Welcome to Rotaract Talks, a podcast where we explore what makes a career worthwhile, how those who climbed to the very top made it there, and how you can make a difference to those around you.
A: Hello Taavi and thank you for being here tonight, I think we can start right away! First question, describe yourself a bit, who you are?, your career in Rotaract, local, national, international, how old are you?, where are you from?…everything about you!
T: My name is Taavi Wickman, I am 24 years old and I’m based in Stockholm, Sweden. I was born and raised in Canada, in British Columbia, in the West Coast, where I joined Interact at the age of 14. Actually, I joined Interact as the founding Secretary of the Interact Club of the L.V. Rogers High School in British Columbia, a Club that is still active, which I’m very proud of. I did RYLA in District 5080 (Washington, Idaho & British Columbia) and when I moved to Sweden in 2015, I went to my first Rotaract Meeting 2 weeks afterwards. This was in October of 2015, I became a member in January and I was elected to the board of the Rotaract Club in Stockholm in March; I started my term in July as International Representative. The Stockholm Club is about 15 years old, we’re not that old, actually, but we’re extremely active. Since then, I’ve held basically every position within the Club. The only positions I have not held, I believe, are Secretary and Treasurer. I’ve been Vice President, President, Past President, I learned how to plan and run projects… Last year I started, together with members of Rotary, the project ALEx Europe, which is currently run by Maria Vittoria Gargiulo, Social Officer of Rotaract Europe. This project is one of the Top 5 Projects in the Mediterranean area, which is fantastic. I’ve been District Representative twice, and right now I am the President of the Rotaract Sweden MDIO which is composed of the 10 Swedish Rotaract Districts. I’m currently also a delegate for the International Assembly, which I’ll attend in February. I’ve been extremely active in Rotary in the last decade. I think Rotary is a fantastic organization which is extremely valuable for skills development and networking. I feel that every student in the world should join Rotaract.
A: I’m very impressed! Let’s move on to the second question, what will be the podcast’s name, what inspired you to choose such a name and what do you want to talk about in this podcast?
T: When Covid started in January/February of last year, many Rotaract Clubs, including mine…we weren’t sure what was happening in the beginning, we were unsure of what was going on. By March, we decided that we needed to cancel our meetings. But, as the newly elected MDIO President, I felt that we needed to provide our members with some kind of added value for membership, a way to develop Rotaractors, and so we started to explore different avenues of service. What we landed on was to basically start bringing in the really good speakers you used to have at Rotary meetings, many of which are Rotarians themselves, sitting down with them over Zoom, recording a conversation and putting that up as a podcast, because that can both fill some of the gap we’re all currently experiencing and give Rotaractors that feeling you can only get with those inspiring discussions, of which you can talk about (it) with your Club afterwards; plus, it’s also a good marketing tool for Rotaract. As the name of the podcast, we could have chosen ‘Rotaract Conversations’ or ‘Rotaract Chats’ but, in the end, we decided to go on with ‘Rotaract Talks‘, it felt deeper than its alternatives. Many of the speakers that we brought in for the first few episodes had been speakers at Stockholm. The idea behind the podcast is to bring in Rotarians and other leaders in the public and private sector that either have inspiring stories or can share new ideas and tools for young people. One of our guests was Paul Ronge, Sweden’s leading media-related crisis manager, to talk about public scandals and how you get out of those; since Rotaractors are ambitious people, they might be going to end up in a scandal and we want them to know how to react.
It was the same when we brought in Anders Brännström, the former commander of the Swedish Army, to talk about how to make difficult decisions, because many Rotaractors will hold leadership positions in the future. Brännström is someone that has actually led the UN peacekeepers in combat as brigade’s commander of the international peace force in Kosovo in 2004. In two days I’m recording as well an interview with the former director of the Counterintelligence at the CIA, James M. Olson, to talk about the lessons he learned during these 3 decades, working as a counterspy, trying to counteract Cuban and Soviet and Stasi agencies. We’re going to talk about the importance of consistency and information. We feel like this is a great way for showing Rotaractors a new way forward, for showing them new tools and ideas, basically.
A: That’s very interesting! How many episodes have you aired and how long will this podcast last?
T: We have 14 episodes out right now and we absolutely have no intention of cancelling it as long as we can keep getting guests in. Furthermore, with the quality of guests we have, we don’t think there’s any threat of us needing to cancel the podcast in the future. We’re bringing in people that have been in the White House for negotiations with the KGB, the aforementioned James Olson; he was one of the top leaders of the CIA at the end of the Cold War. We brought in the best-selling author Robert H. Frank from Cornell University to speak about his economic theories, and we’re going to keep doing that. As long as we can keep booking interesting guests, which is a challenge for me and the other people active in this project, a challenge we’re succeeding with, we’re not going to cancel it anytime soon.
A: I see. I was told that there are episodes in both English and Spanish, why is that? I mean, I can understand English, but Spanish is definitely not a language of the same family of Swedish!
T: When we started ‘Rotaract Talks’ in March, we got a lot of really good responses from Rotaractors all around the world, we were told it is a fantastic project, we were asked “How are you guys doing this? What’s going on? Can we join in?”. Then, during the summer, my friend Carlos Montoya from the Club Juarez Paso del Norte, located in Ciudad Juarez, the border town of El Paso in Texas, told me that he wanted to participate. We sat down and talked about the possibility of having the ‘Rotaract Talks’ in different languages like, for example, Spanish. and I found that it was a really cool concept. We could bring in leaders within Rotary, Rotaract and also from outside the Rotary family. We could bring in current and former Heads of State, NGO leaders and entrepreneurs from Mexico, Spain, Honduras, Guatemala and so on. This was in the works since August and right now we have a team composed of people from Districts throughout North, Central and South America, working on the project, people from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela… We would also love to see more Spanish Rotaractors join in. We are hoping to get Spanish academic and civic leaders to join the podcast, that would be great. Our Spanish-speaking colleagues have actually landed an interview with Ernesto Kahan, an Argentine physician and poet who won the Nobel Peace Prize, to talk about his Nobel Prize and what he did to be rewarded with it. I think they’re doing really good work and I’m really proud of them. We will try to further expand the ‘Rotaract Talks’, we will try to have the podcast in German, in Italian, we want to make it grow in every possible language.
A: That’s great! By the way, where is it going to be aired? Somewhere in the web I suppose, maybe Facebook, Instagram… What’s going to be the platform of the ‘Rotaract Talks’?
T: As of today we are on Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Buzzsprout, Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts. We also have our own Facebook page and a website too. Being hosted by so many platforms is the best way to reach out new potential Rotaractors as well; we also want to provide a strong image of Rotaract, of what we can do and what we can deliver, with people just doing volunteering. Of course, we are not being paid for carrying on the project and we don’t bring in any money. We are trying to do that in the future, of course, through sponsorships and other, different kinds of system to be able to help Rotaract fundraisings. One other thing we’ve been doing is what we’ve called ‘Project Highlights‘. We have been in touch, to inspire Rotaractors, with Shelterbox and Mercy Ships, which are collaborating with Rotaract Europe right now, and with Clubs in Guatemala which are delivering food packages to poor families during this pandemic. We have a lot of different people working on Rotaract around the world and many of these projects can be copied or improved or joined by other Rotaractors. Part of our goal is to highlight those projects every now and then, once a month maybe, bring in those Rotaractors that are doing something fantastic around the world and give them an opportunity to share their projects on our platform. Currently we’re looking at the Rotaract Europe contest to see if we can manage to bring all of those Clubs that are in the Top 5 in each region on the podcast over the next year to highlight their projects.
A: Alright. Second to last question, when did the ‘Rotaract Talks’ start?
T: The project itself had its first step in March of 2020 and it first aired in June of 2020. In about 5 months there will be the first anniversary of the English edition of the ‘Rotaract Talks’, while its Spanish counterpart published its first episode a couple of weeks ago. If all goes well, we’ll try to build up teams in other languages.
A: I’m sure you’ll succeed and I also think it’s going to be fantastic. The interview is reaching its end, any last words for our readers?
T: The one thing I learned about Rotaract is this: if you got the members and the ambition you’re going to be able to do what you set out to do, if you reach enough people. There’s so much talent in Rotaract that you would probably find someone who can do basically whatever your goal is. Use the resources and get the help of the Rotarians in the network; that’s what we did with the ‘Rotaract Talks’, we started out with bringing in Rotarians and now we’re expanding outwards, bringing in people from outside the Rotary network. But still, it started with Rotarians and without them we wouldn’t have the success we are having, the ‘Rotaract Talks’ wouldn’t exist without Rotarians.
BY Andrea SERRANI