Category Archives: Rotary

Seven nights in Lisbon, Portugal

2013-06-19 22.28.07
Welcome sign on arrival at Lisbon International Airport today

First time in Portugal! I’m in the capital city of Lisbon for seven nights to attend and present at Rotary International‘s annual Convention and Water Summit. I’ve got some fun touristy stuff in mind too, and plan to give a good shake of the dust off my Portuguese. Lisbon is an Atlantic coastal city with a population of about 3 million, lots of seafood restaurants, a rich history and culture to explore, brisk night time air, and some beautiful beaches within a few hours’ bus ride.

The Rotary Convention is a five-day event held in a different city every year that brings 25,000 Rotarians together from all over the world to celebrate continuing Rotary fellowship, the global activities of Rotary over the previous 12 months and give a big warm welcome to the incoming leadership. This is my first Convention and I’m very excited about that! I’ve been told to expect a range of activities including many meals, drinks, cultural visits, presentations and meetings. I’m hoping to see some of the Rotarians I’ve met or worked with over the last three years and others with whom I’ve formed the  bonds of friendship. There will be Rotary Peace Fellowship gatherings at which I will get to met Fellows from some of Rotary’s six other Peace Centers. Also excited to see my world traveler friend and water work mentor Sir Henk Holtslag.

The Convention will include many discussions of Rotary’s work to end polio and invest in water and sanitation, and its other core focus areas. Rotary invited me here to present on household water quality at their Water Summit, and to host an exhibition booth for The Water Institute at UNC, a supporter of the Summit. The Water Institute is based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is dedicated to providing leadership on issues related to the world’s water crisis.

Of course, I always take advantage of my work-related travel to try and see a bit of the cities and countries I visit. :-) On the plane over from Frankfurt to Lisbon, the airline’s in-flight read had a few good suggestions. Here’s some of what I plan to visit and do while I’m here:

Parque Florestal de Monsanto (Monsanto Forest), the “lungs” of Lisbon
– Casa de (Home of) Fernando Pessoa, a famous Portuguese poet (inspired by Angelica Vargas)
– Praia do Norte (North Beach) near Nazare, known for some of the biggest waves in the world
– Drink Port wine, eat fried cuttlefish, and enjoy some fado – a traditional type of music
– Museu da Agua (the Water Museum), a tour of the city’s underground waterways – cool!

Being here gives me the opportunity to brush up on my language skills and kindles fond memories of my visits to other parts of the Portuguese-speaking world: Brazil, Macau, and Mozambique. My visit to Brazil in 2001 was my first trip outside of North America and was one of the sparks for my love of language and travel that consumes me today.

Check back here soon for updates on some of of the work I am doing and the fun I am having!

Deep into water, in Rotary Canada magazine

This article was originally published in Rotary Canada, the quarterly supplement to Rotary International’s monthly Rotarian magazine. Click to visit the original article. Republished here with permission.

Ryan Rowe in Kenya | Photo by Anne-Marie Di Lullo/Tabasamu Education Fund

Deep into water
by Paul Engleman
Rotary Canada — October 2012

As a child growing up in Montreal, Ryan Rowe resented his parents’ requirement that he learn a second language. “I hated having 
to learn French,” says the 2010-12 Rotary Peace Fellow, who earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May, along with a certificate in peace and conflict resolution. “I never expected that I would come to love learning new languages.”

Rowe, 34, now speaks Spanish and Portuguese in addition to English and French, and he’s recently taken up Mandarin Chinese. Learning new languages is something Rowe does as a hobby. His official line of work – the stuff he’s really serious about – is 
water and sanitation. That was his specialty at UNC, where he studied at the internationally acclaimed Water Institute. Today he is a part-time communications officer at the institute and quenches his thirst for volunteer opportunities on water projects in Africa, with Rotary and other organizations.

“A lot of people think the water crisis is just too daunting,” he says. “I believe if we work together and remain committed to investing our energy, our skills, and our money, we can have a positive impact.”

To hear Rowe tell it, that blend of optimism and determination has been part of his outlook at least since college. While an undergraduate at Concordia University in Montreal, Rowe took a semester off and travelled by bus through Mexico and Central America, immersing himself in the language and cultures to prepare for an exchange program in Colombia, where he took most of his courses in Spanish.

That bus trip, he says, is what opened his eyes to the impoverished conditions that many people face. “But instead of seeing poverty,” he says, “I saw opportunity. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial quality, and I saw how the issues of poverty related to lack of infrastructure.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in commerce and finance, Rowe pursued an international master’s in strategic management at York University in Toronto. He studied in Brazil, taking a third of his courses in Portuguese and conducting an independent-study project on private-sector investment in water infrastructure in Latin America.

Rowe recalls that during his childhood, he heard tales of world travel and service projects from an aunt and uncle who are Rotarians in Ottawa. “But I wasn’t clued in to Rotary’s impact on the world,” he says. That changed in 2009, when he was living in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and working in infrastructure development for the Australian investment bank Macquarie Group. While doing volunteer work, Rowe learned about the Rotary Peace Centers program and saw an opportunity to help address water issues with some of the world’s best experts.

“The public health program at UNC is fantastic. This is an amazing partnership for Rotary,” he says. “Applying to the Rotary Peace Centers program was the best decision I ever made.”

In June, just four weeks after completing his fellowship, Rowe packed up his laptop, strapped on a backpack, and set off on his latest adventure: a six-month working tour of Africa that began with stops in Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique, where he spoke at a conference sponsored by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. He plans to visit Nairobi, Kenya, where he serves on the board of trustees of the Tabasamu Education Fund, a nonprofit that provides funding to help children stay in school.

While Rowe continues his work for the Water Institute, 
his goal is to create a social investment fund to provide sustainable financing for infrastructure and development projects that improve the health and welfare of people in vulnerable areas.

He also expects that his career path will lead to collaborations with other peace fellows. “We’re all in the same army,” he says. “I’m following my passion, and I think that may be the most important thing a human being can do to be successful. I thank Rotary for enabling me to do that.”

Presentation to Rotary Club of Nairobi East

Click this image to download my presentation and speaking notes in PDF format (2.4MB)

The Rotary Club of Nairobi East recently invited me to give a presentation to their club on my Peace Fellowship experience and work in the water sector.

By way of background, the Peace Fellowship is a generous scholarship program funded by the Rotary Foundation. Every year the Foundation chooses 60 mid-career professionals from around the globe to undertake postgrad study in a chosen field (whether economics, education, journalism, law, or in my case – public health) at selected universities in different countries. These studies must also focus on how we can make a constructive contribution to peace.

For my Fellowship, I chose to undertake a Master of Public Health at the University of North Carolina. In my presentations to Rotary Clubs I talk about this experience and share some of what I learned about increasing access to safe water for vulnerable populations such as people living with HIV, orphans and vulnerable children, pregnant mothers and people displaced by conflict or natural disasters. If time permits, I also give a demonstration of water purification methods.

My presentation focused on three key points (you can download the slides here). Firstly, although access to improved and safer sources of water is increasing worldwide, it is not reaching those who need it most, such as those who live in rural areas or who are living on extremely low incomes; secondly, home-based treatment and safe storage of drinking water are proven public health interventions (and a component of many Rotary water projects) which address this problem but there is a still huge unmet need; and finally, clean water is not just important for health but can also contribute to the broader social and economic progress of communities (and ultimately increased peace) which is why water is one of Rotary’s six core areas of focus.

Lunch with Rotary Club of Lilongwe

I had lunch and a meet and greet today with the Rotary Club of Lilongwe (District 9210) at the generous invitation of Rotarian Stellah. It was my first experience linking with Rotarians since I arrived in Malawi and I was glad to be able to finally make contact. As a Peace Fellow alumnus, I try to meet frequently with Rotarians and Rotary Clubs to share the importance of the Peace program and its contribution to Rotary’s mission of furthering world understanding and peace. I was given the floor to say a few brief words. Thanks Stellah! :)

The club meets on Tuesdays at noon in a hall behind the Sunbird Capital Hotel for a delicious all you can eat buffet. The club has over 70 members and is a very vibrant group, with several younger members helping to inject some fresh momentum (two of which are shown in the photo below). The Club has two important rules: 1) Do not be late; and 2) Do not use your cellphone during the meeting. If these rules are broken they carry a stiff financial penalty!

Today, the Club was quite excited about an eye clinic they have organised in collaboration with Korean eye doctors, Rotary International and a local hospital. And from what I have read on the web, the Club is also supporting water projects around the country – this is no surprise, Rotary Clubs and Rotary International support thousands of water projects globally. If you are a resident of Lilongwe community interested in giving back to the community as well as meeting other like-minded professionals, this may be an option for you. Check out their new facebook page.

With Rotarians Antonette and Stellah from the Rotary Club of Lilongwe

Presentation to Rotary Club of Montreal-Lakeshore

Click this image to download my presentation and speaking notes in PDF format (2.4MB)

Today I gave a talk at the Rotary Club of Montreal-Lakeshore about my experience as Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This particular Rotary Club supported me from the early days of the application process for the Fellowship program and is my “Sponsor Club” within District 7040 which covers parts of Quebec, Ontario, and the state of New York. Grateful to Bill Hodges, my “Sponsor Rotarian” for individually supporting my efforts from the very beginning with emails of sincere interest, encouragement and advice. Prior to starting my studies in August 2010, I visited the club to update them on my plans. On this return visit, I shared with them the work I had done, the connections I have built with Rotary and my plans for the future. I connected with several audience members in regards to their own work and we shared some experiences. As a gesture of thanks for my visit they gave me a really nice and sturdy Rotary water bottle as a travel accessory. What a practical gift! I am always so amazed at how generous Rotarians are and can’t wait to see what the future holds in terms of our collaboration. As is the Club’s usual custom, they also summarised my presentation in their weekly newsletter, which you can download a copy of here. Some inaccuracies in the text have been corrected.

The visit was also special because my mom joined for the presentation. I hadn’t yet had an opportunity to really share with her some of the finer details of my work in water. It was lovely to have her in the audience listening.

With Rotary Club President 2011-2012 Maureen Cantrill and Rotarian Jennifer Neville Belvedere

Canadian Expat Network: Ryan Rowe, Making a Difference

The Canadian Expat Network, an online resource for Canadians living abroad, expressed interest in hearing more about my activities in the water sector. This is the first article in a three-part series and was published online at in May 2012. Photos are my own.

Canadian Expat Ryan Rowe, Making a Difference

By Ryan Rowe, MBA, MPH

WHO/UNICEF International Network on Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage
Based at the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

I took a deep breath and jumped over the gutter of raw sewage. Landing on the other side, my foot splashed down into a puddle, spraying my shoes and ankles. I grimaced and wiped the sweat from my forehead. The smell of an open fire, rubbish, and human waste permeated the air and burned my nostrils. Kelvin, the six year old boy taking me to his home, ran ahead like an eager rabbit, bounding through a minefield of more foul ditches. I tried my best to keep up with this adventurous and fearless child but within seconds lost sight of him. Stopping, I glanced around, unsure where to go or what to do. Locals stared at me as I stood there, clearly out of place. Schoolchildren walking by looked at me with big smiles and cried “Mzungu! Mzungu! How are you?”

Like many of the world’s urban slums, the community of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya has little to no water and sanitation infrastructure, at least not the type that you and I are used to. The United Nations estimates about 800 million people lack access to clean drinking water and nearly 3 billion do not have adequate toilet systems. In these settings, people frequently get sick from dirty water and without a functioning toilet the environment is further contaminated, a vicious cycle.

On my first visit to Kibera in 2009, I learned about Carolina for Kibera (CFK), an award-winning non-profit which works on health, education, and entrepreneurship initiatives. The organization is run by local leaders and supported by faculty and students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill through research and fundraising efforts. CFK invited me to participate in their community clean-up program, during which local youth clean out Kibera’s clogged and makeshift sewage trenches (see photo inset) in exchange for points to play football, a very popular sport in Kenya. More importantly, the program improves living conditions and teaches young people how to work and play together. Unemployment is as high as 40% in Kibera and many children cannot afford to go to school, so the program provides kids the opportunity to develop leadership skills and the confidence to pursue their hopes and dreams in the face of such challenges.

The practical impact of UNC’s work in health and development is one reason why it is a global leader in the field of public health. And amazingly, I was lucky enough to win a fully funded Rotary Peace Fellowship to pursue a two year master’s degree at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. My activities here have focused on behavioural and policy solutions to the water and sanitation problems faced by communities like Kibera. Early in my degree, I took a part-time research position with UNC’s Water Institute, allowing me to work closely with WHO, UNICEF, and experts from all over the world. My main area of focus is on improving the quality of drinking water, so as to reduce diarrhoea in young children and save lives. One way to do this is to treat drinking water at the point-of-use or household level, using methods such as ceramic or sand filtration, solar disinfection, or chlorination. Such methods are particularly important in schools, clinics, and the homes of the sick, poor, or distressed, as these are the people who bear the burden of disease.

For a young child, diarrhea can be lethal, especially when it’s persistent, lasting for weeks at a time. It leads to dehydration as their bodies fail to absorb essential nutrients needed for their development and growth. Constantly thirsty, they have no choice but to turn once again to a contaminated water supply which perpetuates sickness. It doesn’t take long before children become malnourished — they become subject to frequent infections, and the development of their bodies and brains is impaired. Without remedial treatment, they will be permanently affected, and in the most serious cases die. About 1.5 million children globally die every year from preventable diarrheal diseases.

Halfway through my studies, in the summer of 2011, CFK and local residents welcomed me back to Kibera, giving me the opportunity to learn more about point-of-use and household water treatment in practice. In my next write-up, I’ll share with you a bit more about my work there and what I learned. In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with any questions at or visit

Ryan Rowe is originally from Montreal, Canada and he has lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina since August 2010. Previously he was an investment banker in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, raising 600 million US dollars for infrastructure projects in the Middle East and North Africa. He now works regularly with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Rotary International on finding solutions to the world’s water problems and speaks about his work at public and private engagements. Ryan obtained his MBA from the Schulich School of Business in Toronto in 2006 and his MPH from UNC Chapel Hill in 2012. He plans to return to Kibera in July 2012 to continue his work with the community.