Bill Gates to keynote Rotary International meet in June in Atlanta

By Maria Saporta

Atlanta is preparing to host Rotary’s 108th annual international convention from June 10 to 14 – with at least one super-star keynote speaker.

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will be one among a lineup of world-class speakers. The Gates Foundation and Rotary International have an ongoing match of 2:1 to support polio eradication efforts up to $35 million a year.

The Gates reaffirmed the important role Rotary has played in polio eradication in their annual Bill and Melinda Gates’ Annual Letter.

The 108th annual Rotary international convention is expected to attract 40,000 Rotary Club members from more than 160 countries – some describing it as a “mini-United Nations.” It is estimated to inject $52.3 million in Atlanta’s economy.

Rotary flags

Rotary displays its flags of the world at its 2016 international convention in Seoul, Korea (Special: Rotary International)

The 2017 Rotary meeting will be the organization’s third convention in Atlanta. Organizers will transform the Georgia World Congress Center into a “cultural kaleidoscope” with Rotary’s global network of volunteers gathering to exchange ideas on how to improve lives and bring positive, lasting change to communities around the world.

The polio eradication initiative is an example of the kind of work Rotary does on a global scale.

“Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have been working together on polio eradication for a long time, and our strong partnership will continue through the final years of the effort,” said John Germ, Rotary International’s president. “With the most effective resources in place, it’s possible that we will soon see the last case of polio in history. At the convention, Bill will say more about how we can — and will — end polio.”

The convention is being organized by Rotary International with the Atlanta Host Organizing Committee of local Rotary members. Registrants of the convention will also get to experience Atlanta’s southern charm with visits to the World of Coca-Cola, the College Football Hall of Fame and an Atlanta Braves game.

John Germ Rotary

John Germ, the current president of Rotary International, visited Atlanta in July 2015 when he was president-elect (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“The Rotary International Convention provides an exceptional opportunity to bring together more than 40,000 civic and business community leaders from throughout the world to Atlanta to enjoy our unique brand of southern hospitality,” said William Pate, president and CEO of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The addition of Microsoft founder Bill Gates as a keynote speaker reflects the importance and good work that Rotary does worldwide.”

The global eradication of polio has been Rotary’s top priority since 1985. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative – a public-private partnership that includes Rotary, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – has seen the incidence of polio plumet by more than 99.9 percent, from about 350,000 cases a year in 1988 to just 37 confirmed in 2016.

Rotary, including matching funds from the Gates Foundation, has donated $1.6 billion to polio eradication.

Atlanta’s first Rotary convention took place 100 years ago, when The Rotary Foundation was established with its first contribution of $26.50. The Rotary Foundation’s assets have grown to approximately $1 billion, and more than $3 billion have been spent on projects and scholarships that promote peace, fight disease, provide clean water, support education, save mothers and children, and grow local economies.

Rotary International connects 1.2 million members of more than 35,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. The clubs work to improve lives at both the local and international levels – from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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