Edmontonian Menasha Nikhanj leaves soon to begin Rotary Peace Fellowship at university in Thailand

A chance meeting with then-District Governor-Elect Ingrid Neitsch in spring 2018 opened the door for Edmontonian Menasha Nikhanj to become a Rotary Peace Fellow.

Menasha had been invited by a friend to attend a Rotary fundraiser, where she met Ingrid. “She asked about what I did for a living,” says Menasha, who works for the Alberta Government in the Department of Justice and Solicitor General. That led to a conversation about Rotary Peace Fellowships.

The purpose of the program is to develop the fellows into experienced and effective catalysts for peace.

“Ingrid mentioned this was something I might be interested in. Initially, we talked about the master’s program, but at this stage of my life, that’s not something that I thought I would be able to do,” Menasha says. “Then we talked about the fellowship (which lasts) for three months.”

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Menasha leaves early in June to begin the intensive three-month professional development certificate program at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.

“I am leaving from Edmonton on the sixth of June and arrive in Bangkok on the seventh of June, late in the evening. Then I have the eighth and ninth to get my bearings about me and then on the 10th, course work starts.”

In addition to classroom study, the program includes two field trips. 

“One is in Thailand. I don’t know where we will be going, but they have given us some possibilities. There is also one outside of Thailand. In the past, people have gone to Cambodia or Nepal. Sri Lanka was on the list this time, but I’m not sure we are going there,” Menasha says. 

After the program concludes on August 30, Menasha will return to her job with the Alberta government.

I’ve worked with government for 30 years. I was in a training unit for a while, where we did joint training for police and children services around how to work with child sexual abuse. For 14 years, I was with the Edmonton Police Service in a joint operation called the Child at Risk Response Team. I was in a police car, with a police partner, where we responded to child abuse types of calls and social welfare situations.”

More recently, Menasha has worked with representatives of other departments and service providers to find ways to bridge gaps between them.

“We work on the premise of the collective impact and that one system can’t solve all the problems and that without a collective group addressing some of issues, we really end up spinning our wheels,” she says. “Our work here within my area is really about how do we integrate each system into working together, and how do get that conversation happening, which happens as a result of trying to look at what our commonalities are, as opposed to the gaps keep us apart.” 

“I believe the fellowship will support me in the work I currently do, and perhaps even elevate it.”

The application process began soon after Menasha met Ingrid.

The deadline for submitting an application to the District 5370 Scholarship Committee, chaired by Dean Wood (RC of Edmonton Riverview), was May 31, 2018. After she was interviewed by the District committee, her application was forwarded to Rotary International.

“I found out in September that I would be going. Then around September/October, I began to take steps around work. I had to find out whether I would be able to get an educational leave. Work has been very good. They provided me with some educational leave and some leave I can take as holidays. My assistant deputy minister and my director were both very supportive,” Menasha says. 

Her class in the professional development certificate program includes individuals from around the world.

“I’m the only one from Canada. There are two people from the U.S. and people from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Japan and from different parts of South America,” she says.

“I am excited to see what happens. I have talked to one other person who did this. He went through the same process in 2013, and he’s an RCMP member down in Calgary. I spoke to him. What should I expect? To me, it’s an exciting opportunity. I can’t believe I am going because there were so many people around the world whose names are put in for this fellowship. That’s a pretty proud thing for me.”

Menasha has met other members of the group virtually, thanks to the initiative of one of her classmates.

“He reached out to the rest of us via email to identify who he was,” she says. “He’s a police officer from Australia, who is originally from the U.K., and then we all sort of responded accordingly and introduced ourselves and talked about who we were and what we did. That will be a basis when we first meet on June 10.”

“We all hope that we provide that value-added at the end. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I want to make sure I do my best at this and that I am able to come back and share what we learn and how it applies, not only to the Alberta scene, and also how we can apply our learnings in Canada in terms of the work we do.”

Chulalongkorn University is the site of one of six Rotary Peace Centres at universities worldwide. 

Each year, two groups of up to 25 individuals each are selected worldwide for the professional development certificate program and another 50 receive scholarships to attend two-year master’s programs at the five Peace Centres in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and Sweden.

Peace Fellowship scholarships cover the full cost associated with the program—tuition, travel and living expenses.

Spring 2019 Leadership Assembly prepared incoming club leaders for the next Rotary year

This spring’s Leadership Assembly (March 8 and 9) was an opportunity to celebrate the successes of 2018-2019 and set the table for the next Rotary year, which begins on July 1.

Approximately 175 Rotarians attended this event, including District leaders and club presidents-elect and members of their leadership teams, including for the first time, the presidents-elect of Rotary Clubs of Whitehorse and Whitehorse Rendezvous. 

Effective July 1, these two Yukon clubs will become part of District 5370.

District Governor-Elect Tracey Vavrek used the assembly to introduce the 2019-2020 theme set by incoming Rotary International President Mark Maloney (RC of Decatur, Alabama): Rotary Connects the World.

Watch as Mark announces the theme to DGEs at the International Assembly in San Diego in January and read about the course he has mapped out for Rotary’s future in an interview in the March 2019 issue of The Rotarian.

“When you reflect on the theme, what comes to mind?” Tracey asked.

T1920EN_PMS-C“For me, it is that we share values and follow the Four-Way Test, we collectively take action for a better world, and we are doing this together,” she said.

“We connect with friends we would never otherwise have met. Rotary connects us to people who need our help and through Rotary we are connected globally through countless projects and programs.”

“The world needs Rotary. As you reflect on the unrest and challenges around the world, it is concerning. We know the work we do and our service do create peace within families, communities and around the world. By bringing fresh water to a community, we bring peace and economic wellbeing to the individuals living there.”

Tracey referred to being part of the Project Amigo work week in mid-February with past and future District Governors as “an example of how we connect with others. It’s life-changing—we are helping people reach their dreams.”

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DGE Tracey Vavrek introduced the 2019-2020 theme during Spring Leadership Assembly

She also asked participants in the assembly to imagine a world without Rotary. “Imagine what would happen with polio if we stopped now. Imagine the people who would go hungry in our own communities and around the world. Imagine the children who would not have extra support to reach their dreams. The children of today and of tomorrow need Rotary.”

Continue to grow Rotary

Tracey asked participants to think about how to grow Rotary.

“Membership is a critical topic,” she said, noting the importance of attracting younger people to Rotary. “Only five per cent of Rotary members are under the age of 40.”

“Few organizations span generations and professions and build personal connections the way Rotary does. We blend tradition with innovation and use trust and respect to close the generation gap.”

“Many of us have been able to get younger generations to visit a meeting or participate in a project but getting them to join our clubs has been more difficult,” Tracey said.

She stated that Rotary can offer younger people what they want. “They crave connections—a network of more experienced professionals, mentors with insight, with clout. They also crave experiences. They want to do good.” 

PDG and Zone Membership Coordinator Jim Adamson from Washington State (District 5060) followed up Tracey’s presentation by reminding participants of the importance of inviting the right people to join Rotary.

“None of us would have joined Rotary if someone hadn’t asked us. We need to ask them,” he said.

“We aren’t just looking for bodies. We are looking for quality people.”

DG Ingrid highlights 2018-2019 successes

Current DG Ingrid used her time on the stage to “share some highlights of our Rotary year to-date and emphasize the need to follow through on current plans.

“My District Governor journey has been amazing, engaging and rewarding—confirming the true value of Rotary and why we are doing this service work. I am immensely proud to be a Rotarian and the District Governor of this District.”

Ingrid’s favourite experiences so far this year?

“Absolutely, it has been visiting our clubs, engaging in our community projects, and connecting with our members.”

She has visited all 57 clubs, making repeat visits to some.

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DG Ingrid Neitsch highlighted successes during 2018-2019 during Spring Leadership Assembly

“Each area of our District is unique and the range of projects is astounding. Some clubs shine with their welcoming atmosphere and signature projects. Some clubs are passionate about international projects and concentrate on fundraising. Some clubs focus mainly on keeping current members engaged in fellowship and attracting new members. Some clubs have chosen to focus on aligning Rotary projects with peace-building activities. Some clubs collaborate, support other clubs’ projects and focus on hands-on projects.”

She emphasized that the culture and value base established in the club is what keeps members engaged.

Highlights Ingrid identified were:

“The District Conference 2018 was fabulous! Some clubs are still following-up with some of our amazing speakers. Thanks to all who participated as volunteers, conference committee members or attendees.”

She reminded her audience of the 2019 District Conference that will be held in Grande Prairie October 3-5.

A second highlight was the relocation of the District office to the Orange Hub in west Edmonton. “It’s a bright, cheerful space accessible to all, with security and maintenance in place.”

Ingrid also referred to the goals in the District strategic plan. “Many goals are completed, some are in progress and some are ongoing.”

She encouraged clubs to create their own plans. “To be change-makers, your club needs a plan of action.”

“One of the main goals this year is to reverse the declining membership trends these past several years. I mentioned that in every single one of my club visits. Every club was asked to retain the current membership and attract three new members,” she said.

“I want to regain the minus 110 members lost last year, plus make a net gain of 50 members by the end of June.”

She urged club leaders to “treat your membership list like a gift. Just because you haven’t seen someone for a while, do not take them off your list. Reach out. Find out what is happening in their world. They are Rotarians and at one time were passionate about Rotary.”

The District membership plan includes establishing new clubs, including the Passport club which is being formed in Edmonton. “We are launching a new Passport club for new and former Rotarians and plan to charter it before June 1.”

5370 reached goal to become a Peacebuilder District

IMG_8851A key District initiative for 2018-2019 was for the District to become a Peacebuilder District, which Ingrid announced during the District changeover event on June 11, 2018, and to sponsor a peace scholar.

“We achieved the peace scholar, as was announced at the District Conference. Out of 1,100 applicants from around the world, only 50 master’s and 30 certificate applicants were chosen, including our applicant, Menasha Nikhanji.

The goal of becoming a Peacebuilder District was also reached.

“We needed to donate $US 25,000 to the Rotary Peace Centres to receive Peacebuilder status within Rotary International. “We have had tremendous support. Clubs and individuals donated close to $24,000, which along with $20,000 in District Designated Funds brings us close to $50,000,” Ingrid says.

“We have reached the goal for this year and are very close to two years of support for the Peace Centres.”

Ingrid closed with words of encouragement for the rest of 2018-2019:  “Let’s finish strong! Keep the positive momentum going, finish blazing our trail and we will continue to flourish as we inspire each other as ‘Rotary Connects the World!’ ”

Becoming a Rotary Peacebuilder District during 2018-19 tops list of goals for Incoming District Governor

 

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2018-19 DG Ingrid Neitsch describes her Peacebuilding District goal during the Changeover Event on June 11

During of her year as District Governor, Ingrid Neitsch (RC of Edmonton West) hopes to see our District designated as a Peacebuilder District by Rotary International.

“One of my most important goals that inspires me is to establish a new incentive and direction in our District to become a recognized Rotary Peacebuilder District by March 31, 2019,” Ingrid told 120 Rotarians who attended the District Changeover Event on June 11, at the Chateau Louis Hotel and Convention Centre in Edmonton.

“One of Rotary International’s objectives pertains to peace and conflict resolution. This resonates with me and I believe that Rotarians have the infrastructure, the influence and the capabilities to lead the world in peace building initiatives,” she said.

Becoming a Peacebuilder District requires a minimum donation of US$25,000 to support Rotary Peace Centers, which are located at universities in six different countries, including Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, where John Lamming, the most recent Rotary Peace Fellow from District 5370, completed a professional development certificate in 2013.

Another Rotary Peace Fellowship application endorsed by District 5370 is awaiting approval by The Rotary Foundation.

TRF also recently supported two other students with Rotary Global Grant Scholarships. Meghan Casey completed a master’s degree in human rights and international migration at the University of Kent’s Brussels School of International Studies, and Amy Smith is currently studying at the University of Queensland, in Australia, towards a master’s degree in development practices.

Ingrid will officially become District Governor on July 1, succeeding Frank Reitz (RC of Fort McMurray) who had an opportunity on June 11 to reflect on the past year.

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Frank Reitz reflects on his year as District Governor during June 11 Changeover Event

He compared the last three years, which included two years preparing to step into the role as District Governor, to being on a roller-coaster.

“It has been an awesome ride,” he said. “It’s a long way up there. Then you get to the top of the roller-coaster and it seems that two and a half seconds later, you’re at the bottom and some guy says, ‘It’s over. Get out!’

“Throughout the year, I was reminded that we must change to remain relevant, but our values as Rotarians will never change. We are people of action,” Frank said.

While the number of Rotarians in District 5370 didn’t increase over the past year, Frank pointed to improved member retention as a measure of success. He also noted the growth of youth programs, concluding that, “We are meeting the needs of the youth.”

As they travelled throughout the District, Frank and his spouse, Barbara, learned about the programs and projects of the 57 clubs they visited. “These are impressive and relevant to their communities,” he said.

He noted that support for The Rotary Foundation is strong within the District. All clubs supported the Foundation and donations from District 5370 Rotarians are the second highest in the zone, on a per-capita basis. Nearly all clubs also contributed to Polio Plus.

In her presentation, Ingrid suggested that peace building may become as relevant to young Rotarians as eradicating polio was to previous generations of Rotarians. 

“Many [younger members] do not even know what polio represented, nor the fact that Rotary and its partners are on the brink of eliminating this disease globally,” she said. “However, these millennials are bombarded each day with news of turmoil and unrest across the world. We need to focus on peace building.”

In addition to sharing her peace building message during her travels throughout the District, Ingrid will also talk about other goals related to membership, the Foundation and Rotary’s public image, which are included in the District’s Strategic Plan. 

“Rotary is facing a membership challenge around the world, but particularly in North America. Our own District has seen a steady, overall decline in the last several years,” she said.

“I believe we can reverse that trend. We have neighbouring districts in our zone that have seen steady growth in the last five years. So can we!”

She described The Rotary Foundation as “the backbone of all the grants that fund our many projects,” noting the efforts of Foundation chair Wayne Kaufman (RC of Edmonton Riverview) and his committee to raise awareness about the importance and impact of Foundation giving.

“Our plan is to continue the club visits to educate members about the Foundation and to share success stories of successful Rotary grants throughout the year, so that members and the public are more aware of the work of the Foundation,” she said.

Shifting her focus to Rotary’s public image, Ingrid said, “We need a strong communication plan, to raise awareness in our community about the amazing work of Rotary Clubs. This is particularly relevant in the urban corridor, where there are many service clubs vying for attention and support.”

The strategic plan also expresses commitments to support the District’s youth programs and to prepare club officers to lead their clubs.

Ingrid described her final two goals as, “both connected to fun. We plan to incorporate the arts into Rotary events and to celebrate Rotary and life balance.

“The arts add the colour and texture to our lives, whether it is beautiful music, an intriguing theatre performance, or a stunning visual masterpiece. We have many talented individuals in our clubs, and I want to promote and support the arts in our Rotary events,” she said.

“As for celebrating, as I visit each club, I plan to acknowledge and share with our membership the important work Rotarians do each day across our District, as positive change-makers in our communities.”

She concluded with a brief preview of the District Conference, including the attendance of two women who have become leaders of Rotary worldwide. 

“Rotary International has had only three female vice-presidents in its 113-year history, including current vice-president Dean Rohrs and former vice-president Jennifer Jones. Both are confirmed for our conference.”

Ingrid also promised an 18-piece orchestra for the 1920’s themed Governor’s Ball, “that pays homage to the era of Rotary’s founder Paul Harris and his boys of Chicago and the early glory days of Rotary.”

Ingrid will begin her visits to all 57 clubs by mid-July.

“I am looking forward to visiting all the clubs in our District to see first-hand all the important work that makes an impact in our communities. We have so many talented and experienced individuals in our District, who possess vast knowledge and skills in leading companies, excelling in their professions and providing leadership in their own communities.

“I am confident that our District is ready to be a leader in the areas of peace and conflict resolution in the Rotary world, adapting new ideas for membership engagement and attraction, and continuing to have positive impact in our communities!”

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