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"Just like you need to pay your taxes, you need to pay your civic rent too"

Thursday, November 29, 2018
Photograph by Azad Shrivastav

Mark Maloney was a young attorney when he joined a local rotary club in Decatur, Alabama. Quickly rising his way to the top, he is now the President-elect of The Rotary International, a global network of 1.2 million members that play a huge role in eradicating polio in India, and other social work. Mark who was in Mumbai recently, spoke to Tanishka Sodhi about how India can use its youth to its advantage, the importance of paying  civic rent, and more

As a young lawyer in Alabama, when he joined a local Rotary club by what he claims to be an accident, Mark Maloney had no idea that he would rise up to the rank of the president of Rotary International. Now, 37-years later, Maloney is only a few months away from beginning his term as president of The Rotary International. "I'd like to say I had a noble cause of doing good, but I just joined to connect with other business people," Mark admits honestly. Quickly rising his way to the top, he definitely found inspiration on the way. "I became really excited about doing good in the world and making connections locally as well as across the globe. It was only natural to put my name for president and after a few times, it happened! I am inspired to share my enthusiasm for Rotary with others," he says sitting in a city hotel in South Mumbai.

He takes office as President of Rotary International in July 2019, for a year. The President-elect has a commitment and an enthusiasm that manages to be pure and authentic without being loud. He believes that we need clubs like the Rotary now, more than ever. "One of the greatest facets of Rotary is the connections you make. I'm an attorney from a city of only 56,000 people - that is the same number of people in South Bombay!" he says, laughing. "Unlike other organizations and NGOs, we have no central body or board that determines what projects and work gets undertaken in the world. Rotary Club of Bombay, for example, doesn’t take orders from any other Rotary - each club decides the needs of their local community. We are a network of business and professional people in local clubs," Mark says, stressing about how everything is decided at the local level.

Rotary clubs are popularly called 'the original social networks.' But how is the organization staying relevant with the growing digitization of almost everything? According to Mark, they are becoming more digital savy, and technology has even helped them in their efforts to eradicate polio in India, through satellites. "We are definitely adjusting. We even have Rotary clubs in India as well as in other countries, that meet only online - what we call e clubs. If that’s the lifestyle you want, it can be done. We're trying to adjust for younger individuals who have less time, trying to have our meetings more focused on the service project solely, rather than having a meal."

With more than half the population of India under 25 years old (600 million people) –The Rotary International is committed to providing a platform for new generations to channel their talents into making a difference. "Rotarians can use India’s youth to their advantage. I'm a great believer in paying civic rent. If you’re in this world and have the resources to do so, you owe something back to the world for the privilege of being here. I call that paying your civic rent. Just like you need to pay your taxes, you need to pay your civic rent. Hopefully, we are sharing our commitment to pay our civic rent with the younger generation, and showing them the way."

A lot of organizations resist the change that comes with the time, hence losing out on appurtenances and youth participation. Rotary clubs, however, are determined to adapt. "If we don’t bring in young people, we are not going to survive," Mark says, adding that this goes for all organization. "Rotary is important for young people not only because it connects them to the world, but also because it will hopefully instill in them a sense of responsibility for the condition of the world. We are not in this world just for ourselves. We must do what we can for those less fortunate, whether you’re 85, 35 or 63, like myself." He hopes to instill the same drive that he has, in young people. How does he plan on going about this? "We must change the way we operate, and provide alternatives young people can opt for. We have to provide them with an option where they can meet after work and discuss their projects. They often don’t have time for the traditional methods."

Mark's goals for his term as president of Rotary International in 2019-2020 are principally focused on improving the internal aspects of the organization. Determined to spread his passion for paying civic rent, he says, "Rotary is growing tremendously in India - but that is not the case in all parts of the world. I want to focus on how to make the club more attractive to the young generation, and to the people actively involved." He also wants to focus a great deal on Rotary’s relation with the United Nation, who the organization has been involved with since before the UN even existed. UNESCO too, started as a result of a rotary conference in United Kingdom back in 1942.

Not shying away from topics of diversity and inclusion, Mark admits that for many years, Rotary was an all male organization, as a result of which, a lot of senior leaders are male. "We are focused to make sure we are a diverse organization - in terms of gender, age, and other demographics. I'm working very hard to make sure we include women in leadership roles. As I appoint committees, I want qualified individuals, don’t want a women just for the sake of it. When there are qualified women and young people, I'm going to make sure they’re involved in committees where their leadership can be followed - hopefully setting an example."

Mark compares the organization to the Coca Cola Company, saying, "They used to make coke, and then started to make Diet Coke and Sprite as well. Now, they have teas, fruit juices, and even water. We need to have the Coca Cola variety in our organization, where we have classic Coke for the traditional rotarians, and jazzy fruit juice for the young Rotarians."

Mark doesn’t bother to hide his love and fascination for the city, which he is visiting for the fifth time. Comparing Mumbai to Alabama, he marvels over how the streets are never empty here, no matter the time. "I wish I had more time to just walk around and explore streets. Mumbai is this amalgamation of the British colonial influence and the Indian styles and smells - It’s a sensory overload," he says, before leaving for Surat in a train - for the first time, much to his excitement.

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