Chillin at the Congressional Reception for Polio Eradication Champions

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Mike McGovern, Rotary Trustee and Chair of the Polio Plus Committee, Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the CDC, Senator Lamar Alexander, and John Germ, RI President-Elect, at the reception to honor Rotary Eradication Champions.

Washington, DC, the Capital of the United States of America, just happens to be in my Rotary District.  If you grew up in the suburbs and have to try not to act like a tourist when you travel to the city (any city), where you gawk at the big buildings and congratulate yourself for getting on and off mass transportation, and where you can’t believe it costs tens of thousands of dollars to park in a parking garage designed by Satan himself for about ten minutes, and where even your GPS get confused with street names and locations, you probably wouldn’t like having to travel to Washington, DC for Rotary meetings.

But not me!  I LOVE going to Washington, DC for Rotary meetings.  For example,  one week prior to going to the U.S. Capitol Building for a reception to honor U.S. Congressional leaders, I was attending an Alumni reception at the Ukrainian Embassy in Georgetown.  (READERS NOTE:  Yes folks…that’s the United States Capitol building.  And yes, when you live in DC apparently its no big deal to schedule your meetings at a variety of embassies.  These are real live embassies where you go inside and you are legally in a foreign country.  Admittedly this impresses me.  You see, I live in Howard County, Maryland and we ain’t got no embassies here.  We do have a great Mall, though.  But I digress…)

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Obligatory tourist picture.  I know I’m not supposed to be so awestruck at hanging around the nations capitol building….but I can’t help it.

My visit to the U.S. Capitol was to attend an event honoring  Rotary Polio Eradication Champions. According to Kris Tsau, Advocate Specialist at Rotary International, Rotary has only one award for officials  (non Rotarians) who have demonstrated commitment to global polio eradication – the Polio Eradication Champion Award. The US is a bit unusual in that we recognize Members of Congress. In other countries, we (Rotary) typically recognize Heads of State and Ministers.  Having parked at Union Station, walked the short three blocks to the Capitol Building, and made my way past the marvelous sculptures of former US Congressional leaders, on my way to the Mansfield Room in the Capitol Building featuring a stunning portrait of former Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield, I then proceeded to hobnob with all kinds of Rotary, and non-Rotary brass.

First off, the Master of Ceremonies was one of my personal Rotary heroes, Dr. John Sever. John is a District 7620 Rotarian who hasn’t done much in Rotary, other than the fact that Rotary’s polio eradication effort was pretty much his idea in the first place.  John Germ, RI President-Elect was in attendance, as was past RI Director, Anne Matthews.  Mike McGovern, Rotary Trustee and Chair of the International PolioPlus Committee was there, as was Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of Center for Disease Control.  But the stars of the show were the members of the U.S. Congress who stopped by to receive their honors and who, without exception, praised Rotary and all of our good works. This year’s 2015 Polio Champions were:  Senator Lamar Alexander, Senator Patty Murray, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Representative Barbara Lee, and Representative Charlie Dent.  For those that don’t know (and many Rotarians I meet apparently don’t), the U.S. contributed $217 million to Polio Eradication last year.  It was OUR honor to say thank you to the Senators and Representatives that helped approve that kind of money.

I’ll have more to say about that in a moment, but first, I can’t begin to write about the power in Washington, DC without referencing my favorite politician, Frank Underwood, from House of Cards.  If you want to know about real power, find this show on Netflix and learn.  Here’s Frank (Kevin Spacey) on the difference between power and money.

 

ANOTHER READER’S NOTE:  Frank Underwood is a fictional character and is not at all like our actual Rotary Champions that serve us in the U.S. Congress.  They are wonderful people, and we are very glad they support us.  (NOTE TO KRIS TSAU:  It’s OK Kris, you can relax now.  It’s just a joke.)

Anyway, I wonder if Rotarians have any understanding of the scale of the Polio Eradication effort when it comes to the money it takes to eradicate Polio and the value of our partners in raising the needed funds.  Let’s start with this.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is currently matching Rotary’s worldwide Polio contributions two to one up to Rotary’s $35 million.  Last year the U.S. Government kicked in $217 million.  That’s more than SIX TIMES our contribution last year.  If we meet the Gates challenge over the five-year challenge period we will have contributed $175 million.  But the Polio Eradication End Game price tag is more than $5.5 BILLION.  Which isn’t meant to diminish the impact of Rotary’s giving more than $1 billion cumulatively over the years to eradicate polio.  But $5.5 billion is a little out of our price range.

Curious about where the money for eradicating polio has come from so far?  Here is a table from the Polio Eradication Initiative website showing who has given what so far.  Check out our amazing public and private partners in this joint effort.

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Did you know that the Islamic Development Bank/Government of Pakistan has been so generous in funding Polio Eradication?  I didn’t.  Take a minute to check out the variety of donors on this list.  When someone asks you about Polio Eradication, do you mention our generous partners?  This is a pretty amazing list, don’t you think?

How about who is pledged to come up with remaining $5.5 billion needed to finish the job? Here’s a link to a table of past and future pledges to Polio Eradication from 1985 to 2018.  While Rotary is the acknowledged “heart and soul” of the Polio Eradication effort, it’s comforting to see the coalition of public and private resources that have committed funding to get the job done.

What about the U.S.?  Kris Tsau has been advocating for Polio funding from the very beginning of our polio eradication effort.  She tells me that in the first year of asking the U.S. Congress for help we received $11 million of funding.  This year we received $217 million.  Thank you, Kris, and all of the other Polio advocates around the world, who work with (lobby….OK…..I said it) governments and private interests to come up with the funds needed to eradicate polio.  This kind of money doesn’t show up by accident folks.  You need seasoned professionals who know what they are doing to make it happen.  Here’s a chart of U.S. giving that Kris sent along:

US Funding for Polio Eradication

 

As I travel around our District, I often hear from Rotarians who are frustrated when the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, the Gates Foundation, and other members of the Polio Eradication Initiative, don’t mention Rotary when they are asked about polio eradication.  I get it.  I really do.  But we are lucky to have such amazing partners in our polio eradication effort.  Let’s remember to say thanks to them as we mutter under our breath that they should have said something about Rotary.  After all, they are truly our partners and without them we would never come close to what we are about to achieve.

Oh….last word today on the subject.  You could tell they were reluctant to discuss this because they didn’t want to jinx it, but several speakers mentioned that its been over nine months since there has been a polio case in Nigeria.  With luck, soon we will be able to say that polio is eradicated in Africa.  Fingers crossed.

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Rotarian Mike Smith, Kris Tsau, and Mike McGovern

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RI President-Elect John Germ with District 7620 Young Professional Summit attendee, Clarissa Harris.

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Attendees pretending to listen to the speakers while keeping the food surrounded.

20150513_181941Dr. John Sever, Rotary’s master champion polio eradicator looks on as Senator Lamar Alexander addresses the audience.

20150513_182859District 7620 District Governor Nominee, Greg Wims, with wife, Michelle, thinking that maybe this Rotary leadership thing isn’t so bad after all.

 

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4 thoughts on “Chillin at the Congressional Reception for Polio Eradication Champions

  1. It looks like a great time. It’s always worthwhile to honor the champions who support the cause. There is no question that without the money, we [Rotary, the WHO, etc.] wouldn’t be “this close” to eradicating this crippling disease. I only hope we can get into Pakistan and the last few remaining places on the globe to finish the job.

    I’ve never seen House of Cards (too cheap to get Netflix). Interesting take on money and power. More power to ya, Ken.

    1. Thanks, Ken. We are lucky to have such great partners in Polio Eradication.

  2. I learn a lot from this blog about who are the leaders involved in polio eradication. Good job!

    Melanie Weerakoon
    Potomac-Bethesda Rotary Club

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Melanie. Please share the link with your club members.

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