As the International President for 2007 – 2008 of one of the world’s biggest NGOs, Lions Club International, Lion Mahendra Amarasuriya brought a singular honour to Sri Lanka as the first Sri Lankan to hold such an internationally recognized position.
During his leadership year, accompanied by his Lion Lady Kushlani, he was able to instill new thinking and a new sense of direction to the Lions worldwide. In a display of his strong leadership ability and a commitment to innovative thinking, Lion Amarasuriya introduced a novel programs titled “Challenge to Change” to the Lions, spread across 202 countries.
Given his background of steering some of Sri Lanka’s strongest blue chips towards success, Lion Amarasuriya’s concept of change resonated well with the current phase of thinking globally. Lion Amarasuriya strove to “re-brand” Lionism to be more relevant to the 21st century. He also stressed on inclusion of young people in the clubs “they are the future and the torch bearers of the Lions Club in the years to come” he noted.
From small beginnings in 1917 in Chicago, USA with the inspiration of Melvin Jones, its founder, Lions experienced a tremendous growth in the 20st century. In 1995, the global membership stood at 1.425 million.
From small beginnings in 1917 in Chicago, USA with the inspiration of Melvin Jones, its founder, Lions experienced a tremendous growth in the 20st century. In 1995, the global membership stood at 1.425 million. Although the leadership envisioned further growth to over 1.5 million, such an increase in membership did not re-place, with 2003-2004 being exceptions, the other years saw a decline
Although the leadership envisioned further growth to over 1.5 million, such an increase in membership did not re-place, with 2003-2004 being exceptions, the other years saw a decline.
It stood at 1,292,000 when Mahendra Amarasuriya took over the mantle of leadership in 2007. Under the slogan “Challenge to Change”, Lion Amarasuriya’s innovative proposals began to take effect across the world, among the Lions.
He encouraged the Lions to include new technology – use of e mails and internet and web based communication were actively encouraged. He also promoted Internet clubs and a special effort to bring in women into membership.
Women were first admitted to Lions Clubs in 1987. Under “Challenge to Change,” Lion Amarasuriya recommended that new clubs include one third women and one third young people in the membership. He also encouraged the Lions to plan and execute projects on a well planned basis rather than going into ad-hoc projects, thus enhancing the visibility and the success of the project.
Under the Core Programs, a list of challenges that needed to be achieved were included in the “Challenge to Change” program. Starting with a challenge to re-brand the Lions Clubs in order to bring them into alignment with the needs of the 21st century, the list covered many other aspects such as attracting a young membership.
A challenge to grow in terms of being a quality Lion and a challenge towards developing quality leadership, able to understand the dynamics of the 21st century, were among other goals.
Stressing on the need for sustainable projects, he encouraged a three year cycle and long term planning processes in order to ensure sustainable growth. He initiated a global team which he called the “20K team” which spear-headed the membership development programmes with a target of achieving a net group of 20,000 members. He targeted specific growth in membership in different regions – from the USA and Canada to Central and South America, The Caribbean, Europe, The Fast East, Australia, New Zealand and India, South Asia, Africa and Middle East region, known as ISAAME constitutional area.
During his leadership, Lion Amarasuriya visited over 50 countries, participating in various projects. Having instituted changes at a global level, he also made recommendations to clubs to initiate change at a local level. He required the clubs to have short interesting meetings on a novel platform – including music and karaoke. There would be better involvement and participation, it was envisaged, with such innovative changes.
With a target of achieving, 1,250 new clubs, under Amarasuriya’s leadership, an overwhelming response was seen in the formation of 1,718 clubs, a first ever in the history of Lionism the world over.
The challenge to include at least 25-30% membership of 40 years of less and to include a 25-30% women in the new clubs formed, saw the infusion of new blood into the clubs at the end of the year, a net growth of 15,800 members were achieved, a record in recent times.
A challenge to enhance the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) by increasing the number of Melvin Jones Fellowships to 350,000 was also planned. A donation of Us $ 1,000 to the LCIF recognises a Lion as a Melvin Jones Fellow and “Challenge to Change”, there was a rapid increase in Melvin Jones Fellowships thereby enhancing the ability of LCIF to fund projects in all parts of the world.
Challenge to Change also stressed on the flag ship project of the Lions worldwide, Sight First. Inspired by the famous Helen Keller to become the Knights of the Blind, back in the twenties, the Lions Sight First programmes worldwide have its thousands of lamps for those living in darkness.
The Challenge to Change plan included a challenge to raise Sight First funding to US $ 150 million a stretch target of US $ 200 million, a three year fund raising campaign which was successfully completed in 2007/08, during Lion Amarasuriya’s tenure as Lions International President, which brought in great honour to Sri Lanka.
Challenge to Change also included a “Challenge” to revive and develop the Leo Movement which is targeted at the youth, to achieve its maximum potential. In addition, a ‘Challenge’ to expand the Lions Quest Programme, a world renouncing youth development programme, to be extended to 50 countries, was also achieved.
Challenge to re-engineer the Lions PR effort globally was also focused, giving a fresh new commentum to the brand of Lionism. It also targeted bringing Lionism in line with modern thinking and innovation.
In all aspects, “the Challenge to Change” was indeed able to usher in fresh thinking into Lionism worldwide, motivating the Lions to reach new horizons, with fresh insights and opportunities. Challenge to Change inspired Lions to embrace change with a level of dynamism and motivation not achieved during the recent history of global Lionism.