PALO ALTO, CA (SEND2PRESS NEWSWIRE) -- As people across the globe are drawn closer together by the Internet and improved telecommunications, Rotary clubs long at the forefront of service have evolved new strategies for bringing their expertise and funding to those in need. Recently, a team of Rotarians from the Palo Alto University Rotary Club completed a two year effort during which the group conducted extensive research, identified compelling international projects through on-site visits, deliberated on the merits of each of the short-listed projects, and allocated the requisite funds for the programs to commence. The process the club followed provides a useful framework for organizations interested in the rewarding benefits of international service.
Finding the Right Continent
The Palo Alto University Rotary International Service team began their task with few preconceived notions. As stewards of significant funds, the team recognized that they could allocate resources to any geographic area in the world. A poll of the eighty person member base indicated a strong preference for Central America due to its proximity and critical need of support.
With a general sense of the region under consideration, the team began contacting sister Rotary clubs in Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. A few days later, a flurry of project proposals bombarded the team's inboxes. As team members sifted through a diverse project list consisting of water sanitation projects, X-ray machines for remote medical clinics, and specialized textbooks for students in high school, the team quickly became overwhelmed. Certainly, the team could allocate funds towards any of these deserving projects, satisfy critical needs, and consider their basic responsibility to have been met by simply sending a check. However, after conferencing with each other, the missing element became clear: The international service team and the club in general desired a consistent and cohesive relationship with their work. In effect, the club's modus operandi and local service dynamic in which information is shared and mutual learning takes place needed to be replicated overseas.
Team members focused their attention on building relationships with key figures in Central American Rotary Clubs. Soon, the team appointed a delegation to represent the club at a major conference and project fair in Antigua, Guatemala. The delegation's aims included building rapport with local Rotarians and gaining a firsthand understanding of projects.
Firsthand International Service
In January of 2005, International Service team members William Grindley, Jerry Torrance, and Sunil Rao journeyed to Central America using their own funds. Torrance and Rao, both Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, treated their service work with a Silicon Valley startup zeal and traveled to El Salvador together. They received a warm greeting from their Rotary contacts upon their arrival in San Salvador, El Salvador. After a short meeting at the San Salvador Rotary Headquarters, the pair along with members of the San Salvador Rotary Club, local Peace Corps members, and senior leadership from a NGO, headed to the remote mountains of Los Planes. There the group toured coffee plantations, met local farmers, and discussed the possibility of supporting an agro-tourism farmers market. This market would enable farmers in this region to sell organic produce directly to supermarkets and tourists and reduce their dependence on the lower margin indirect channels that they currently use.
Next, Torrance and Rao proceeded to Chalatenango, a region once at the center of El Salvador's civil war. Rolling up their sleeves, both of them helped in the construction of a school for the many young children of the region who live on the streets. The school construction project, run by the Seeds of Learning Organization based in Sonoma, California required that parents and students assist in the construction efforts and thereby have a vested stake in the project's success. Torrance and Rao marveled at the dedication of the teachers who juggled a variety of tasks such as pouring concrete, painting, and keeping the volunteer construction crew in check with their fiery determination and strong organizational skills. While Torrance and Rao investigated projects in El Salvador, team member William Grindley, a veteran of the World Bank, met with micro-credit experts in Costa Rica. During the last several years, several micro-credit programs in Costa Rica had achieved dramatic successes.
Curious about these efforts, Grindley studied the Costa Rican model and built relationships with key individuals. Grindley, Torrance, and Rao then met at the XII Uniedo America Conference and Project Fair in Antigua, Guatemala.
Uniedo America Conference and Project Fair
In Antigua, Central American and South American Rotary clubs presented their projects to the delegations of North American Rotarians. Grindley, Torrance, and Rao discussed their pre-conference experiences and hashed out a strategy for the conference. Rao attended a set of roundtable discussions in which the different styles of the micro-credit programs in all of the five Central American countries and Panama was discussed. Grindley and Torrance attended discussions related to water conservation and education. The team talked with individuals at over fifty booths on the convention floor.
After aggregating a large volume of information, contacts, and project ideas, the team came together back in Palo Alto, California and developed a philosophy that would help them sift through the potential projects and focus their efforts. Now, with the entire International Service team in attendance, the team members shared their findings. Members reached the consensus that in order for their program to be effective the base of Rotary members would have to visit on site on a yearly basis. These yearly visits would provide the necessary continuity and follow up needed to sustain the service efforts. In order to minimize any logistical challenges, the team decided that they would focus all of their efforts in El Salvador and pursue three distinct projects: the development of a new micro-credit fund based in San Salvador, the construction of the farmers market in Los Planes, and the construction of a school classroom in Chalatenango.
With this set of projects, the team's funds would encourage new ventures through the micro-credit fund, create new markets with the farmers market, and educate the next generation of entrepreneurs and citizens in the classrooms of Chalatenango.
The team presented their recommendations to the Palo Alto University Rotary Board and the broader member base and received overwhelming approval for funding the three recommended projects. As a result, over ten thousand dollars will be donated to the three selected projects in 2005. In early 2006, over twenty Palo Alto University Rotarians will visit El Salvador and provide support for these approved projects. With the right mix of funding, a steady stream of Palo Alto University Rotarian's onsite visits, and a network of vibrant relationships, the club hopes to make a significant positive impact locally and globally.
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