by Sissel Høihjelle Michelsen
National Representative/Council Chairman Inner Wheel Norway
Good evening, Association Chairman Pam, IIW President Pallavi, Inner Wheel – and Rotary friends and distinguished guests,
I am very happy and also very pleased to be here in Cardiff at this Inner Wheel Assembly. So thank you, Gb&I, for inviting me after some «mild pressure». And thank you, Gill, this assembly’s organiser, for being so helpful and patient with me.
UK&I, you are the Inner Wheel mother. You were in fact just coming of age when your first daughter across the North Sea was born, the Inner Wheel Club of Bergen, Norway. This baby celebrated its 75th birthday in March last year and whose birthday party I attended as Council Chairman/National Representative. I hereby report: Your baby is still up and kicking, though not with the same quickness in movement as in her early years.
This address is therefore merely thoughts being discussed in the IW-world of the Nordic countries at the moment, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if they were on the agenda of GB&I as well. So what medicine does it take to regain the strength of former days? And how many kicks on the leg do we need before understanding that we have to exercise both our brains and legs to find out this?
To me movement is the key word. And in the concept of movement you find change, new ways of doing things – the wheel mustn’t come to a standstill – and at the same time- we don’t want change for the sake of change only, but to become attractive to new members of all ages as well as for our own good. In one of the proposals for the next convention, we have had it before, to change International from a kind of prefix to a suffix in our name is asked for. Do we really think that is enough as modernisation? What about the content? We have to keep pace with the times we are in. When you and I have answered the question of what it is being an Inner Wheel member – exactly the same way for thirty or more years, dear ladies, then we are out of fashion. The basic aims remain, but do they work in the same way? Not for me. I am surely more committed today than I was in the beginning. I joined IW because international understanding was one of the aims. Inner Wheel has rightly become more international since the 2000 IW Convention in Stockholm when it was agreed that we should have a joint social project. I think that the opportunity of doing well together in turn helps us both to respect each other and to know each other. In Norway we have less than 2000 members now, but we hope for more. Working together for our projects is the glue in many clubs. Our main national project is giving fistula women in Ehtiopia a life in dignity by having them operated and restored to life. Then we are working with Rotary for their biannual camp for physically handicapped young people between 18 and 28 years of age. Two weeks next summer. Talk to me later about our projects. The cooperation with Rotary here is wonderful.
When Inner Wheel started in 1924, it may also have been out of a wish to show that women could do things for themselves and others and at the same time support their husbands in Rotary. Now nearly one hundred years later we sort of go backwards. We ask Rotary for permission to stay alive: Have you got some spare women, please, to send our way? This we can ask rotarians we know, but what about the old Inner Wheel clubs that no longer have this connection because their Rotary husbands are dead? Two clubs are disbanding in Norway this year, one of them suffering from this «out of sight, out of mind-syndrom», none last year. We lost less members last year than we had done for years. I haven’t got the numbers for this IW year yet. We have been occupied with recruiting new members also outside Rotary. What else can we do when the Rotary source is drying out? I do not blame the dear rotarians being present here in Cardiff. I know they care, I merely blame quite a few Rotary clubs back home for pretending we don’t exist.
We don’t want to be a well-hidden secret. We want to open up for new ideas, but with the tie to Rotary still intact. Rotary can ask anyone to become a member, why is this right denied us? The new members without Rotary or IW connection have become great assets to their clubs. When I have been travelling around Norway at our annual meetings this spring, I have been asking who has given Rotary the monopoly of being married to all the lovely and able women we need in IW? The factor of unfairness is high. Women usually have a good many friends and acquaintenses, if one or two of these share our ideals, we can ask them to join – and if they happen to have husbands who may be interested in joining Rotary, this would be a win-win situation.
How do we approach these women for membership? If we are to follow our constitution it will sound more or less like this: Hello Mary! My IW-club would very much like you to join us. As you probably know, we meet once a month. But I am sorry, we cannot offer you full membership at once, first we have to see if you fit in, and it will approximately take you two years to understand what it is all about! If your husband had been a rotarian, it would have been another matter. This is not how we see it in our club, of course, but according to our constitution which takes more time and effort to change tayloring it to the needs of women of today than neccessary. We don’t invite people with a BUT, but with a YES! We only want first rate women in our organisation, not second rate. At present an honourary member is like a guest invited to dinner, but who has to leave before the dessert is served. To me having the full benefits of membership is the dessert of Inner Wheel life: to be able to take office, share good days and bad days, meet other dedicated IW-members abroad and at home, to recognise and hug IW-members you have met before at Conventions and rallies and from this week in Cardiff. Let us be the proof of the pudding!
Between every Convention there is a cycle of three years. There are in fact lots of cycles in Inner Wheel. Are there too many? In the early nineties I took a degree in Third World Issues (part of my cand.philol.degree). One of the characteristics of a developing country is its cyclic thinking and for a developed country its linear thinking. This gave food for thought for my IW-mind. If we only play it safe and follow the receipe from the previous year, do we move forward then, do we make any progress? Our Inner Wheel will then only move around its axis and not move forward. We need both the cyclic and the linear movement in IW – to keep our objects safe and at the same time move on in a modern world.
In a year from now there may be a lot of us at the IW Convention in Istanbul.
And this time I want to come home with a smile on my face. Too many proposals were lost in Kota Kinabalu, many of them because of the restricted mandates the delegates had been given by their clubs. If we are to sit at home deciding the future of IW, we may as well vote by post. What fun is there in sitting at home, when we can move forward, have fun, meet friends we still haven’t met and at the same time become an attractive organisation to the new members we want to have!
Let us give our delegates the freedom to vote after discussions are over. The IW-world may look a bit different then.
We ask for solidarity for clubs and countries that struggle. What is good for one country now, may be good for others later.
Let Inner Wheel once again become a movement, a movement that can still move hearts and minds. And we have to start now. For another IW-meeting in Finland last year, I translated a poem into English by the Norwegian poet Kolbein Falkeid. It is from his 1983 collection «Lifesaving Activities»
You are now. Here and now.
It is now you are sitting in the cockpit
being responsible for the progress of the earth
reaches the next generation.
It is now you can bang your fist on the table
and speak your mind. It is now
you can read the wind’s soft italics through the grass,
the trees ancient syllables and a beast’s opinion
about miscarriage of justice through its glance.
Yes, here and now. It is now
your little daughter breaths her goodnight kiss
on your cheek. It is now
you are standing on the boiler-room floor and can shovel
friends’ words, the morning light and newly brewed coffee
underneath the boilers
to make them steamingful active.
Don’t wait for the dream about tomorrow, friend.
throw you lasso around its horns,
pull in and throw it over.
It is now your chance is here. Here and now.
Only here and now.