Rotarians as "Visionaries"

visionary is often considered to be a person who has positive ideas about the future. Yet in some contexts, a visionary may just be a utopian idealist, an impractical dreamer, a person who sees imaginary or illusory images of what might be, but what will never be. So, there are many kinds of “visionaries.” But, which description applies to  Rotarians?  Rotarians were once called “Do-gooders wearing a tie.” The ties are gone at most meetings, but we are still “do-gooders.” So, are we just idealists? Or, are we pragmatists with vision, people who make their visions come true? 

You know the answer! Whether in Club Service, International Service, Youth Service, Community Service, or Vocational Service, Rotarians set forth plans and goals. Then, they find the necessary human and physical resources; obtain grant funding; motivate other clubs to cooperate in joint ventures; make connections worldwide; and, in the end, make things happen – achieving those plans and goals!

I believe that Rotarians are truly creative visionaries, not just idealists. But, it also seems to me that there are other movements across the world, not just in Rotary, which strive to rise above the chaos of the past decades and create transformative initiatives intended to elevate mankind. There is a growing movement of non-governmental and non-political organizations which have the common goal of healing and advancing the world and its peoples. Rotary, of course, is a prime example: “Service Above Self” says it all. Yet, we don’t hold the only store of great ideas.

In the decades to come, Rotarians will need to answer this question: Where should we best put our collective energy? This Program is intended to bring you unique ideas of six non-Rotarian visionaries for your consideration. There are so many possibilities! Where do we go after eliminating polio? What projects have we ignored? What trends and technologies are we missing? Do we understand the impact of the many new social media and how to use them in service work? The ideas of other visionaries are worthy of consideration and may lead to possible new areas to apply our Rotary energy. 


Vision No.1: Reforestation and Conservation

Sue Holden is the chief executive of the U.K. Woodland Trust, a leading woodland conservation organization.  We know that forests contribute to the geo-health of the planet, but woodlands have long been disappearing.  Is reforestation a possible area of interest for Rotarians? See the five-minute video below to understand what Ms. Holden is trying to do to connect businesses to conservation.  Sue says, “I hope for a future where the environment is respected, completely and unconditionally, for the benefits it provides people and for its intrinsic value.  My message is that trees and forests have an incredible role to play – they are the very lifeblood of our planet.  They stabilize soil, store carbon, transform our landscapes, reduce flooding, and provide one of the richest habitats for flora and fauna.  For more information,  go to:



Vision No. 2: Food Systems, Sustainability, & How Health Begins in the Soil

Anna Lappé is an author and television personality whose work focuses on global food systems, sustainability, and the connection of food systems to health. In this difficult world, she sees the need for hope. She says, “We need hope like that embodied in the people I’ve been privileged to meet around the globe, from the sweltering heat of the Punjab to the plains of Brazil to the villages south of Nairobi. In each of these places, I’ve met people working against daunting odds, to transform their communities by uprooting poverty. I was shocked at first to realize these are among the most hopeful people I’ve ever met. Through them, I came to see that hope is not born of naiveté, or of delusion. We feel hope when we make tough choices, when we choose to become part of the struggle to make a difference no matter what the odds. Go to or, see this five-minute video:



Vision No. 3:  Teaching Using the Creative Potential of Technology

A primary school teacher for more than twenty years, Tim Rylands has been described as gifted and inspirational. He introduced the use of video games to motivate children to new levels of achievement. In his concept of “games based learning,” he used the video game, Myst, to teach writing and other skills.  He works with schools, government organizations and private institutions, worldwide. He says, “The word, teacher, is too one-sided. In this goal driven age, we could think that education is imparting a body of knowledge – rather than a shared journey of discovery. Fascination is a tool that can easily be neglected. This digital age brings such potential for communication. Our species will survive from a sharing of understanding. We need to inspire young people and fire their imaginations; enhance their creativity and confidence… and motivate a love of learning for life.” Go to:  or, see this three-minute video:



Vision No. 4: Ultimate Computers: A Futurist Who Believes in “The Coming Singularity”


Ray Kurzweil is a brilliant MIT engineer and futurist who invented speech recognition software to convert speech to digital words in a computer, among many other inventions. He sees a tremendous growth in the power of computers, leading to a “singularity,” that is, a critical point of tremendous change. He believes the singularity may lead to machines with a human level of intelligence, perhaps as soon as 2029. These extreme technologies will provide great benefits, but also bring great dangers. He says, “It’s not accurate to say I’m only painting a rosy future and that I have a utopian vision. The power of these technologies will grow exponentially. I believe that is inexorable; that has gone on … since the 1890s census. What we do with these technologies is not preordained … I am very concerned about the downsides …Yet, I am optimistic that we will get more promise than peril, but they both exist.” Kurzweil was named Inventor of the Year by MIT and is the recipient of nine honorary doctorates and honors from two American presidents. His book “The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology” was a major work in 2006. See the website: http://www.kurzweilai.netor, watch this seven-minute video:



Vision No. 5: Gender Discrimination and Equality in Developing Nations

Kolaras, India:  (From a video issued byUNICEF)  “When nine-month-old twins Devki and Rahul were brought by their mother to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre in Kolaras -- located in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh -- Rahul was a normal weight and size for his age, yet his sister Devki weighed just over half of what she should have. Devki's condition was the result of severe malnutrition. Both babies showed such varied weight and health that doctors suspected less food was given to Devki, a common occurrence in some areas of India where boys are often given more attention than girls. According to a UNICEF report, half of the world's undernourished children live in South Asia. In India, 30 percent of children are born with low birth weight and almost 50 percent remain underweight by the age of three. One of the Millennium Development Goals is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015, which would mean halving the proportion of children who are underweight for their age.” UNICEF has warned that the world is not on track to meet that goal. Go to the UNICEF website here: or, watch this two minute video:  



Vision No. 6: Conflict – Eliminating Conflict Through Meditation

Go to: or, watch this nine minute video:   New Dimensions Radio in San Francisco has been a source of a radio series heard worldwide.  Founded by Justine Willis Toms and her husband Michael, it is a powerful transformative archive of leading-edge thinkers. The video below is a 1984 interview with the famous Jiddu Krishnamurti.  “So let's begin to have a dialogue. What is conflict? Conflict implies contradiction: 'what is' and 'what should be'. There is a duality, opposing elements in it: desiring one thing and then contradicting it by another desire. It is really a very complex problem, it can't just be, 'Tell me a system how to end conflict' because that is too childish. Every system intrinsically has its own degeneration: every system, whether it is political, religious, or psychological, or even scientific systems; it is called entropy. So if we could talk over together, not how to end conflict, but rather [how to] understand the whole nature of it ….”


NOTE:  For some of these visions and visionaries, brief passages have been quoted in this review from the book, “100 Words: two hundred visionaries share their hope for the future,” by William Murtha, Conari Press, San Francisco, 2010, 416pp. 


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