Jay Copp 2017-07-19 16:22:50
As a new Lion in a small village in India nearly a half century ago, Naresh Aggarwal dreamt of leading Lions Clubs International. Now he dreams of taking Lions toward an unprecedented service plateau. Ask a dozen or so people who are close to Lions’ new international president to describe him and the same words keep popping up. According to his wife, three children, fellow Lions and business associates, Naresh Aggarwal is compassionate, energetic and driven. And he’s fond of singing. Without prompting, Aggarwal will break into song. In high school he was celebrated for his singing ability. But he’s not a professional or practicing for a gig. He just likes to sing, a habit indicative of his being at peace with himself and his life’s chosen path. Yet aside from all that there’s no denying Aggarwal’s basic groundedness, his rootedness in practicality. That surely comes from a lifetime of entrepreneurial success, from working at and growing the family foundry as a young man and then building a railroad switching system business and a rice processing enterprise. You can’t develop businesses in India or anywhere else without paying attention to details, grappling with hard facts and clearing the way to achieve objectives. So when Lions in India wanted to help children succeed in school, indeed, to come to school regularly, Aggarwal and other Lions leaders in India knew in their gut that what was or wasn’t in the stomachs of students was key. “So if your stomach is full, your brain works better,” asserts Aggarwal with a warm smile. More than 25,000 schoolchildren now receive meals thanks to Lions and a partner. The 64-year-old Aggarwal, a Lion for 43 years, took the oath of office as our 101st international president on July 4 in Chicago at the 100th International Convention, and it’s clear his presidency will be free of any dreamy ideals and instead rooted in meticulous planning. Service comes from the heart. But the precision of mathematics can help channel the impulse to serve. “If our 1.4 million members give one hour of service a week, that gives us 73 million man hours of service,” says Aggarwal, convinced Lions can reach our goal of serving 200 million people annually by 2021. A Life of Service Aggarwal was born in Batala in northern India, a small town with its share of wrenching poverty. A Rotarian, his father also quietly pursued a personal charitable agenda. He made sure shopkeepers would provide food to those in need but too proud to ask for help. “I learned from my father not only that earning [a living] is important but that giving is equally important,” he says. As a teenager, Aggarwal became the charter president of a Rotaract club, similar to a Leo club, and also was elected as a leader of an important school group. His take-charge persona, self-confidence and respect for others made him a natural for leadership roles. The Batala Lions Club chartered when he was 21, and despite his youth he was selected to be vice president. He knew from the start that he wanted to climb the ladder to the very top. It was not a matter of ego; it was about a golden chance to change the world for the better. “Ever since I joined Lions club I dreamed to head the organization,” he recalls. “I saw this big opportunity in front of me. When I joined, that really made me understand I can make a difference. Together Lions can make a difference to make a city a better place, the country a better place and, as Lions of the world, the world a better place.” His Batala club has been an active one, providing vision care including cataract surgeries, a mobile medical unit and a sewing machine workshop for women to learn a trade. A centennial Legacy Project, the club built a park with playground equipment, the only one of its kind in Batala. Aggarwal married Navita nearly 45 years ago. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Navita has been his mainstay. “She’s my lifeline. She’s my biggest strength,” he says. “People say that behind every man is a successful woman. I believe she’s not behind me—she’s always right beside me.” Aggarwal is pious, but he gives credit to Navita for encouraging daily prayer at the small worship place in their home. “I like to do it whenever I’m there. My wife insists that this is something we need to do—respect to the Almighty,” he explains. In his everyday encounters with people Aggarwal also strives to see the sacred, to appreciate that every person has value. He practices the traditional Indian greeting of Namaste. “Namaste means that nobody is different,” he says. “You and I are equal. You and I have the same divinity. The divinity in me salutes the divinity in you.” His tenure as president will enable him to help harness the enthusiasm for service of 1.4 million Lions worldwide. “If each Lion plays a proportional part, we can make a huge difference. But everyone has to participate. It’s the power of we,” he says. “There’s one thing stronger than all the armies in the world. It’s an idea whose time has come. So the power of we is how we make a difference. “The power of we is the magic we have. Our Lion identity is about the power of action. There was a lot of debate about it when Melvin Jones proposed it. The lion is a very decisive animal, a very clear-thinking animal. Our logo speaks to who we are and what we can do. “And a lion is a leader. He’s the number 1 in the jungle. So that’s right for us—we are number 1 in society.” Extra Digital Content Read the latest issue of the LION Magazine for India. Watch two interesting videos on Aggarwal and his service theme. ✹NARESH AGGARWAL✹ CONFIDENTIAL “ Many times I have heard him say that for every problem there is a solution. You should never lose heart. You should come forward and find a solution.” —VISZMA MITTER, a longtime Lion in Batala “ He’s a visionary person. A person who has a magnetic smile. He’s someone who brings everybody together. He has great leadership skills. He has a heart for service. And that great smile of his.” — HASTINGS ELI CHITI, a past district governor in Zambia and longtime friend “ He’s very loving. He loves all. He helps all. He motivates all. It’s like everyone is his brother.” —JAGDISH GULATI, an Indian Lion “ One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from my father is that if you’re persistent, you’re committed, you’re genuine and you’re patient, you will achieve whatever you want to achieve in life.” —ROHIT AGGARWAL “ In school I can really remember all my teachers coming up to me and saying, ‘Your dad is a wonderful orator.’ That always made me really proud. I always see him on the stage. Whenever he talks, I feel I would like to be like him one day.” —SWATI MUNJAL, daughter “ He’s always there for his family and friends. He’s always there to help. … He likes to sing. He’s not very good! But he sings from the heart.” —NAVITA AGGARWAL, wife
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