By Brad Jenkins

Rotary and the United Nations share a history of working together toward world understanding and peace.

After World II, we made our first serious attempt at a peaceful union of the peoples with the League of Nations. It failed for a variety of reasons, including the over-reaching of the victors and the failure of the United States to ratify its participation.

The story of Rotary International’s role in the creation of the UN has been well told, but it is not well-know at home or abroad, or even among Rotarians. From our initial “Resolution of Human Rights” at the RI Convention in Havana in 1940, to the 1942 gathering of peace planners in London which evolved into UNESCO, to the participation by RI as observers at the early 1944 preparation meetings in Hot Springs, Virginia; Atlantic City, NJ; Bretton Woods, New Hampshire; Chicago, Illinois; and Dumbarton Oaks, (Washington D.C.), Rotary was an active participant in the creation of the UN. In 1945 there were only a few organizations with the world-wide reach that Rotary has.

At the UN Charter Conference in San Francisco in 1945, many but not all of you would know that RI played a prominent role, with our top leadership among the 23 official observers – 11 to the US delegation alone. Rotary was the largest observer group that was accredited. Of the 50 nations present, 27 delegates or technical advisors were Rotarians and 5 were delegation heads. With other non-governmental organizations we influenced the text and focus of the charter, particularly on economic, social and humanitarian issues.” Proudly in 1993 Rotary was granted top consultative status in category one with the Economic and Social Council known as ECOSOC. There are more than 3735 nongovernmental organizations known as NGOs registered with ECOSOC and another 1300 registered with Department of Public Information. We also maintain consultative status UNICEF, UNESCO and WHO.

And we didn’t stop there. The United Nations Charter was reprinted and sold by Rotary International and two copies were distributed free to each club worldwide. The first “UN Week in Rotary” was declared in November of 1945. For 10 years thereafter we embarked on a program to educate the world about the promise of the UN. We authored books and booklets, published more than 100 articles about the UN in the “Rotarian” magazine, and at the club level we held annual “World Affairs Council” meetings to inform Rotarians about the structure, leaders, programs and agencies of the UN.

Most of what you hear about the UN in the media is what happens in the Security Council and the General Assembly. This represents about 20% of the work of UN. Our involvement is with social, economic and humanitarian issues which now comprise 80% of the work of the UN and which are also at the heart of Rotary.

At this point I would like to say what the UN is not. It is not a world government, not a legislature to redistribute wealth, not a military force with a commander in chief, and it is not financially secure. It has no sovereignty, nor does it seek it. It is a mobilizer of political will, an organization of sovereign states seeking peace, law and order, and social justice. It is the world’s largest research and statistical organization (a library of over 5 million documents) and growing everyday, which alone is worth the money. Finally, the Secretary-General is not a CEO, nor commander in chief but an administrative Chief Operating Officer.

Rotary was very active at the beginning but because of the advent of the Cold War it became disenchanted with the UN and produced a hiatus of some 30 years. However, when we started our worldwide PolioPlus program in the mid-1980s, we immediately realized that working in partnership with UNICEF and the World Health Organization was a necessity and we quickly re-established our presence at the UN in New York, then in Geneva, Vienna and at UNESCO in Paris. This partnership has lasted some 25 years and was recently renewed for another 5 years. Today we have 30 representatives around the world. They are located in NY, DC, Santiago Chile, Paris, Geneva, Strasbourg, Vienna, Rome, Bangkok, Lebanon, Ethiopia, and Nairobi.

Primarily because of our work with polio Rotary remains one of the most respected non-governmental organizations in the UN System.

You ask what is our job?

There is a description of our job in the Official Directory.

“RI Representatives are assigned to the UN and other organizations to enhance Rotary’s visibility.”

“Representatives monitor their assigned organization(s) and provide information on Rotary’s established policy, programs, and activities.”

We promote the goals and work of Rotary and The Rotary Foundation through ongoing public relations efforts. This has proved to be a fruitful way for Rotary to network with the UN and other organizations, its specialized agencies and with other NGOs. We are able to learn about the activities of the UN and its specialized agencies as well as to promote our own activities and goals; we are better able to share with Rotarians the information and resources available from the UN, including information on current world needs and the efforts being made to address them; and finally, we are able to involve Rotary directly in meetings at the UN and with other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations on issues that are important to us.

We attend weekly briefings sponsored by the Department of Public Information on many subjects.

We monitor or belong to many NGO committees such as; Sustainable Development, Education, Population, HIV/AIDS, Status of Women, and Youth, and others.

And we attend other meetings of interest on Health, Water, Literacy, Hunger, Poverty and many others.

Sometimes we have the opportunity to make statements at these meetings about Rotary’s involvement.

And finally we meet with individuals such as; The Under-Secretary-General for Communications, The New York Director of the World Health Organization, The New York Director of UNESCO, The Executive Director of UNICEF, The Director of Programs at UNICEF, The Chief of Water and Sanitation at UNICEF and many more.