together for a common cause and bridging ‘continents’ to bring the people around the globe together. We need to look at our Rotary meeting structure. We need to have more interaction amongst ourselves than just calling people like me to listen to.

· In our club we are trying to build this social capital through informal interactions once in two weeks where members can sit together and plan for their projects. The members attending these meetings would also get the credit for attendance.

· There is buddy system we are introducing in our club. Each member to be a buddy to another one; so that we remain in touch with each other, attend meetings together, share some family time together, and be there on projects together.

· Encourage Rotarians and their families to get together and meet often and be a mentor in business and personal life to address any challenging issue.

· Give your members a goal. Focus on action which is specific, time bound, and measurable, so that members drive satisfaction out of the engagement with their club.

· Celebrate together. Participate in district and international meets to open up the minds of Rotarians so that they get the opportunity to meet with people from different regions and culture, and reaffirm fellowship.

Building Communities: Bridging Continents, spans the entire gamut of Rotary Service. It starts with our homes, our clubs. Strengthen Club Service by fortifying our fellowship activities, club programmes and meetings, induction and orientation of new members.

Build Communities by engaging each member to understand the value of Vocational Service, and of morals and values in our lives. Build Communities by involving members into humanitarian service project as a mission to do collective good.

Build Communities by involving our youth, the Interactors and Rotaractors in leadership-building activities to make them better citizens of our world.

And Bridge Continents, by not only reaching out to different communities around us but to the people across borders

We have been doing it. We need to strengthen it. We know the way. We have done it time and again...building communities and bridging continents. We have been linking people in the spirit of goodwill around the world, to take them along to make our world a much better place to live and work.

Tags: Bridging, Building, Communities, Continents, Klinginsmith, Ray, Rotary, Theme

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