Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Buckhead Rotary Seeking New Sister Club Project in Guayaquil, Ecuador

Our club is working to identify an alternative to the project we had planned with our sister club in Ecuador during this, the first of our three-year relationship with the Guayaquil Rotary Club. The Rotary International Foundation initially rejected our proposal to help refurbish a burn unit in the city of Guayaquil's largest hospital. By the time the Foundation reversed its decision on appeal, the work was done.

Jack Hellriegel, our director overseeing International Service projects, delivered these remarks at Monday's meeting:
Members of our club who have been around awhile know about our Sister Club Projects, but to bring new members up to speed, the Sister Club Project is one of the significant charitable programs that our club engages in. Every three years, our club establishes a Sister Club relationship with an international Rotary Club partner for the purpose of executing humanitarian projects in their country. Our more recent Sister Club partnerships include one with the Tartu Toome Club in Estonia, where we assisted with their training village for disadvantaged young people. In Istanbul, Turkey, we helped provide computer equipment and training. In Fiji, we distributed over 6,000 maternity packs for new mothers. This year, we have chosen the Guayaquil, Ecuador Rotary Club as our next Sister Club partner, and I want to commend Nick Spates, who is doing yeoman's work in chairing our project with the Guayaquil Club. 
To bring you up to date, we and the Guayaquil Club identified our first project to provide equipment and training for the refurbishment of the burn unit at the Luis Vernaza Hospital in Guayaquil, the largest hospital in Ecuador. This is a great project, as serious electrical burns and burns from propane fires are unfortunately not uncommon in that city. 
As is our custom during the first year of the relationship, we sent a delegation to visit the host club (the second year, the host club sends a delegation to visit us here in Atlanta). Alex and Donna Smythe, Aadu and Kristi Allpere, John and Lucy Dykes, Dave and Susan Peterson, and Judy and I travelled to Ecuador to personally meet with the Guayaquil club members and to visit the Luis Vernaza hospital, the site of our project. We are fortunate in that our delegation visit established an excellent personal relationship with the members of the Guayaquil Club. 
Our progress along the way with this project was interrupted, however, as we became acquainted with the vicissitudes of working with the Rotary Foundation and an international partner. The first issue was the rejection by the Rotary Foundation of our project proposal, because in their opinion it did not meet their narrow definition of disease prevention, one of the six areas of Rotary's focus. We appealed the decision with significant help from our District, and we eventually got the decision reversed and the project approved. Unfortunately, it took the Rotary Foundation over two and a half months to change its decision in our favor. 
In the meantime, the hospital didn't just sit around, and they proceded with the refurbishment the burn unit and purchased all the equipment identified in our proposal. 
When our delegation toured the hospital, we found a completely refurbished burn unit, fully staffed and treating patients. This made our project proposal unnecessary, and we are now in the process of identifying an alternative project. I'm confident we are going to execute several worthwhile projects with the Guayaquil club. 
We look forward to the next two years to the visit of the Guayaquil group and the accomplishment of several worthwhile projects in Guayaquil.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Group Study Exchange Delegation Returns with New Awareness of Turmoil in Argentina

Michael Stimpert recently led four young professionals on a month-long trip to Argentina as part of Rotary's Group Study Exchange (GSE).

Here is his written summary of the trip:

Comments for the RCB Viewer
It was my pleasure to serve as the Team Leader for this year’s Group Study Exchange (GSE) program with Rotary District 4915 in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina. GSE has four main objectives: (1) provide an opportunity for young business people to become fully immersed in another culture, compare business methods, and learn to use another language in daily life situations; (2) improve the prospects for friendship and world peace through one-on-one contact; (3) provide Rotarians with an opportunity for international service; and (4) introduce young people to the purpose and power of Rotary.
Team members are selected by the District GSE Committee, which is chaired by Dave Peterson. They must be between 25 and 40 years of age, have demonstrated leadership skills, an interest in community service and development, and a track record of academic and professional success. This year’s team consisted of two men nominated by RCB, Saul Infante who is a consultant working for North Highland and Michael Liss who is a commercial banker with SunTrust Bank; as well as two women, Paige Pushkin who works for Literacy Action and Jane Reinberg who is a graphic designer and web page architect nominated by the Marietta and Dunwoody clubs respectively.
In preparation for the trip, the team met eight times for a total of 27 hours of classroom study of Spanish, preparation and practice of the presentations that we would make to Rotary Clubs in Argentina, and lectures on the history and current programs in Rotary and how GSE fits into the objectives of the organization. In addition, team members put in countless hours on their own sharpening their language skills and doing research on the history, culture, economics, and politics of the Argentine Republic.
District 4915 consists of most of Gran Buenos Aires less the capital city itself. In other words, it forms a semi-circle of suburbs around the capital about 60 miles long and 60 miles wide. The district consists of 77 clubs and about 1300 members, so the average club has 17 members. The largest club we visited had 25 members. Many of the clubs own the building in which they hold meetings and often rent the facility to individuals or other organizations for outside meetings or social events.
During our four weeks in Buenos Aires, we were hosted by Rotarians in their homes. Because of the relatively short distances between clubs we were only required to move three or four times, so we got to know our hosts quite well. Few of our hosts spoke English. Two of our team were quite proficient with Spanish, two were novices, and I have a fairly good command of basic Spanish but found deep discussions of politics and economics to be beyond my capabilities. This sometimes led to awkward moments, but we were always able to make ourselves understood in the end.
We were welcomed on the day of our arrival with a trip to a historically important village two hours from the airport where we toured a museum, got a history lesson, and then enjoyed an asado, the traditional gaucho barbeque. We quickly learned the generosity and friendliness of our hosts. I must also add that the Argentine food, featuring the local beef, is extraordinary. Even when prepared on a parilla (ordinary grill) or in an oven, the beef is unbelievably tender and flavorful. The Argentines claim that this is due to the fact that almost all of the cattle there are not fattened with grain and the quality of the grass in the Pampas is much better than in any other part of the world.
A typical day began early and closed with a dinner that began at 9 pm and ended at midnight. Most weekdays included a Rotary Club meeting at which we were both the guests of honor and the program. We had a 25 minute presentation in which all five of us gave a short PowerPoint assisted talk (in Spanish, of course) about ourselves and some aspect of life in Georgia. These meetings were always at night and included dinner with much wonderful Argentine wine.
Meetings during the day included visits with local political dignitaries, visits with business people, bankers, the stock exchange, sports stadiums, colleges, specialty schools, museums, cultural sites, government buildings, churches, and industrial parks. Weekends often included trips to the countryside for asados, horseback riding, conversation, and relaxation or boating on the River Plate.
We toured the Cámera de Diputados (their Congress) and met with one of the Representatives. We also toured the Casa Rosada, which is their White House. We met with the mayor of La Plata and were scheduled to meet with the mayor of Lomas de Zamora, but that meeting was cancelled due to a demonstration being held in the city hall. (Two other meetings were cancelled due to demonstrations which blocked roadways and made it impossible for us to reach our destination.)
The clubs showed off some of their projects which included a school for the deaf, a school for teaching Spanish as a Second Language to immigrants and indigenous peoples, a cancer treatment facility, and a clinic in a very low income area.
Living with Rotary host families was to be part of the cultural immersion we were to experience. At our second stop, Quilmes, there were not enough host volunteers which required that the three men share two bedrooms and one bath in a house that was occupied by its owner only late at night. We missed the opportunity to interact with a family and to be forced to use our Spanish. Without exception, our hosts were kind and generous with both their time and their homes. The exchanges that we had with these wonderful people were, without doubt, the highlight of our month in Argentina.
The things that surprised us the most were the constant and bitter remarks about the current government and its programs which were viewed as completely controlled by the trade unions and extremely anti-business, the incredible amount of graffiti on almost every building, the constant fear of crime which caused everyone to fortify their homes and use extreme caution at night, and amazingly aggressive driving which terrified all of us.
All of us left Argentina with a sense of satisfaction that we had learned a great deal about the country and its citizens and had fulfilled our role as ambassadors for Georgia and the United States. We all improved our ability to communicate in Spanish, gained respect for what Rotary does in so many places, and had an opportunity to both teach and learn from others in our fields of work. 
- Michael Stimpert

Monday, December 13, 2010

Outgoing AJC editor says balance and transparency are keys to viability of newspapers

Julia Wallace says the all-free content model of the won't last. She says an upcoming iPad app will require a subscription and provide a print-like experience. She says the AJC will roll out a "whole portfolio of digital offerings over next year or so."


Speaking to the Rotary Club of Buckhead, Wallace, who Cox Enterprises this week promoted to a new position in Ohio, talks about her eight years as editor of the AJC, and how shedding its liberal image and becoming more transparent is helping it survive in the Internet era.

"You know when you're buying the AJC, you're getting people who have been trained in those principles and believe in those principles," Wallace says. "What separates us from the blogger who you don't know what his motivation is, is ultimately this issue, and so we have got to get it right."

Wallace says in the past six months, the number of print subscribers to the AJC has gone up for the first time in years.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Oxending, running for governor, says Perdue too cautious

Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine thinks Gov. Sonny Perdue has done a "very good" job in office but has been a little too cautious in his approach.
Oxendine, speaking to the Buckhead Rotary Club, also called MARTA "a flop" and said he was frustrated that the General Assembly failed to pass tax reform legislation this year or do anything to relieve traffic congestion in Georgia.


Oxendine, who is a candidate to succeed Perdue as governor in 2010, said Perdue's style is in sharp contrast to the man he defeated, former Gov. Roy Barnes, who was "overly aggressive," and made a lot of political enemies. He said Perdue apparently didn't want to make the same mistakes Barnes did.
"I think that's a logical human trait that someone would have, and I think he errs on the side of being too cautious sometimes," Oxendine said.
Oxendine, noting his birthday arrived recently, said like many Georgians he celebrated by paying ad valorem tax on three vehicles he owns.
"We've got to have some meaningful and serious tax reform," said Oxendine, who blamed political infighting in the state house and senate for dooming "several good ideas" for tax reform.
"Not as a public official but as a taxpayer, I was frustrated because I felt like we had been promised tax reform, and it didn't pass," he said.
Another big failure in the legislature was transportation, said Oxendine, who also blasted MARTA as simplistic and ineffective.
"MARTA's a flop because MARTA assumes everybody in the suburbs wants to go straight to downtown Atlanta to jobs at Five Points. How many jobs are there in Five Points?," Oxendine said.
People from Gwinnett County want to go to Alpharetta and Marietta, and MARTA can't get them there, he said. In contrast, mass transit systems in Washington, D.C., Chicago and San Francisco work, he said.
"They're confusing for a tourist, because they've got the red line and the green line and the blue line and the yellow line. But you know what, those lines will take you where you want to go."
Oxendine said MARTA fails in the task of easing traffic congestion on the roads.
"So many of the people who are riding MARTA are people who would be riding buses," he said.
"Well, the idea of a train system isn't to get bus people off the road, it's to get people who would be driving cars off the road."
"We've got to find a way to have efficient public transportation," he added.
Oxendine spoke about his belief that government should serve the people, which is why he keeps his office open until 7 p.m., while other state offices close at 4:30 p.m. He mocked several he said lock their doors at 3:30 p.m. so they can serve all the customers in line by 4:30.
He said his office helps Georgia consumers collect $22 million to $23 million a year in benefits from insurers by intervening or mediating on their behalf.
People in his office answer their phones rather than letting automated systems do it, he said.
"You know what's so cool about having a live person answer the phone? You never have to push "1" to get English," Oxendine said.
The candidate for governor also spoke about the 2008 presidential race. He said the fact that the Republicans chose an unlikely nominee in John McCain and the Democrats are likely to pick an unlikely candidate in Barack Obama indicates that Americans are looking for something different in their leaders.
He encouraged Georgians to vote and be active in politics, or their neighbors' view of the future would come to pass, rather than their own.
"Think about it," he said. "Look at some of your neighbors. That can be a little scary."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

U.S. slow to adopt international accounting standards

A roiling real estate market. Changing regulation. New international accounting standards. How does Deloitte & Touche maintain its position as Atlanta’s largest professional service firm? Ed Heys, Atlanta Deputy Managing Partner, says it’s about hiring and retaining good talent. D&T hires about 350-400 people per year in Atlanta alone. Critical to retention is satisfying young workers’ desire to donate time and money to charity. Hence D&T’s emphasis on giving both money and intellectual capital to the United Way, Boys & Girls Club, and many others.


D&T maintains this focus while managing the adoption of new International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and their heavier emphasis on guiding principles instead of hard and fast rules. Heys says the U.S. has resisted moving to the new standards and is now playing catch up.

“We’re going to have to go through a process of becoming experts on a new set of standards,” Heys says, predicting most major U.S. firms will adopt the standards by 2011.

Heys says accounting audits are taking more time, specifically due to the complexity of how to value certain assets such as real estate during this tumultuous market.

Friday, March 28, 2008

HA8 descrimination? Call the Anti-Defamation League

Imagine a license plate that begins HA8, or hate. Hate this, hate that.

In this week's podcast, Bill Nigut, southeast director of the Anti-defamation league, says those plates are very popular. He became aware of them after The Department of Revenue issued the plate "HA8 JWZ," interpreted as "Hate Jews." In fact, it was an accident (HA stands for "hobby auto," a special designation for classic cars, and the rest was pure chance), but Nigut's group convinced the department to remove the HA8 sequence. Still, Nigut says the department told him that intentionally created HA8 vanity plates are all the rage, reflecting the increasing nastiness of our political and social discourse.
Nigut is on a mission now, having left his job as a TV political reporter, and then a second thriving career in the arts. He's recruiting allies against what he says is hate speech pervading our society.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Oil interruption could send Georgia into recession

An energy shock could trigger a recession in Georgia, and the U.S. has no serious energy policy to prevent it, says Robert Sumichrast, Dean of UGA's Terry College of Business. Speaking to Buckhead Rotary, Sumichrast delivered predictions based on research by the college's Selig Center for Economic Growth.

Sumichrast says the risk of recession is imminent, and the greatest risk is in the first half of this year. The Selig Center puts the chances of a national recession at 80%, and says we may already be in it.


Georgia, however, could escape the recession if we avoid "recession triggers" of housing, oil and continuing drought, which could put the state's economy "past the tipping point." Without those triggers, the center predicts Georgia's GDP will expand by about 2.0% in 2008.

Sumichrast doesn't see housing as the greatest threat here as in California, Florida and Washington D.C., where home prices got out of hand. The drought is a bigger threat, but the biggest is the potential from an oil supply interruption.

Sumichrast says Georgia's heavy reliance on transportation-based industry makes it especially exposed to an energy crunch.

"If a refinery breaks down, if a storm rips through the gulf again and knocks out platforms, or if a war breaks out, you can think of a lot of scenarious where we could have a supply interruption," he says. "That's what I'm more worried about."