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Rotary's PolioPlus Program--Unnamed champions who model integrative leadership

By Paul Mooty, CIL Executive in Residence

I attended the inaugural CIL Advancing the Common Good Dinner Conversation Series event on February 26th at Margaret Chutich's, Assistant Dean of the Humphrey Institute, home. It was a wonderful evening attended by 14 students from the Carlson School, the Humphrey Institute, the School of Social Work, and the School of Public Health. Paul Vaaler, Associate Professor from the Carlson School did an excellent job in engaging the group in a discussion on integrative leadership.

There was some discussion about individuals who the students thought of as "integrative leaders." The names discussed were, without exception, names of people with whom we are all familiar. In my view, though, there are great examples of integrative leadership in our society accomplished by people whose names we have never heard. One such example is the work of Rotary International's multi-faceted effort to eradicate polio from the face of the earth.

Rotary International initiated the effort to immunize all of the world's children against polio in 1985 under Rotary's PolioPlus Program. This then led to the formation of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative - the single-largest, internationally-coordinated public health project the world has ever known (a partnership of Rotary, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). More than 2.5 billion children have received the oral polio vaccine since 1985; there are more than five million people, primarily from the developing world, who will never know the tragedy of polio and are able to walk today because they were immunized. Five hundred thousand cases of polio are prevented each year because of the immunizations. The number of cases of polio has dropped from 350,000 in 1985 to less than 1,600 today - a reduction of more than 99%. Rotary has raised more than $800 million and has received $355 million in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

These objective measurements are remarkable in their own right but the lasting impact of what Rotary has demonstrated is beyond measure. In 2001 the Director-General of the World Health Organization, in praising Rotary stated "You were the first with a vision to deliver polio vaccine to every child and you took the action to make it happen."

Rotary has demonstrated the power of public/private partnerships and the power of an international volunteer organization bound by a common goal. The leadership and commitment demonstrated by Rotarians across the globe and in concert with other public and private partners gives faith to all that the greatest of tasks can be accomplished when we work together for the common good.

The work of Rotary and its partners is not yet complete but the end is in site. This remarkable initiative was accomplished by a variety of organizations, public and private, and by people within each organization whose names we do not know and will likely never know. This is integrative leadership at its best.

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