Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the 2023 Rotary Action Summit.
Special greetings to the Rotary International President, Trustees, Directors, and District governors who have travelled to our shores to take part in this special occasion.
It’s a pleasure to have you all here!
If this is your first time in The Bahamas, I wish you a very warm welcome.
Though you are a visitor to our shores, I hope the warmth of our people and culture makes you feel like family.
You will hopefully see why we say “It’s better in The Bahamas.”
To the Bahamian Rotarians here tonight, representing the twelve clubs spread across our archipelago: welcome.
To you, and to all your international counterparts, I say thank you! Thank you for your tireless commitment to service above self. Thank you for uplifting communities, championing environmental stewardship, and promoting improved health and well-being across the globe.
Rotary Bahamas, for its part, has certainly lived up to the legacy of the Rotary International brand. Whether we’re talking about providing medical supplies to the Rand Memorial Hospital, donating to the Bahamas Association for the Physically Disabled, or fundraising for the Ranfurly Homes for Children, Rotary Bahamas has made immense contributions to our country.
Further afield, Rotary clubs have made substantial impacts across diverse contexts. Be it mobilising rural medical care in Mexico or equipping Lebanese public schools with clean water, Rotary International is supporting sustainable development across the globe, guided by an ethic of altruistic care.
Gandhi has a famous saying -“the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – and I believe that is quite fitting when we talk about Rotary. Your organisation’s identity is rooted firmly in the service of others. It is a beautiful display of humanity – a way of living that we would all like to see more of in the world today.
What’s really so powerful about community service is the way it benefits the volunteer as much as it benefits the community being served. I’m sure many people in this room have experienced the life-changing impact of giving of yourself to others, the ways it helps us to discover new parts of ourselves: new passions, new talents, and even a new sense of purpose.
Existing research shows a positive correlation between volunteering and developing a stronger sense of communal belonging, as well as enhanced mental and emotional well-being.
Over the years, many lives have been changed for the better, not only from being served by Rotarians, but also by becoming Rotarians.
Since the very first club was chartered here in January 1962, Rotary has helped to forge a more connected and empowered Bahamas. Your organisation has made the kind of impact that few others can lay claim to.
But as I speak to you this evening, I challenge you to consider how you might take your philosophy of service even further with acknowledgment that there is always room to grow.
Rotary Bahamas now boasts over 500 participants, many of them here tonight. How, in tandem with your 1.4 million international counterparts, can you strive to live out your mission more fully, and more inclusively? In light of shifting sociocultural, environmental, and economic realities, how can you reimagine the kinds of service the world requires? How can you respond to anticipated and unforeseen needs, particularly on the part of marginalised communities? And, perhaps most critically, how are you choosing who to serve, ensuring that you’re maximising your impact by serving those who need it the most? These are the kinds of fundamental, existential questions we must all ask ourselves as we seek to remain relevant and effective in a rapidly changing world.
My friends, we may be on a small island, but that does not mean we need to think small.
Considering the magnitude of the challenges before us, we understand that this nation, and this planet, needs more than small changes. Collectively, we require a long-term strategy to take us from where we are to where we know we can be.
My vision for this nation, in particular, encompasses food security, which we are now making historic investments in to lower our cost of living and food import bill. We have major steps to take toward addressing historically high levels of income inequality, which we have begun addressing through increasing the minimum wage and increasing salaries and benefits across the public service. These are merely the first of many steps taken to tackle these issues.
I am striving, alongside my fellow ministers, parliamentarians, and members of the public service, to create a country where crime is low, educational attainment is high, and each citizen has an equal chance to flourish. This is no easy undertaking, but I did not become prime minister to pursue the easy goals.
“Easy” has never been in my vocabulary.
I grew up on an island where we were accustomed to making the best out of a difficult situation, in a community that, each day, learned how to make the best out of the little we had. I know what it is to spend my days dreaming and fighting for something better. And I will keep fighting for the vision of a better Bahamas. Just as Rotary International will carry on contributing to a better world.
My administration promised a bold agenda, and that is precisely what we intend to deliver. We have channeled unprecedented levels of investment into our Family Islands, made historic investments in healthcare, and led the charge internationally on climate change. Already, we have set our national energy strategy in motion through the solarisation of our Family Islands. A Bahamas predominantly powered by renewable energy is our long-term goal. This will ensure that we are leading by example in the production of local energy, and it will also deliver more stable, more affordable power to our islands.
On the world stage, we have made our voices heard on the issue of climate justice and the need for greater access to climate finance for the Small Island Developing States and low-lying coastal regions that are, and will continue to be, most severely impacted by climate change.
What this means is that we are demanding more equitable access to resources so that we can all equally fight against rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, and more frequent extreme weather events. Let me be clear: we are not begging for handouts. The developed world triggered this crisis, and small island developing states like ours stand to suffer the most. Caribbean nations, and all other vulnerable nations, deserve more.
The alternative to taking the necessary action is to continue to preserve the status quo, which will lead to many lives and livelihoods lost, irreparably damaged economies, and the worst migrant crisis the world has ever seen, which will be sure to impact even the wealthiest nations.
That is the stark reality that can only be avoided if and when all people come together as one to stand for climate justice.
As I made clear last month at the UNFCCC meeting of Caribbean leaders in Grenada, we will continue to call on our partners in the North to deliver on the commitment they made at COP15 to mobilise $100 million per annum in climate finance for the developed world. This is the bare minimum, and should only be the beginning of a real solution.
Resilience is costly, but it is even more costly to continue to do so little when so much is at stake.
Understandably, this is one of my major priorities as prime minister – a priority that I ask Rotary International to stand with the people of The Bahamas and Small Island Developing States throughout the world to demand that the world finally gets serious about climate change, before it is too late.
There could be no better forum than this action summit, which unites so many members guided by a common purpose, to take a stand for united action on our shared challenges and ambitions. Let us celebrate our differences, marry our efforts, and commit ourselves to service that uplifts, service that impacts, and service that liberates.