By Ryan Hyland 
Rotary International News -- 19 June 2008

Rotary's goals to eradicate polio and improve health and literacy seemed to become more attainable after the 2008 RI Convention in Los Angeles drew to a close on 18 June.



More than 19,000 Rotarians from around the world celebrated fellowship, commemorated Rotary's history, focused on the future, and along the way set a Guinness world record.

The convention, which began on Sunday, 15 June, marked the official launch of Rotary's US$100 Million Challenge , a three-year fundraising effort to match a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In concert with the launch were two tremendous boosts from the World Health Organization and the government of Canada.

On 17 June, Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, announced that WHO is making polio eradication the organization's top operational commitment "on a most urgent, if not an emergency, basis." Chan praised Rotary's conviction and big thinking attitude for the reason polio eradication is within reach. ( Watch the video )

RI President Wilfrid J. Wilkinson announced on 18 June that he just received a commitment of US$60 million from the Canadian government toward polio eradication.

In a keynote speech on 16 June, Dr. Tadataka Yamada , president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Health Program, warned Rotarians that they must not stop too soon in their efforts to eradicate polio.


"If we conquer polio, no goal is beyond our reach, and no disease is beyond our capacity," said Yamada. "This is a battle we can't afford to lose."

Stephen Lewis, co-director of the advocacy organization AIDS-Free World, spoke passionately on HIV/AIDS at the fourth plenary session on 18 June and encouraged Rotarians to take action.

RI President-elect Dong Kurn Lee spoke at the 2008 RI Convention closing plenary in Los Angeles. Lee will preside over next year's RI Convention in Birmingham, England, 21-24 June 2009. Register now!

Rotary Images/Monika Lee 

Literacy was also highlighted during the fourth plenary session, with a video message from Dolly Parton, country music star and founder of the Imagination Library, and an address from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Throughout the week, Rotary's Wide World of Books, a global literacy initiative, also put the spotlight on literacy. Rotarians from around the world were asked to donate a book. Exactly 242,624 books were collected for public elementary schools in Southern California and Southern Nevada. The response resulted in setting a Guinness world record for the most books collected in seven days. ( See the video )

Inside the Los Angeles Convention Center, the House of Friendship provided a forum for Rotary Fellowships, Rotarian Action Groups, and club and district projects. Outside, the beautiful Southern California summer served as a scenic backdrop to the Concert under the Stars entertainment event at the Hollywood Bowl.

RI President-elect Dong Kurn Lee concluded the 2008 RI Convention by motivating Rotarians to take action in decreasing the world's child mortality rate. More than 26,000 children die each day from preventable diseases such as pneumonia, measles, and malaria, he said.

Lee told the assembled Rotarians that they are the ones who can make the difference by providing clean water to communities and delivering basic medicines and vaccines to sick children.

"I will ask you all to Make Dreams Realfor the world's children," Lee said. "This will be our theme, and my challenge to all of you. We will Make Dreams Real by giving children hope and a chance at a future. "

Read Lee's full speech