Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What does Rotary mean to you? An interview with Rotarian Ernesto Lafontaine.

Ernesto Lafontaine currently works as a business consultant in the food industry focusing mostly on individually owned restaurants or schools and locally managed institutions that serve food. Ernesto, also helps to organize the homeless outreach group, Los Servidores del Servidor, in South Florida. Ernesto explains what attracted him to our Rotary club.

Question, “What drew you to Rotary?”

Ernesto, “It’s very simple, I was looking for a group of people who wanted to help their communities, to get in touch with other individuals who wanted to give of their time and or resources to helping others, where the motivation wasn’t solely religious nor solely for business networking. While I believe religion and business are important, neither of these two focuses are everything. And so, I was looking to find a group that was in between the two concepts.”

Question, “What does Rotary mean to you?”

Ernesto, “In general I have found most humanitarian help comes from religious or governmental groups, however Rotary gives me the avenue to reach out to more people to be able to access more resources and to have more opportunities than these groups, which are somewhat limited in their scope and reach. And, business organizations are more about how I can help “me”, but I’m not into me, I’m more into others, the disadvantaged.”

Question, "What is service above self to you?"

Ernesto “I’ve never been into myself I’ve always thought that I have a greater purpose in life, helping other human beings that have trouble fending for themselves. I’m one individual of the many and life cannot consist in only fulfilling my material needs. That concept goes back to when I was a kid, I’ve always liked helping people.

Ernesto on some of his background, “I mean I went to school and studied business, but I never understood this concept about me, me, me where everything has to be focused with YOU, and where your life is only about making money. I always wanted to help people, I was back in Canada then looking for meaning, and that was it, I decided to leave and that’s when I got involved into going overseas. Initially going out to Peru.”

Ernesto continued, “In Peru, I worked as a business consultant for the Canadian government and because of my business background, I was sent to an area in the middle of nowhere to help local farmers improve their economic situation. For example, the main group I worked with would grow coffee, and once a year they would harvest their crop. When that happened, the banks and local merchants would get together and take advantage of them, by manipulating the market and paying pennies on the dollar for their crop. And so, these farmers were always starving, because they just never had enough.

I came in and helped organize them, I set up a small bank which they controlled, where they could save their own money and this gave them a mechanism to obtain loans and grants from foreign entities and governments. I created a fund where they would be able to finance themselves and bypass the local merchants. “

Question, “What was your earlier service like? Did it resemble a micro loan program?"

Ernesto, “Yeah, kind of but a little bigger than that and the loans were guaranteed by the crops. Once the product was sold at a fair price on the international markets they would pay off their loan and pocket the difference. After I set it up, it worked so well that the United Nations noticed and offered me a job. They had a project where they would offer local farmers substitute crops to the Coca leaf and they had to figure out a way of making these other crops economically viable.

Back then the Terrorists and the Narcos were working together and our project competed with the illegal cocoa leaf industry. Because of the success of the work I’ve was doing and the project overall, I was put on a list "to get rid of" and that’s how I ended up here in Miami.”

Ernesto on Rotary in Peru, “I always saw Rotary as a bunch of old men, if you will, just writing checks. But, through my Peru connection I saw they really did a lot of good, humanitarian work and that’s how I was brought to Rotary here. Through Rotary I can combine my efforts, my passion for helping people, with other people with similar interests, like our club. We’re out there, we all want to do more and by working together we can, because by ourselves, we can only do so much. I find Rotary to be a place that opens those doors, creating more opportunity to help!”

Question, “What would you like to see Rotary do?”

Ernesto, “I would like to see us get more of our clubs together and work more on collaboration, enabling us to get more done. There’s so much need out there, there’s so many things to do. And as I mentioned, one person, two people just can’t do it, this is a community effort. And, I’d love to be able to organize different clubs to work together on a common goal.

And what drives me, isn’t necessarily cleaning the streets or beautifying our communities, but more of that human contact. Being able to give someone that little helping hand, making their day. Giving a person in need something that will bring a moment of peace and happiness to their lives. Or, perhaps teaching our migrants workers how to manage whatever little money they have so that predatory lenders don’t take advantage of them. It’s a serious issue because a lot of these migrant workers send their money to their families in another country or cash their checks outside the legitimate financial system and pay dearly for the service.

There’s so much work to do, so much, we just need more people involved.”

Thank you Ernesto for all of your good work and for your continued service above self!

Interview by Jeff McNabb

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The "Do's and Don'ts of Rotary" (a lecture by Rotarian, Roy Gonas)

November 8th's surprise Rotary Luncheon!

Fellow Rotarians, Roy Gonas, was the "surprise" lecturer on National Election Decision day. Roy's theme, the "Do's and Don'ts of Rotary," is an extremely helpful subject for those new to Rotary. In fact, Roy has been a distinguished Rotarian, holding the title of a Distinct Governor as well as several other titles over the course of his nearly 40 years in service to Rotary. Who better than Roy to conduct this lecture?
Roy began by emphasizing proper Rotary etiquette, something he admitted himself to violating at least 82 times! The first point Roy made is that we're a club, not a chapter. We as individuals are members of this Rotary club, but not of Rotary International itself. The actual member of Rotary International is our Rotary Club of South Miami.

Business and Rotary
Did you know that while we are associated with being a business organization, there can not be any solicitation within the club itself? This practice helps us to stay on point in our shared community mission. We all have our own projects and our own goals, and then as Rotarians, we have our shared Rotary goals, such as our Art Festival and our community service projects. Solicitation confuses the issue. We're not here to simply do business, we're here to network to intellectually and sometimes physically combine our efforts.
Skip the Honorifics and Titles
As Rotarians we are all equal, and while some of us have titles, those titles only serve the function of heading up certain committees and shouldering certain responsibilities. A Rotary title after-all is more of a focal point, not a rank. So, when we introduce new visitors in hopes of them becoming Rotarians we should introduce them to our fellow Rotarians by first name only, not through title.
Club Demographics
In this club, there is what we do privately, there is what we do as a profession, and there is what we do as Rotarians. From an ethical standpoint, we should keep these varying interests separate. And yet, there can still be a significant cross over, personal ties to the projects our Rotary club sponsors , and skills built through professional experience and through hobbies better enabling us to assist our club. Ultimately, we're Rotarians because of this like-minded approach and passion, this desire to improve our community by using our specific skill sets. This is why it is a good thing and why we are encouraged to have this mix of different professions, as the more varied the proficiency, the more we can be capable of as a club.

While we can't have any solicitation, there's no harm to doing business together outside of Rotary. And, it is true and ethically correct not to have any special financial privilege through our Rotary association. Yet, there is that special personal privilege and mutual respect we build for each other through our shared experiences, where we build these better friendships enabling us, inspiring us, to build better communities.

Thanks Roy!

-by Jeff McNabb
(edited by Frankie Berti)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Helene Dudley, of the Colombia Project

Pictured: Helene Dudley accepts the 2013 Lillian Carter Award (Photo credit: Amber David Collins)

November 1 2016 - Today's lecture featured Helene Dudley, a decorated Peace Corps volunteer, and a member of the Rotary Club of Coconut Grove. This passionate Rotarian introduced the micro loan program known as the Colombia Project. Additionally, in recognition of her Peace Corps service, she received a Presidential Lifetime Service Medal and the Lillian Carter Award from President Jimmy Carter

The Colombia Project ( now a part of the TCP Global program ) provides help, through these micro-loan programs, pro-bono assistance focusing on marginalized communities like in Colombia and around the world. In effect, an ingenious sustainable design that actually "jump starts" whole communities with minimal help to locally based small businesses. 

The loan cycle begins with donations, and in fact is supported 100% through these endowments. The money is then distributed to the loan recipients, the TCP Global administrative partners then mentor the small business owners and collect the loan repayments. Half of the loans payments collected go into a permanent loan pool. This system establishes a lasting, sustainable loan account that will serve the community in perpetuity, rebuilding not only businesses but whole lives.

This project is a joint Peace Corps and Rotary International effort, and Helene mentioned that the two organizations share in fundamental philanthropic philosophies, so much so, that she believes that Peace Corps volunteers should become Rotarians once their time of service is done, further enabling and sustaining good will through this association of like minds. 

The motto behind this Colombia Project is one that should be adopted worldwide for indeed "A little help goes a long way!"

article by Jeff McNabb