Tuesday, 24 January 2017

In conversation with: Eve Conway

If you thought the Rotary Club was all about men sitting around talking and having smart dinners, then think again. The new woman president of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland is about to turn the stereotype on its head.

Eve Conway is on a mission – passionate about finishing Rotary's long fight to eradicate polio and, in the process, mobilising more women and young people to join Rotary and build a better world.

Eve's own pioneering journey started when at the age of 23 she heard about a Rotary-funded scholarship to study for a postgraduate degree in broadcast journalism in the United States. Out of seven people who won the award from all around the world she was the only woman; a huge achievement, as at that time there were no women members of Rotary.

(Rotary was founded in 1905 by an American lawyer in Chicago who persuaded local businessmen to join him in a club to help the community and build friendship. His vision laid the foundation for Rotary. It was called Rotary because they used to 'rotate' the venue for the meetings.)

Eve's journalism qualification propelled her to an absorbing career in BBC News. It was during her hectic schedule that a locum doctor at her GP practice, who was a Rotarian, discovering her background, invited her to speak to his club and she was eventually invited to join the Rotary Club of Redbridge. Just over a decade later, in 2012, Eve became the first woman District Governor of Rotary in London.

Knowing how Rotary had changed her own life, Eve now wants to give back and she hopes to harness the huge potential of the organisation to change more lives around the world. With 1.25 members in over 200 countries and geographical regions, she argues Rotary forms a unique network of global community volunteers.

Where did you go to university and what did you study?

As a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, I gained a Master of Science Degree in Broadcast Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, USA.

It was great to study there as Evanston is the home of Rotary International's headquarters.

The Master's Degree also involved me working as Washington Correspondent for a CBS TV affiliate in Tulsa, Oklahoma, covering headline news from the American capital. This great experience helped me transfer from previously working as a reporter for newspapers to working in television and radio when I returned to the UK.
Before that, I received a BA Honours Degree in English at Queen Mary College, University of London where I was Editor of the student newspaper for two years.

What attracted you to Rotary to begin with?

After receiving my Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, I wanted to give back to this amazing humanitarian organization that had given me such a great opportunity and helped transform my life so that I could help change and save the lives of others across the world who need our help.

I was attracted to Rotary because, as the world's largest international service organisation with more than 1.25 million professional men and women as members in over 200 countries and geographical regions, Rotarians are able to make a difference to our world, from starting and spearheading the campaign to eradicate polio, to fostering global peace, to educating girls and women in developing countries, to saving the lives of mothers and babies in childbirth. The list is endless.

Rotarians also make a difference to our local community, and I have made lifetime friends through Rotary.

Which Rotary values most align with your own and why?

Being able to make a difference to our world and to help those who are less fortunate, whether it is in the local or global community, is what Rotary is all about and what I am all about too.

There is only so much that I can do as one person, but being part of a global network empowers us, as Rotarians, to help change the world for the better.

Rotary's focus on peace and goodwill, friendship and understanding across the world is a value that I share and want to be part of and its ethical values are also vital and important to me, particularly with the challenges that we are facing in our world today.

In a few instances you have been the first woman in Rotary history - the first to be awarded the Rotary-funded journalism postgrad scholarship to the US, the first woman District Governor of Rotary in London. What made you feel intimidated, and what made you feel empowered about these achievements?

I have to say that I didn't feel intimidated, I just "went for it" and was delighted when I was selected for a Rotary Ambassadorial Journalism Scholarship and elected as the first woman District Governor of Rotary in London.

I am pleased to say that two other women have followed in my footsteps since 2012-13 and been elected as District Governors of Rotary in London and we jokingly call ourselves "The Three Degrees".

I first and foremost say that I am a Rotarian and it doesn't matter whether you are male or female, we are all working for a common good to make the world a better place.

What challenges did you face along the way to becoming President of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland?

After I finished being District Governor, I was encouraged by fellow Rotarians to put my name forward to become President of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland and was a bit apprehensive as I was one of eight candidates in the election for the role that year.

As it turned out, I was elected with a large majority vote to be President for 2016-17.

What is it about Purple4Polio that you are most passionate about?

The reason I launched Rotary's Purple4Polio campaign is because we are on the brink of a historic milestone - we are so close to achieving Rotary's goal of a polio free world.

There are only three remaining countries where polio is still endemic - Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria - and that is why the Purple4Polio campaign is so important to continue to raise awareness and funds to help end polio now and forever.

Our campaign is called Purple4Polio, as purple is the colour of the dye put on a child's little finger during immunisation campaigns.

It has never been so critical to complete what Rotary started more than thirty years ago and has spearheaded ever since, as whilst there is a single case of polio anywhere in the world, children everywhere are at risk. Finishing the job is simply our only option.

It is inspiring to see that so many Rotarians in so many communities are getting involved in the final push to eradicate this disease to ensure a polio-free world.
We are also being supported in the campaign by our celebrity Purple4Polio Ambassadors, including Alan Titchmarsh, Chris Tarrant, the legendary singer and songwriter Donovan and TV Presenter Konnie Huq as well as polio survivors Paralympians Ade Adepitan and Anne Wafula Strike and broadcaster Julia Roberts.

What has been your favourite moment and biggest personal achievement from your involvement with Rotary?

My Rotary moment was putting two drops of polio vaccine into a child's mouth during a mass polio immunisation campaign in India and realising that I was taking part in a moment in history.

India was declared free of polio in 2014 and we are so close to making history with just 37 cases of polio worldwide last year and the hope that 2017 could see the last case of polio.

I am also proud that when I was District Governor of Rotary in London, I was able to work with a group of Rotarians in London and Mumbai, India, to start a successful project to stop mothers and babies dying in childbirth in a country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

This involved a Vocational Training Team of senior midwives and a paediatrician from London going to India to train master-trainers and local doctors, nurses and village community health workers.

In the three years since the project began, there has not been a single maternal death in Jawhar hospital in a poor rural tribal area.

What are your future plans for Rotary International Great Britain and Ireland?

I shall continue to use my media background and the skills that I gained thanks to Rotary to give back and raise the profile of the inspirational humanitarian work that Rotarians carry out locally, nationally and globally in order to attract more people to join us and help us make a difference to our world.

Our Purple4Polio campaign is proving successful in raising awareness and funds as we get closer to a polio free world and that campaign will continue until we have finished the job.

Joining Rotary is the best decision I ever made and I can honestly say that, as I also met my husband through Rotary.

I want to spread the message about how being part of such a fantastic organisation helps you transform lives and can change your life for the better at the same time.

What's your advice for women wanting to get involved with Rotary, what are the first steps they should take?

Have a look at our website for more information about Rotary on www.rotarygbi.org  and you can contact Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland to find out where your nearest Rotary Club is on 01789 765411.

You can also drop me an email at president@rotarygbi.org

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