Rotary and Taiwan

The choice for the 2014-2015 Rotary International Presidential Nominee has now been announced.  And the winner is … Gary C.K. Huang from Taiwan.

I am a proud member of the Rotary Club of Taipei. My husband and my father are also Rotarians. So you could say we are a Rotary family; being a member of the larger Rotary family and through it making a difference in the community is important to me. And this week I attended a special celebration at The Regent in Taipei to celebrate the appointment of Gary C. K. Huang — a member of the Rotary Club of Taipei — as Rotary International President Nominee (RIPN) for 2014-2015.

Rotary, which has 1.2 million members, is the largest Non-Governmental Organsation in the world. Founded by Chicago lawyer Paul Harris in 1905 as a way to meet new people, it is now active in 200 different countries worldwide. (The name Rotary comes from the early practice of rotating meetings in each others offices.) Since its first commuity project in 1923, Rotary clubs (often through the umbrella of Rotary International) have embarked on community, developmental and emergency assistance projects too numerous to mention. Key projects include the global PolioPlus project that aims to eradicate polio worldwide, the shelter box project that provides emergency humanitarian relief, and Rotary Ambassadorial scholarships to help groom future leaders and thinkers.

To say that Rotary is prestigous in Taiwan is an understatement. One of the proudest things an esteemed professional or business owner can wear on his or her lapel is a Rotary pin. There are nearly 24,000 Rotarians in 594 clubs throughout the island. Rotary membership in Taiwan has increased 29 per cent over the past decade, at a time when many other Rotary clubs around the world are struggling to recruit the ‘next generation’ of people in their thirties and early forties.

Taiwanese Rotarians are also generous financial donors. Back in Australia, the ‘fine’ session at my husband’s meetings were usually opportunities to collect loose change. But in Taiwan, they haul in tens of thousands (New Taiwan Dollars, but the overall amount is still impressive). The main fundraiser of my club, the Rotary Club of Taipei, is an annual gala black tie charity fundraisers that is one of the ‘it’ functions on the expat, diplomatic and CEO social calendar. Overall, Taiwan — with its population of only 22 million — is the top sixth donor to Rotary International in the world. And it is the largest donor per capita, contributing on average US$270 per person per annum.

Gary Huang joined Rotary in 1976. While he has a real-life job as a senior executive with the Shin Kong group, it is fair to say that Rotary is his passion and calling. He has served in various senior roles in Rotary in Taiwan and Asia, and previously served as Vice President of Rotary International.  His Rotary achievements include chartering several new clubs in Taiwan and playing a role in the chartering of the two mainland China clubs: the Rotary Club of Beijing and the Rotary Club of Shanghai.  He also played a role in introducing Rotary to Mongolia.

Mr Taiwanxifu and I photographed with Gary Huang at a Rotary function, holding up a copy of his autobiography — You are the Key: Find solutions, not excuses

Huang’s appointment as RIPN is an honour not only for HIM but also for Taiwan. Taiwan has long hoped to achieve greater international space, something denied to it in many organisations due to objections — direct or indirect — from mainland China. Over the last twenty to thirty years, Taiwan has developed a flourishing civil society along with its democratic political system. Being able to fly the Taiwan flag outside the Chicago Rotary International headquarters during Huang’s year in office, and having someone who will represent the face of Taiwan as leader of the world’s largest NGO, is a huge source of pride for Taiwan.

Of course, the presence of China is never far behind anything concerning Taiwan — even its involvement in an NGO devoted to fellowship and service. In a video where he set out his pitch for candidacy, China-born Huang highlighted his role in chartering the two mainland China clubs and suggested that his election would help to further relations between both sides of the Taiwan Straits.   Jackson San-Lien Hsieh, a Taiwanese member of the 2012 nominating committee that selected the Presidential Nominee, acknowledged warmer cross-strait ties were a key factor in the decision to ‘give Taiwan a chance’. Oh, and the fact that Huang’s graceful and unassuming wife, Corianna, supported her husband’s ambition also went in his favour.

Gary Huang and his wife, Corinna Yao

Although he will not serve as President of Rotary International until 1 July 2014, preparation for Huangs role has already begun: Rotary places strong emphasis on  leadership and succession planning. He already has his own office in Rotary International headquarters in Chicago, where he has installed the Taiwan flag behind his desk. And he has his own staff; he joked they were amazed when he took them out to lunch and paid for the meal — a Taiwan tradition — as it was apparently the first time staff had been treated to lunch by a Rotary International President (or Nominee).

Huang will be formally elected as Rotary International President during the world convention in Sydney in May 2014. I look forward to welcoming my Taiwanese friends to Australia for the proud occasion. And I better start learning Taiwanese, because Huang has insisted on using a Southern Min dialect Rotary song during his year — a sign he plans to highlight Taiwan and its unique culture during his Presidential term.

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About taiwanxifu

‘Taiwanxifu’ (pronounced ‘shee foo’) means ‘Taiwan daughter-in-law’ in Chinese and has been my nickname ever since I married my Taiwanese husband, Sam. I love sampling Taiwanese food, even local specialties such as stinky tofu, pigs blood cake and Taipei beef noodle soup with offal. But there are many other options on the menu. Promise!
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