How celebrity ambassadors help end polio

By Gabriela Simionato Klein, communications consultant at Rotary International

We are now “This Close” to achieving a polio-free world, and many public figures and celebrities have agreed to help Rotary spread the word.  More than 40 world figures including Bill Gates, Archie Panjabi, Ziggy Marley, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Jane Goodall are taking part in Rotary’s “This Close” campaign. Many organizations seek celebrity ambassadors and many notables see the benefit – professional and personal – in this kind of relationship. This is not a strategy unique to Rotary but how do those celebrities make a difference?

At the beginning of April, I accompanied our Brazilian ambassador, supermodel and mother Isabeli Fontana, on her press trip with Rotary. It was a great experience to see our organization’s impact on the country’s polio eradication process firsthand and to get a better understanding of how much our ambassadors can help.

(Right to left) Isabeli Fontana, Gabriela Klein and Monica Lages, the model’s manager.

(Right to left) Isabeli Fontana, Gabriela Klein and Monica Lages, the model’s manager.

This was not my first time working with Isabeli. The launch of her partnership with Rotary, at a party donated by a Brazilian fashion house, generated impressive press coverage in fashion and entertainment outlets, a niche in which our stories don’t usually receive space. Rotary and its battle for polio eradication graced the pages of Vogue, Rolling Stone and Harper’s Bazaar.

The event created a fundraising opportunity in partnership with the model and with fashion label TUFI DUEK.  An End Polio Now t-shirt customized by the house designer, Edu Pombal, was auctioned off for almost $90,000 in support of polio eradication efforts. To date, the communications support we have received from Isabeli and her partners has presented Rotary’s work to millions of followers, and informing new audiences of Rotary’s role.

This effect was also seen in India, where Isabeli energized health workers at a regional meeting and, during a school visit, informed kids, teachers and parents of the importance of vaccination and healthy habits for a better life. More than that, the experience made her more knowledgeable and committed. She came back looking for even more possibilities to help in an impactful way.

But Isabeli’s chosen path is not the only one. Personal preferences, different reasons for involvement and work schedules determine how each ambassador makes his or her mark. Several musician ambassadors donated their songs and performed for a special CD, with proceeds raised being donated to Rotary International’s End Polio Now campaign.   Others donated their time for our organization, using their fame or leveraging their talent to promote our message when talking at high-level events or with the press.

How can you help? Research ambassadors who are relevant in your area and learn their preferences for possible supporting activities.Find ways to leverage their influence and consider their roles in your plans.  Identify potential national or international ambassadors with whom you have a personal connection, and suggest their name to the communications team or your staff liaison in Evanston. Ideal ambassadors have strong social media channels; they are popular, very active and have a positive impact in the community. They are willing to work with Rotary – not just by posing for a picture, but by truly embracing the cause as their own. With wide-ranging support, they can help Rotary raise awareness in the final push to end polio.


From foot surgery to biking 104 miles to end polio

Catherine Lankford trains as part of the Miles to End Polio team.

Catherine Lankford trains as part of the Miles to End Polio team.

By Catherine Lankford, Rotary staff and former RC program specialist

My upcoming participation in El Tour de Tucson as part of Rotary’s Miles to End Polio team means a great deal to me on many levels.

My first introduction and connection to Rotary began in Mexico, Missouri, through my paternal grandfather, who was a member and president of the Rotary club in that community. I remember hearing stories from him about his weekly meetings, the work he did with his club, his commitment to polio eradication (both as a Rotarian and medical doctor), and the lifelong friends he made in Missouri and all over the world. My maternal grandmother was also recognized by that club with a Paul Harris Fellow for her outstanding work as an elementary school teacher and community member.

I began working at Rotary International in March of 2011 and feel fortunate to work for a company dedicated to making the world a better place. I was drawn to Rotary primarily because of our polio eradication efforts. The Miles to End Polio ride will mark the first time that I am directly impacting that effort and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it. It is also meaningful to me on a personal level.

Broken bones

In April of 2013, I broke multiple bones in my foot, and spent over 10 months in a walking boot and cast. I had surgery and went through seven months of subsequent physical therapy to learn to walk again and strengthen my muscles.

This was an incredibly trying experience for me, both physically and emotionally, as there were times that it was questionable whether I would be able to run or bike again. I can’t imagine a better way to close this chapter of my life than riding in El Tour de Tucson and raising money to ensure polio is eradicated and no one else has to suffer from this debilitating disease again.

Far and away, the best part of being on a bike again and training with Team Rotary (including my first ever 100 mile ride on 28 September!) is the instant gratitude I feel for the recovery that I had, the ability to be active, and the ride to end polio in Tucson. Gratitude is the attitude!

Catherine poses with RC Henrique Vasconcelos after being recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow at the 2014 Coordinator and Adviser Institute.

Catherine poses with RC Henrique Vasconcelos after being recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow at the 2014 Coordinator and Adviser Institute.

Lankford is one of six Rotary staff members who will join Rotary General Secretary John Hewko in biking El Tour de Tucson in Arizona in November to raise money for polio eradication. Read posts from other team members, and learn how you can support the team.

World’s Greatest Meal to help end polio

Written by Rotarian Michelle Tanner and Polio Chair Susanne Rea

Pciture 1In May 2014, Polio Chair Susanne Rea shared her story on Rotary Voices about how the World’s Greatest Meal is striving to fund a million polio vaccines through social media. The World’s Greatest Meal (WGM) is a project created by Polio Chair Susanne Rea (Rotary Club of Cairns Sunrise, Australia) and past District Governor Mukesh Malhotra, (Rotary Club of Hounslow, England).

The concept behind the project is simple: participants enjoy a meal together, raise funds to end polio, and use the power of social media to globally raise awareness of Rotary’s polio eradication campaign.

Initially, the focus was on holding an event around Rotary’s anniversary (23 February 2014) but as the reach of the project grew, the potential to really make a difference in ending polio became evident and the decision was made to continue it throughout the year.

So, how does the World’s Greatest Meal work? First, keep the project simple. Participants are encouraged to follow four steps:

  1. Refer to the World’s Greatest Meal website or Facebook
  2. Plan an event focused on sharing a meal then click ‘register event’ and add basic details to the WGM website
  3. Hold the WGM event.
  4. Submit the funds raised to The Rotary Foundation (be sure to indicate PolioPlus) and complete the after event form.

Picture 2Social media is the backbone of this project. The first (global) Facebook page was followed by a website and many, country-based, WGM Facebook pages such as RIBI, District 7770 in the United States, and Spain. A video was created and made available in Spanish and English. Twitter and a YouTube channel followed.

Rotarians across the globe were ‘recruited’ to the project and the WGM Team was formed. The Rotary Convention in Sydney provided an opportunity for many on the team and other interested people to come together to share ideas and experiences at a post-convention meeting.

WGM aims to raise US$1m (including matched funds from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) and have 500 events registered by World Polio Day, 24 October 2014. As of 4 September 2014, 544 events have been registered in 47 countries across 5 continents. The long term fundraising target is $5 million (including matching) by December 2018.

Picture 3The WGM is an example of how an idea can grow into a global project. Contributions, small or large, are welcomed for a cause close to Rotary’s heart. What can you do to participate in this initiative? Why not mark World Polio Day on 24 October with your own WGM event – host a viewing party of Rotary’s World Polio Day 2014 Livestream event or host your own event.

More World Polio Day resources can be found on

We’re “This Close” to having the World’s Biggest Commercial

We are “This Close” to a future without polio, only the second human disease to be wiped off the face of the earth.  To raise awareness and help finish the fight, Rotary launched the “World’s Biggest Commercial” on 24 October 2013, World Polio Day. All of you are familiar with the internet campaign, but do you know its effects? To date, more than 90 thousand people from 170 countries have added their image to the fight against polio… and continue to join! You can see some of the faces in this PSA.

In addition to raising awareness about Rotary and our work to End Polio Now, every person who joins the World’s Biggest Commercial can opt to have their name added to a petition urging world leaders to come together and help provide the US$5.5 billion needed to end polio forever. Participants can also make an individual donation to help make history and be part of a polio-free world. To help spur participation in the commercial, PhRMA, the largest pharmaceutical trade group in the United States, donated $50,000 to Rotary’s PolioPlus program – enough to protect more than 83,000 children against this paralyzing disease. The commercial was more than just a commercial: it became a platform to rally for polio eradication.

RPIC Pablo Ruiz poses with a group of WBC participants.

RPIC Pablo Ruiz poses with a group of WBC participants.

Many Rotarians around the world were essential to making the campaign a success – sometimes in surprising and innovative ways.  RPIC Pablo Ruiz counted on the support of a local company specialized in providing small administrative services for the picture taking on busy streets as his team talked about Rotary’s polio eradication effort with a TV station, attracted by the visual appealing setup created.

Rotarian Roberta Lopes de Moraes is responsible for the  surge of participation in Brazil.

Rotarian Roberta Lopes de Moraes is responsible for the surge of participation in Brazil.

In Brazil, Rotarian Roberta Lopes de Moraes, Rotary Club of Rio Claro, Brazil worked withshopping malls, schools and governmental facilities to produce events that would generate not only photos but also public outreach opportunities and media attention.

Rotaract and Interact Clubs also joined in the effort and were responsible for many successes. Some Rotaractors responded to a photo challenge created by Rotary, while others organized their own challenges. In Venezuela, they searched for journalists in radio and TV to support and participate in the campaign.

Rotarians and Rotaractors in Venezuela made a difference.

Rotarians and Rotaractors in Venezuela made a difference.

Local celebrities were also invited to join the commercial, raising the awareness of Rotary in local communities. The commercial was a perfect conversation starter for introducing our fight to end polio now and the participation generated attention when announced to the press. Many local celebrities reached out to their followers in social media, sharing their reasons to participate with their social networks. More than 150 celebrities have joined the commercial and were thus introduced to Rotary.

The campaign is wrapping up soon, at the end of June. We are “This Close” to having 100,000 participants and obtain the record title of the largest photo awareness campaign in the world. You can help by inviting others to participate and by sharing the PSA with your networks. Rotary public images coordinators especially can assist with procuring free placement opportunities for PSAs in TV and Internet, amplifying the reach of Rotary’s story. Contact with questions.

Rotarians in Argentina partnered with existing sporting events to raise awareness of Rotary’s polio eradication initiative.

Rotarians in Argentina partnered with existing sporting events to raise awareness of Rotary’s polio eradication initiative.

The PSA is also available in German ( and Italian ( in addition to English.

Polio awareness campaign gaining momentum ‘down under’

World polio day

By Howard Tong, Rotary public image coordinator, Zone 7B

In honor of World Polio Day on 24 October, Rotarians down under want to raise public awareness and our End Polio now campaign. They want to draw attention to the fact that polio is only a ‘plane ride away’ from coming back into the Pacific and that everyone can play a part in eradicating this disease.

Polio immunization in New Zealand began in 1957. While the last reported case of the wild poliovirus occurred in 1962, there are still the vivid memories of the suffering this disease caused in our community.

Every effort is being made to have World Polio Day include as many people as possible so the public can learn that ‘polio is on the way out’! All of the proceeds will be donated to PolioPlus and every US$1 will be matched with US$2 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As a local member state, “The eradication of polio worldwide is one of Rotary’s main missions and our club is happy to get the message out there to our community.”

Here are some of the events that districts and clubs are holding to raise awareness:

  • A ‘Purple Pinkie Day’ is planned; members hope that all six districts in the South Pacific will be involved.  It will involve schools, posting videos on social media sites and increasing the public awareness with a drive to get television coverage of their efforts.
  • Mufti Days (Casual clothes day) are happening in schools before 24 October. Children are encouraged to dress up in purple for the day, have their pinkie painted purple (similar to immunization days overseas) and local club members will be available to address groups of children and hand out brochures on polio. Children are also encouraged to draw posters which shops can use to promote Polio eradication on 24 October. Local media will be notified about these activities.
  • Last year, a community street donation event was held to great success and will be repeated again this year.  Last year one district collected over US$20,000.
  • On 4 October at 1430 NZT, one club plans to devote a special segment on their monthly radio programme “Radio Matters”, broadcast on a local community radio station, to promoting World Polio Day.
  • Members and their friends are encouraged to join the “World’s Biggest Commercial”. New Zealand is ranked 38th out of 158 participating countries around the world.

Through the energetic promotion from Rotary Down Under, Rotarians are encouraged to sell eye-catching red ‘End Polio Now’ tee shirts and are asking purchasers to wear them in public places. Rotarians are also encouraged to wear an ‘End Polio Now’ lapel pin to raise public awareness.

Learn more about Rotary’s Polio campaign and join the livestream on World Polio Day.