Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Fighting Polio: The Rotary Asset

January 19, 2012

I had an opportunity to spend a day and a half with Rotarians at the International Assembly in San Diego and talk about their work on polio.  The first thing I did was give a speech to the 1,000 people who gathered for the conference.  It’s a good thing it went over well because it set the tone for the rest of the meetings.    

One of the reasons I was excited to attend this Assembly is because it’s with the incoming District Governors who are important for coordinating with Rotary’s 33,000 clubs worldwide and inspiring the 1.2 million members as they engage in local and international projects.  I met with lots of different types of Rotarians – from donor countries like Korea, the UK and Brazil to polio-affected countries like Pakistan.  I met Rotarians who’ve been involved in polio for decades and some who are new to the fight.

I had a chance to talk to a small group of the people who can be catalytic in the way they work with governments and other influential people in the fight against polio.  I asked them to take new approaches to help increase government funding and get people to act on polio.  I told them, and I truly believe, that there isn’t a single government official who doesn’t want to be on the right side of Rotary.  They had a lot of great ideas, starting with making sure that each district has a PolioPlus Committee Chair who is active in working with the District Governors to get polio messages out to the clubs.  They also were enthusiastic about helping identify those with influence within their country, even at a very local level.   

I expressed that Rotary has a powerful opportunity to move from a few key people driving the polio effort to a committee of 10,000 or more who can help get things done.  As Sam Walton of Walmart  said, “you get what you measure”.  I asked Rotary to start thinking about measuring actions - one example is ensuring that every member of parliament or local official has met with Rotary, and is aware of the tremendous progress we’ve made on polio, and all there is left to do.    

Rotary has an incredible asset in its brand, which stands for character, integrity and passion for service.  But most importantly it has an asset of 1.2 million people who have and continue to use their voices and talents to help end polio. Rotary has an incredibly opportunity to build partnerships, to create energy and to use its assets to build an even bigger asset – one that can change the world forever.   

I hope that Rotarians share their stories with us, and more importantly with the media and others who can keep polio high on the agenda of every government leader globally.  Share your comments here or at  I’ll be looking forward to highlighting some of Rotary’s new ideas and innovative approaches.  

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