Tony Benbow OAM

Chairman, The Australian Lions Foundation

Conference Key Note Speech

We have had the audio converted to transcript for sharing.


Tony Benbow:                   00:04                     District governor, John, and conventioneers all. Firstly, thank you, governor John for the invitation to come back to a C-1 Convention, but as you can all see, we are there in spirit and on the screen only. Sue and I were certainly looking forward to being in South Australia this convention season, as we were invited to both C-1 and C-2 conventions, but the fact was that Victoria won’t let us out. And South Australia won’t let us in. So here we are making the best of it and coming to you in a virtual form for a change.

Tony Benbow:                   00:46                     It is disappointing as we have so many friends in -C1 and have been to conventions in the past and really enjoyed them. And again, we were looking forward to being with you. So I’m sorry that we can’t be there, but hopefully, we’ll catch up in the near future, but enjoy your time in Salisbury and I’m sure you’ll have a great convention. When thinking of what to say today, it does make it hard because you are there face to face and with people, and here am I looking at a screen and a microphone and talking to you and hoping that hopefully those listening and viewing won’t get too bored. This year when speaking at conventions, I’ve tried to have a consistent message and theme, looking back, looking at the present and looking forward.

Tony Benbow:                   01:45                     Now to begin, we look back over the past 18 months and that word still seems very, very relevant. And it stood out at the time, unprecedented. It’s been used by so many people, both in media, government and of course by Lions and we’ve all had differing experiences. I think for a Lion’s perspective, many of us, it has put our Lions involvement on hold or reduced what we normally would’ve been doing. Every state and territory in Australia has been affected and we’re still experiencing the impacts of COVID with restrictions now. And you know, here we are as a prime example of it between the two states. Restrictions have varied, of course, from state to state and from city to regional areas and we continue seeing this now at various extents across the country. It’s become a way of life, particularly here for us in Victoria, and quite often as we are being referred to lately, the lockdown state of Australia.

Tony Benbow:                   03:02                     But, we can take some positives out of all of this. And it’s given us an opportunity as Lions and groups to perhaps stand back, take stock of where we are as Lions and look at that at all club levels, community levels, district and beyond. I believe that over this time, has given us a really good chance to rekindle in a lot of the things that we do and look at, as we said, the different things that we do at all levels. We always need to review our focus, adapt to this changing environment that we are in and look to support not only our community that is around us, but particularly ourselves, our own members, at the club level. When saying about refocusing, you can look at it in several ways. And at the moment, it’s easier to reflect upon how we look at it, membership, leadership and service. And that’s really key to the way that we operate as an organization at club level and district level, and of course, those three areas connect to our global action team areas.

Tony Benbow:                   04:29                     We have all had different experiences over the past 18 months, but really in the true spirit of Lions that we are, we have bounced back. And in many areas, we are really now ready to get going again. And we’ve got a great amount of renewed enthusiasm. I get many comments from members all around Australia that they’ve missed the normal activities that we do, fundraising events, and even attending meetings for the fellowship that we always do enjoy. All these situations vary based on the community we live in and what impacts you have had during this time. Everyone has been different. One thing that hasn’t been missed out so much has been dealing with the business sides of things, and we’ve done that really well at all levels because we’ve used emails. We’ve used Zoom meetings. We’ve done phone calls. It really comes down to that finer point of what we’ve missed out is that face to face type association.

Tony Benbow:                   05:43                     Traveling to other areas and visiting clubs is another things that we’ve missed out on and joining in activities and adventure, which we all love to be involved in. Here we are this weekend, you are enjoying being together as a district, and that is so important, as well as the impact it has had on our Lions, we also need to look at the impact that there has been within the community. But, I’m sure that there are many cases there that we see out in the community, their need has increased as well, but we first need to look at home. Look at ourselves and members of the Lions family.

Tony Benbow:                   06:27                     We need to begin and look at our own membership, particularly at members at club level to make sure everybody is okay, ready to get back to where we left off from. Involvements have been very different in every area. And some members may have felt a little isolated. Communication has been difficult because not all can or have been able to adapt to the new ways. And this has left them a little less involved than they would normally have been. We still need to be aware of course, of our COVID restrictions and our members’ health and welfare must be at the forefront. Each member’s own situation needs to be treated with respect, and we need to be supportive in all of our ways. You know we use that catchphrase, kindness matters, and at this time, this means not just the community. We support them very well, but we also need look and support our own members.

Tony Benbow:                   07:42                     Getting back to having a healthy club membership must be a priority for all of us. From there, we can work out the best way back into areas of supporting our community. We all know that when we have strong memberships, clubs work better together, they’re supportive and we can do more to help others. Club operations have had to become flexible over the past year and many things that we did before COVID may have been regarded as traditions, may not have been possible at that time. And we’ve worked around it, but we do have to ask that question, has it caused us any issues? And really, I don’t think so.

Tony Benbow:                   08:34                     We’ve managed and we’ve still operated and we’ve done really well at doing that. We’ve adapted to the changing environment, which we have for probably so many years really been fighting a little bit against, but over this last period, we’ve had to adjust. We’ve had to do things differently and we have. We’ve done it really well. So don’t stop now. Let’s continue doing that. And perhaps continue to challenge the norm and improve what we all do. And that’s at club district, multiple district and even at the international level.

Tony Benbow:                   09:15                     When we know we’ve got all of this right, we can really begin showing the community out there that we are a forced to be reckoned there as a Lions organization. So what I’ve said, sort of leads into how we interact with the community. We know that over the past, many things have changed in communities, engagements have suffered because we haven’t been out there doing what we normally do, having our fundraising activities, just being in that community. But now with everything starting to open up again gives us a great opportunity to reconnect back with our community leaders, refresh those associations and check on the community needs that are there now and consider what each club can do.

Tony Benbow:                   10:16                     Check to see if the priorities in the areas that we operate have changed. I’m sure over the 18 months that have gone by, we will have seen some different things happening. And whether those things that were in place before we slowed down are still relevant today is something that we need to can to, to consider. And how do we go about it? Well, we really need to go back and ask. Ask those community leaders that we know, our local government areas, police, SCS, and friends of the club and ask them, what do they see the needs in the community today? Your own knowledge as club members on what’s been happening also is so important. And putting that all together gives us a much better picture of how we operate. Sometimes, a new focus for a club can rejuvenate the enthusiasm, and it’s good for all members, but you need to go out there and look to see what is needed.

Tony Benbow:                   11:29                     It is really important for us as Lions to be seen out there again in the community. It may be doing a small project or even a large one, having a fundraiser, or just even taking the time to set up a stall or a stand in a street or a shopping center somewhere. You know we have a Lions awareness day every year, and we celebrate that, but perhaps it’s time that we use every opportunity that we’re out there these days to actually be Lions awareness days and take the opportunity at every occasion, use the resources that are available to you to promote clubs at the local level. And also the involvement at what we do at district level and beyond. There are so many activities our organization is involved at the different levels and I’m sure that that will get the interest of members of community who may be passing by. Approach them, talk to them about what we are all about and what we are doing. Don’t wait for them to come to you. You go to them.

Tony Benbow:                   12:49                     Projects that have a direct local focus is what we will get the community back, interested in what we do. And it’s an opportunity for them to join in with us and get to see how we work and operate. Show them what Lions is all about and the enjoyment that we do have when we are working together and serving the community for their own benefit. Don’t push the hard sale on being a member first, involve them. Let them take the opportunity to see what you are about as a club and you see them. And I’m sure that they will get the enthusiasm by seeing what you do and membership sort of automatically follows on from there.

Tony Benbow:                   13:45                     Membership is our key and it is the key to service. Without members in our club, we can’t serve the community. We cannot provide the need to those out there and the assistance, well, we can’t meet those challenges. So really now is the time for us to really shine and grow and get out back there. Finally, leadership and leadership at all levels is so important. And Lions as an organization has so many ways to support club office [inaudible 00:14:27], cabinet members, and every Lion who has an interest. I’m sure that at the district level, there are so many opportunities that members can participate, join in and learn. And we’re always looking to give our new members that opportunity to progress in roles at club and district level.

Tony Benbow:                   14:52                     Succession planning is so important these days for all of us, at all levels and we need to work on that all the time, not just when it comes up to elections, and we start to think, “Oh, you know, who’s going to be the next president, the secretary, or the treasurer, or who’s going to be a director.” We need to be working on that all the time these days because the future of our Lions organization starts at the club level. Let’s give opportunities to everybody out there to take on something new or different. Our newer members have so much to offer coming in. We need to support them. We need to educate them, mentor them, and then watch them develop. Encourage those that have been in the job for a long time to maybe hand over and give others an opportunity to take on those roles. But the knowledge and skill of you as an individual is so valuable in supporting others and you will be better for it as well.

Tony Benbow:                   16:05                     So we as Lions have a lot to give, so allow everyone to give what they can. As members of the Lions family, perhaps this gives you something to think about and some actions to consider if you go back to your clubs and talk about what you’ve seen and heard over this convention this particular year. It will ensure the health, strength and bringing together the community in a strong way at the club level.

Tony Benbow:                   16:39                     One other aspect that I’d like to comment on today is about Lion’s club support of foundations and different organizations and projects. We’ve come to acknowledge and say always, look to support your local community and activities that will benefit the area in which you operate. For many and many clubs, that is their prime focus. When we look further from the local area in supporting other projects or foundations, it is really important to consider our Lions family projects first, because we know the integrity of what they do and how they deliver to the community in different ways.

Tony Benbow:                   17:29                     When you consider making your donations or your contributions, make sure you know where the donations go and what it will be used for. Be wary of donating into what we refer to as that big bucket. These are the general donations that go to a cause, and we really don’t have any control over the outcome of what we’ve donated.

Tony Benbow:                   17:59                     As we know, many organizations take a percentage of your donations as administrative costs. So the real value of that hard effort that you’ve put in in raising those funds, don’t really get realized. Lions projects on the other hand, and the foundations under the Lions banner, don’t do this. So your donation and your contribution that you make benefits in full. As we know, raising funds is always hard for all clubs. So spend wisely and where it counts. So district governor, John, and conventioneers, thank you for allowing me to speak to you virtually today. And I hope that I’ve given a few things to think about and maybe take back to the clubs or even consider at the district level. As Lions, please keep safe, keep healthy and be proud of that badge that we wear.

Tony Benbow:                   19:13                     Thank you all. And I hope the convention is a great one for you. And we look forward to the occasion when we can be together again, across the borders, but really take the time, enjoy the rest of your convention this year in Salisbury, Adelaide, and from Sue and I, we send you our best wishes to you all and cheers for now.