Praising Rotarians for their "mind-boggling efforts" to "dramatically change millions and millions of lives," honorary Rotarian William Gates Sr. called on Rotarians to "think big" and finish the job of polio eradication.


By Marla Donato
Rotary International News
Photos by Alyce Henson/Rotary Images

20 June 2007

"Now, due mostly to your astounding, 20-year campaign, the world is right on the brink of eliminating polio entirely," said Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, closing the third plenary session Tuesday in the packed Salt Palace auditorium.

Just moments before Gates gave his speech, Foundation Chair Luis Giay and 2006-2007 President William B. Boyd presented Gates with a Polio Eradication Championship Award.  

Gates, a retired Seattle attorney and father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, introduced himself as "just a guy from the little town of Bremerton, Washington. Yet somehow, I have spent the last decade traveling around the world, thinking about monstrous problems."

Since its inception in 2000, the Gates Foundation has helped fight polio alongside Rotary, contributing US$150 million to the polio eradication initiative.

"All the money in the world doesn't matter if it isn't spent the right way," he said.  "[Rotary] gives people a way to convert their resources into results for the people who need them most."

Gates's connection to the polio fight started simply enough. He recalled being overjoyed and afraid when his wife was pregnant with their first child, prior to the introduction of the (Jonas) Salk vaccine and following the 1952 polio epidemic in the U.S.

"It is almost impossible to fully appreciate how successful Rotary has been in fighting that disease," said Gates, who added that Rotary members use three things efficiently: wallets to fund initiatives, legs to drive them, and lungs to spread the word.

And Rotary sets an example as one of the "finest organizations on the planet," he said. "You are an army of activists who place Service Above Self."

Gates, an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Seattle, said as the world shrinks, Rotarians are turning their attention to what he called the global neighborhood. "You understand that in our century, you are called to serve new neighbors [in countries] that once seemed far away - people who once seemed so different from us."
The shrinking world and spirit of international cooperation was also the subject of the talk session's second speaker, Brigitta von Messling, a Rotary World Peace Fellow who traveled to Salt Lake from Berlin, Germany, where she is working for a nonprofit organization that focuses on conflict resolution in the Balkans.
A former inner-city Brooklyn, New York, school teacher, she described her study time in Bradford, England, that has left her with friends in "Angola, the Congo, Indonesia, Nepal, Jamaica, and Japan. [Such fellowship is] an integral tool in peace-building around the world."
She closed her speech by paraphrasing Be Here Now author and contemporary spiritual thinker Ram Dass: "Just as billions of tiny acts of ignorance, greed, violence, and exploitation have created most of the suffering and breakdown that exists, so the billions of tiny acts of compassion.heal the situation."


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