At the 2023 Rotary International Convention in Melbourne, I asked all Rotary members to become champions in our effort to illuminate mental health needs near and far. This includes helping one another feel more supported, advocating for mental health services, and building bridges with experts in the field to expand access to treatment.
It’s an important task and a big ask. But it’s also something that should feel familiar to every Rotary member — because everything we do is in the spirit of caring, giving, friendship, and compassion, and has been from the beginning of our organization.
We’ve grown into an amazing global network of 1.4 million interconnected community leaders — leaders who share a deep commitment to doing good in the world. But what makes Rotary powerful isn’t just what we do for the communities we serve. We also support and empower each other, by creating a safe space for our members to bring their whole, authentic selves. We show each other comfort and care.
These connections are deeply meaningful. The U.S. surgeon general recently declared loneliness a public health epidemic. Dr. Vivek Murthy said, “We must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders.” I am proud of what Rotary has done across generations to build those kinds of social connections — and this magazine focused on loneliness and what Rotary can do about it in its January 2023 issue.
Our worldwide community and our foundational value prioritizing Service Above Self makes Rotary a powerful global advocate for mental health. A recently published study by Ohio State University found performing acts of kindness was the only one of three mental health interventions tested that helped people feel more connected to others. Study co-author David Cregg said, “Performing acts of kindness seems to be one of the best ways to promote those connections.”
This research suggests what we’ve known all along — that doing good helps transform not just the communities we serve, but it also transforms us. As we put a greater focus on mental health, let’s not think of this effort as something new to Rotary, but rather as something we can do better and as a result have a greater impact on ourselves and the people we serve.
We are not starting this effort from scratch. The Rotary Action Group on Mental Health Initiatives has been focused on these kinds of issues for several years — and we will be looking to members of that group for leadership as we continue to build awareness.
Mental health care fits comfortably within several of our areas of focus. As of May, there are 41 global grant-supported projects with a mental health focus. Many of them have tremendous promise, and we will be highlighting them in the months ahead.
So let’s work together to erase the stigma associated with emotional well-being, raise awareness of mental health needs, and improve access to preventive and interventional mental health services.
Together, we will Create Hope in the World.
Even as we face new and serious challenges, Rotary takes care of its members and those we serve, works to build lasting peace, and embeds belonging and inclusion in everything we do. That is why I am asking everyone in Rotary to Create Hope in the World.
This year, we’re prioritizing projects to support mental health. This effort is deeply personal to me. I know what it’s like to see someone suffer in silence. I have also witnessed the power of personal connections, the value of discussing emotional and mental well-being, and the lifesaving impact of preventive care and treatment.
Research shows that performing acts of kindness is an effective step any of us can take to protect our well-being. And by building peace within, we become more capable of bringing peace to the world.
Building peace is the essence of Rotary. Many of our service projects foster the conditions for Positive Peace. We work tirelessly to overcome barriers and create new connections. This year, we’ll promote virtual international exchanges for members to strengthen those vital connections.
Peace isn’t a dream, and it’s not passive. It’s the result of working hard, earning trust, and having open conversations that may be difficult. Peace must be waged persistently — and bravely. Everything we do across our areas of focus has the potential to foster the hope that can make peace possible.
The spirit of connection and purpose should inspire every Rotary member. When club leaders focus on offering an excellent club experience, we retain more members and attract more prospective members. We must make our clubs as welcoming and as engaging as we can.
Our goal is to create a sense of belonging, from our club meetings to our service activities. We need to continue creating inclusive, welcoming environments where everyone can be their authentic selves. All people of action need to be able to imagine a place for themselves in Rotary — it’s up to us to ensure they can do so.
Over the next year, I will be putting a focus on continuing our journey in diversity, equity, and inclusion — ensuring that Rotary reflects the communities we serve and continues to take significant steps toward accessing the full range of human talents and experiences, so that we can better serve humanity. And we will continue to empower women and girls by helping them unlock the potential already within them.
As we begin this journey together, I take inspiration from Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, who in the 18th century spoke of all the world becoming kin, promoting “sense and worth, over all the earth.” This has long been my call to action, and I share it now with you.
Let us build peace within and spread it freely. Let us create belonging and imagine the future of Rotary afresh. Let us work together joyously and Create Hope in the World.