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Rotary has helped me share my passion for serving humanity in every way possible — Agbeyangi 

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With a remarkable milestone since the Club was chartered in 1961, the Rotary Club of Lagos has undoubtedly made enviable impacts in the communities within and around Lagos and Ogun States.

Speaking on the giant strides of the Club, the current President, Babawale Agbeyangi, Group Managing Director/CEO of Cordros Capital Limited, a Chartered Stockbroker, Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers and an Investment Banker in this interview with our Senior Correspondent, Daniel Anazia, sheds light on the milestone achievements of the Club for the Rotary Year 2021-22 and other laudable projects in progress.

You engage in humanitarian services through the Rotary Club, apart from your professional work life. Why did you join the Rotary?

I joined the Rotary Club of Lagos in 2012 at the invitation of a Rotarian; that is the norm in Rotary Clubs. Rotarians would invite people who believe and share the ideals of Rotary. I was invited to join the Rotary Club of Lagos by a friend and mentor. The reason for joining is to share my passion and serve humanity in every way possible.

Rotary seems to share that idea that I firmly believe. So rather than serve humanity through individual effort, I joined Rotary to share the same belief and aspirations with others on a larger scale and with an institution with recognised structure and governance. Rotary’s seven areas of focus inspire my service to humanity.

How has being a Rotarian and now the President of one of the top clubs, the Rotary Club of Lagos, impacted your life and professional career?

Being the President of the Rotary Club of Lagos simply means that I lead the Club for that period, which is always one year. It does not put me in a better position than others. Rotary has impacted my professional life as seen in one of its objects which encourages high ethical standards in business and professions and the dignifying of my occupation as an opportunity to serve society. This has positively impacted me to think as a Rotarian before undertaking my professional work.

During this period of preparation through the transition, you must have garnered quality experience and deep knowledge about the heritage of Rotary. Can you shed more light on some of these experiences and heritage, particularly for people who may have a passion for humanitarian services like you and desire to join Rotary?

I had the opportunity of holding many positions in the club as Treasurer for five years and as Chair of many committees. These experiences prepared me for the President of the Club. As a Rotarian, you must give your all to serve the community and even give more as a President. You cannot be a half-hearted Rotarian. We must devote our time, talent and treasure for that period, not just as President but as Rotarian. If you have a skill, make it available as it may be needed to implement our projects. So, these are the things that you must do as a Rotarian. Of course, the Rotary Club of Lagos is a premier club in Nigeria and the District. We are the oldest Club in District 9110, which comprises Lagos and Ogun States and the oldest active Rotary Club in Nigeria.

Our Club has that heritage which we protect. Our Chartered members are eminent Nigerians like Chief S.L Edu, Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, John Mandillas etc. We strive to uphold the Club’s heritage with these icons and founding members. So, for people desirous of joining our Club, when you are invited to our meetings, observe how we hold our meetings, the quality-of-service projects, and the leadership development programme through the Rotaract and Interact clubs that we sponsor.

As the incumbent President of the Rotary Club of Lagos, how supportive are your members and how many new members have been attracted to the Club since you assumed office?

It has been a very humbling experience in terms of the support that I have been able to get from members of the Club, such as the council of past presidents, the executive, the board of directors and the Chair of committees. Leading the Club is not a one-person show; instead, the club is managed through the Board of Directors and Chairs of Committees of about 20 Rotarians, and we hold Board meetings every month.

This underscores a robust governance culture in the Rotary Club of Lagos. This support is also reflected in fundraising efforts for projects as we have been able to get the help of our members and friends of Rotary to raise funds. Regarding the number of members attracted to the Club, we have retained all our members and attracted 12 new ones in 6 months, increasing membership to 118. So, we are pleased about the quality of people we are bringing on board.

Talking about the quality of members, what are some of those things that the Rotary Club looks out for in attracting and inducting new members?

There is a process to becoming a member of the Rotary Club. Unlike other organisations, a prospective member must be invited by another member, and that prospect must share the ideals of Rotary. The prospective members must be ready to commit their time, talent and resources. When a member sees these qualities in other people, they are invited to meetings, and from there on, they observe how we do things or serve the community through our projects.

After this observation stage, they then indicate interest to join, and then their names will be submitted to the Board of the Club for approval. When that is done, members are then notified and given seven days to raise any objection to consider such person or persons for membership, after which the prospect is inducted as a member. That is a robust governance process I earlier mentioned before anybody can become a member.

The Club usually hosts the ‘President’s Dinner’. What is the uniqueness of this event?

The purpose of our annual President’s Dinner is to appraise our members, friends and partners of our service projects in any Rotary Year. So, it is a programme that brings together our members and guests on a social occasion just to enjoy a dinner together. Equally, it is an opportunity for the President of the Club to give an account of stewardship to members and guests on some of the completed, ongoing and proposed projects during that Rotary Year. The event is also used as an avenue to raise funds for projects that have been earmarked for execution. This dinner event commenced in 2015 and it is an important event every year. The dinner will hold on February 12, 2022.

What are some of these projects embarked upon by the Rotary Club of Lagos so far for this Rotary Year?

We have four-star projects this year amongst many others, and they cover the seven areas of focus of Rotary. We sought to improve the standard of education within our community by helping schools and encouraging students to study in a conducive environment, especially in our local community. We constructed a block of four classrooms and a library at Lafiaji Senior Secondary School to accommodate 300 students at the cost of N40m.

We also built a borehole that would provide potable water and improve water hygiene in the school. We got the support of First Bank Limited for this project. The second project is Sura Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC). The PHC has always partnered with the Rotary Club of Lagos, especially in the deployment of the polio vaccine and, recently, the Covid vaccine, in conjunction with the Lagos Island East LCDA and Fidelity Bank Plc.

The third project is our interest-free loan to empower women and traders in our community. We plan to disburse N10m to 200 women in various communities this year through our micro-credit scheme. The fourth-star project is “Water for Life” at Coker town in Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State. We are providing ten boreholes for the entire community this year. We are working in conjunction with some of our global partners in Germany, Canada, and Ghana with our District 9110 through a global grant at the cost of $77,000. The story behind our going into the community is fascinating. These are some of the projects we are executing during this Rotary Year.

Looking at what you have said so far, being a Rotarian has its cost implication. As President of the Rotary Club of Lagos, how has this impacted your pocket?

When you are drawn to serving your community, there should be no limit to how you can help; our goal is to operate and apply that principle in all we do.

Even with the current state of economic crunch?

Yes, you are not under any compulsion to give, but whatever you can, you are encouraged to help. We also encourage our members to create opportunities for partnership with friends, families, and corporate organisations. That is what we have done by getting support from First Bank Nigeria Limited, FBN Holdings Plc, and Fidelity Bank.

What factors or benchmarks do you consider before embarking on a project?

Before we embark on any service project, we conduct a ‘Needs Assessment’ to consider the community’s needs before we proceed. For example, at Lafiaji, our purpose was to carry out an annual cervical cancer awareness programme and evaluate the project we did in the last Rotary Year. But when we got there, we found so many students loitering around, and discovered that they needed more classrooms to replace dilapidated classrooms. They also needed a library and water. The school principal sought our help in this regard, and we approached the Lagos State Commissioner for Education, who was glad to support the initiative and provided the necessary approvals swiftly. So, conducting needs assessment is the first requirement in Rotary before any project is executed.

As a global humanitarian and service organisation, how has Rotary International made the world a better place, especially during the coronavirus pandemic? What has been the contribution of the Rotary Club of Lagos?

Rotary International and Rotary Clubs worldwide have been at the forefront of impacting lives with services to the community. Rotary is at the forefront of eliminating diseases around the world, and Rotary has single-handedly fought to eradicate Polio through a partnership with Melinda and Bill Gate Foundation. For COVID-19, Rotary has been supporting countries globally in administering vaccines that have helped combat COVID-19.

Tell us more about the Rotary 4-Way Test principle and how it has helped build values of outstanding citizenship?

The 4-Way Test of Rotary has become a vital feature that guides Rotarians’ personal and professional lives. First, is it the TRUTH? We strive to be truthful in what we do in our daily endeavours. Secondly, is it FAIR to all concerned? Whatever we do, we must uphold justice, equity and fairness to all concerned. There must be accountability for actions and decisions made or taken. Thirdly, we are urged to build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS. We must ensure that we build goodwill and better friendships in all our engagements. Rotarians are known for being sociable and building relationships. Then lastly, what we do must be BENEFICIAL to all concerned? Our actions and decisions should elicit empathy. In all the things that we do in Rotary, we endeavour to apply this 4-Way Test in our relationships as Rotarians with our friends and families and our communities

In terms of building values for outstanding citizenship, Rotary develops character and brings out the best of the human spirit. It teaches people ethics, humanity, cultural awareness, people skills and the desire and ability to serve. Rotary creates a more favourable environment for promoting world understanding and peace.

Given that Rotary is a non-partisan and non-religious organisation, are Rotarians allowed to participate in politics and religious activities?

Of course, Rotarians are allowed to undertake any legitimate endeavour they desire. But we cannot use the platform of Rotary to foster our religious or political affiliations, and that is why Rotary is non-partisan but purely a service organisation.

NB: This interview was first published in Naija Times
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