By Ligia Corredor, member of the Rotary Club of Miramar Pines, Florida (United States)
Project fairs are amazing events where Rotary and Rotaract members from different clubs and districts come together to share ideas, collaborate on projects, and learn from each other. They are a fantastic way to meet potential project partners while building trusting friendships, expanding your network, and making a bigger impact on the world.
I’ve attended over 25 project fairs in Central America and Colombia and have benefited from them in many ways. I’ve learned about new projects and initiatives, met new friends and colleagues, and built strong relationships with Rotarians from all over the world.
Here are just a few of the benefits of attending project fairs:
Expand your network and make friends overseas. Attending a project fair can lead to new friendships, partnerships, travel opportunities, and so much more. I have made many personal friends as a direct result of my project fair attendance. I have expanded my network of international partners, and, in the process, joined a family of Rotarians that trust each other as friends and project partners. Our friendship lets us continue collaborating with each other. I look forward to each project fair as an opportunity to visit with new and old friends, build new relationships, and continue strengthening previous relationships and partnerships.
At my first project fair, I met Salvadorians Lissette de Castro and Ovidio Hernández from Rotary Club of San Salvador Cuscatlan. Ever since, we have not only worked together and visited each other as friends, but I had the opportunity to work with them on service project trips. I still visit them in El Salvador every year when I go to the Uniendo America Project Fair. Also, on one of my earliest project fair trips in Costa Rica, I met Rotarian Bruce Higgs from the Gananoque Club in Canada. After we met, I joined a project he was part of in David, Panama. Our clubs proceeded to have a global grant together the following year, and ever since we have been family friends. I visit him and his wife almost every summer. Since then, we have worked together on at least eight global grants.
Collaborate on projects and find new partners. One of the most valuable things I have gained from participating in project fairs is the opportunity to work with other Rotarians and Rotaractors on projects. Project fairs are a great place to find new partners and collaborate on projects that are too large or complex for one club or district to undertake alone. I usually travel to project fairs with 12 to 14 fellow Rotarians from three to four districts. We travel before and after the fair to visit nearby projects and talk with the recipients of the community projects. One of our most successful collaborations was a post-project fair stop at the Buga Foundation Hospital in Colombia. We had the opportunity to see firsthand the pediatric needs of premature babies struggling to survive. Since then, we have funded and received approval for four global grants sponsored by the Rotary Club of Gananoque (Canada) and supported by five other clubs, including my own. Newborn mortality has dropped by 60 percent. Mothers now receive prenatal care at the hospital and don’t have to travel hours to another hospital. By working together, we have been able to achieve more than we could have on our own.
Learn about the issues clubs in the host region are addressing. This can inspire ideas about new projects and initiatives that your club or district might wish to support. After attending a project fair, many of us, international participants, get together and share thoughts about which projects we like. We consult our budgets, discuss with whom we will work, where, and what projects we can support, and who will be the international host. We are normally able to get global grant funds and be approved within six months. Also, learning about how other clubs work with their communities to drive positive change can help you think of creative approaches to addressing similar issues at home.
Gain new cultural perspectives. Project fairs are a great way to meet people from different cultures and ways of life. You’ll broaden your horizons and develop a deeper understanding of the world around you. And you’ll learn how your international counterparts prefer to communicate, how they make decisions, and better understand their project timelines. The opportunity to experience and better understand one another’s culture, preferences, and approach to making decisions will lay the foundation for a stronger project collaboration.
I encourage all Rotary members interested in international service to attend one of the upcoming project fairs. They are a valuable opportunity to learn, grow, and make a difference in the world. District grants can be used to support travel and participation in them to help districts identify international project partners. Confirm with your district Foundation committee whether your district permits District Designated Funds to be used to support participation in a project fair.
I look forward to seeing you at a project fair soon!