“Let us bring the best talents”
When we think about the past year, most of us feel that 2020 is the year we want to forget. With one exception – it was a good year for women leaders and women’s empowerment. Kamala Harris was elected as the first woman vice-president of the United States. A couple of months before, Rotary International elected the first woman to serve as President in its 115-years existence. And as good things always come in threes, countries run by women leaders managed to navigate throughout the pandemic with much better results, higher social cohesion and less casualties than those run by strong male leaders and with predominantly male governments.
I became a member of the Rotary Club Prague International in 2012. Since then, I have considered Rotary my extended family. I am proud to be a member of the largest, most diverse and most active Club in the Rotary district of Czech Republic & Slovak Republic. Contrary to the still wide-spread notion that a Rotary club is a bastion for rich retired white gentlemen, our club RCPI has 53 members, 19 women and 34 men. The average age is 56. Our members span 16 nationalities. Being engaged in women’s empowerment, I am proud of the fact that three out of six of the Club’s past presidents were women.
Rotary unites a global network of volunteer leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges and creating lasting change. Rotary connects 1.2 million people of action from more than 36,000 Rotary clubs in almost every country in the world. Their service improves lives both locally and internationally, from helping those in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. Benke Aikell, publisher of the Czech and Slovak Leaders Magazine, was also a long-time member of this same Club. Therefore, it is our pleasure to bring to you an exclusive interview with Jennifer Jones.
Jennifer Jones is a member of the Rotary Club of Windsor – Roseland, Ontario, Canada. Regarding her professional career, she is the Founder and President of Media Street Productions Inc., a twenty-five year old, awardwinning media company in Windsor, Ontario.
Regarding her Rotary Club career, she served as a Trustee of The Rotary Foundation, Rotary International Vice President and as Co-chair of the End Polio Now: Make History Today campaign, closely working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Her fundraising campaign for polio eradication raised 5.25 million USD in one single day in Florida.
During the present pandemic, she continues virtual fundraising events dedicated to combatting the Covid-19 pandemic effects. Working with political figures, celebrities and global leaders, Jennifer uses her voice to raise awareness of Rotary’s campaigns to eradicate diseases, support peace and to provide water and sanitation to developing countries. Her unique expertise and prowess as a storyteller inspires hope and motivates Rotarians and others to take action globally. She also played a leading role in Rotary’s rebranding effort. Jennifer Jones has received many awards and recognitions, including: Service Above Self Award, Citation for Meritorious Service, YMCA Peace Medallion, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and Wayne State University’s Peacemaker of the Year Award – a first for a Canadian. Jennifer is married to Rotarian Nick Krayacich, a family physician. Her hobbies include travel, cycling, golf and relaxation at a family cottage.
Mrs. President-Elect, how do you view the Rotary Organization in the 21st Century?
Speaking to members and meeting them on Zoom, I see that Rotary exists without borders and boundaries. We may be coming to each other tonight from many different countries across the globe, but we all have one common country in our heart and that is the country of Rotary. We know that Rotary is a place where leaders and those with the vision and drive to create change can thrive. And such leaders are found from every age, gender, race and background. Diversity, equality and inclusion should begin at the top, and for us to welcome new leaders into our organization and expand our ability to make an impact, we need to build stronger bridges that help everyone see themselves reflected, celebrated and valued here in Rotary.
Empowering women as well as bringing younger people to join Rotary has been a task that Rotary set up several years ago. How did we manage?
The aim to increase the membership in these two demographics has been a priority set about five years ago. Although this was a high priority, we have grown cumulatively two percent in each of those categories. It is a negligible growth. So why is it important that we focus our attention on developing these two demographics? It is simply a business case. Why would we not to look to address the market share opportunity? Let us go beyond a simplistic gender or age conversation.
I am sure that you are often asked what does it feel like to be selected as the first woman to serve as the President?
I am very excited about that, I have a lot of personal satisfaction and it is a great opportunity to speak about the topic. More than anything it is important to stress that I was selected because I was qualified and not because of my gender. I think we all need to think about how we help to elevate women and younger members so that they can achieve leadership positions in our organization. I do not say this to dismiss the importance of being a woman. I think this creates a great opportunity for others who can be inspired to now see themselves being reflected in the leadership of our organization, which I believe will also inspire others to step up, so they become Club Presidents or District Governors. I know there is someone on this call who will become a president of our organization hopefully sometime in the future. When we see ourselves reflected, it creates more opportunities for others.
Is this why your notion of diversity goes well beyond gender?
I want to create diverse perspectives. When we have diverse thoughts around the table, the water level rises for everyone. We can create opportunities for everyone in our organization. I want to share with you an exercise I did myself two years ago. I had a chance to serve as the Moderator of the Rotary International Assembly. For those of you who might not understand what that is, it is the assembly where we collect all 536 District Governors and their spouses together in one location for a big training opportunity. You know that I am talking about times when we still could be together in person! At this event, each of the District Governors Elect (DGE’s) were each guided by 40 different international training leaders. When selecting these various leader’s, I set a personal goal to try to create gender balance. That said, when I was reviewing the list of applicants, I wanted to select the best qualified people. The goal was to get to gender parity but at the end I finished with 38% women training leaders being represented in the total. This was higher than ever before but still not at my target. While I didn’t achieve the goal, I felt comfortable that I had selected the best and the brightest. It was ok not to get to 50%, at least we had taken a positive step forward. We (in Rotary) will keep trying to increase it to achieve at least 30% of female representation in all leadership positions by 2030. I hope we get to this goal well before then. We, as women and younger members, need to understand that equal opportunities are there and we need to step forward and try to find those opportunities. For all of us, what is incumbent on every one of us, is to look around and be cultivating the talent where we are able to. Not just women and younger members, but men too. We want to find the best people for our organization. As I have said before, create the diverse perspective. We cannot all look, feel and sound the same and expect to make a great change. We need to be able to challenge each other with different ways of thinking whether that is generational or not.
Now let us turn from the gender perspective to another key task of attracting a younger demographic and involving them in Rotary.
I believe that we need to think about “young thinkers”. How many of you have met a 25-year old who is old? And how many of you have met a 85-year old who is young? Those are the kind of people who we want to make sure are included in our organization. Yes, we need the younger demographic, because we need to fill in our ranks. We need to have members in line for the future. That is important. But what we need is people who think young. People who understand what it means to be progressive in our thinking yet hold true to our traditions that define who we are: the four-way test, the objectives of Rotary and our values. These are things that do not go out of fashion. These are the things that we need to maintain to be the formidable force that we are.
We all know your background, your accomplishments both in professional world and also within Rotary. Can you share with us your defining moment and what has influenced you?
We all have parents. My parents were incredibly good at empowering me to dream and to never think that I could not achieve what I had in my own mind as a dream. As a little girl, I used to come up with many crazy ideas. I would hold a carnival for kids and dogs in our yard, I raised money for different organizations and other activities. My parents have never said it is a bad idea. Empowering not only young people but people of all age to dream our wildest dreams. Rotary allows us to share it with someone else. One idea we share with any other club, other people jump on it… and that is the magic of our organization.
In 1975, I was in grade 2 and it was the first International Women’s Day that the UN supported, first time in Canada where I lived, it was held formally. My mum sent away for the package of materials that the government of Canada had prepared. It was all sorts of stickers, bumper stickers, pamphlets and fliers. I brought it for my class for the activity called “show and tell”. So here I was, an eight or nine year old girl, talking about women’s liberation. I did not really know what I was speaking about, I really liked the shining pretty things that came in the package. My grade 2 teacher, Mrs. Braithwaite, sent me to the grade 8 teacher, Mr. Hayes, who she knew would think differently. She sent me down the hall with my “show and tell” package to be able to give him my message. I am sure that teachers had a pretty good chuckle in the staff room about a brighteyed girl delivering a speech about opening opportunities for women. And a few decades later, it came full circle, when I attended a taping of the Oprah Winfrey TV show. Many of you might know Gloria Steinem who is known as mother of feminism. At 70 years of age, Gloria Steinem said to Oprah: “We got it wrong.” Everyone looked shocked. Gloria continued: “Only when the pendulum swings directly to the middle and men and women are equal nurturers, will we have true equality.” I thought that was incredible that Gloria Steinem was able to evolve in her thinking to the moment when she saw that. I know that in my Rotary Club there are several women that opened many doors for me and for others. Many of them were high-school superintendents and administrators of our school board. At the time, when I talked to those women, as a younger Rotary member, I claimed that I was not a feminist and that I believe in equality for everyone. They would get angry with me because they had fought so hard to open doors for women. Many of you have broken down the barriers so someone like me could sit in the Board Room, but as I mentioned earlier, I am sitting there not as a woman, but as a Rotary leader. It is an interesting time we are in. We know that there are doors to open for others. Therefore, we need to look for the best and the brightest in our ranks. Sometimes these will be men, sometimes it will be women.