Some years ago a new acquaintance asked me what should have been a simple question. “What is Rotary?” I opened my mouth to reply and then stopped short with the realisation that I simply did not know where to begin. The problem was not that I didn’t know what Rotary was. The problem was that Rotary was – and is – too large and complex to define easily. We are a member-based organisation, a club-based organisation and a service-based organisation; we are local, regional and international; we are community members, businesspeople and professionals; working and retired; active in nearly every country of the world. Every one of our 1.2 million members has a unique set of goals, experiences and priorities, every one of us has a unique understanding of Rotary.
To me Rotary is defined by what we do rather than who we are – by the potential that Rotary gives us, and the ways we realise that potential in meaningful and lasting service. Rotary has been around for a long time: 112 years. In some ways we have changed tremendously as we have grown, matured and adapted to the changing needs of our members and communities. In our fundamentals however we remain the same, an organisation of people with desire and the ability to make a difference to our communities and the world. We answer the question ‘What is Rotary?’ with our actions by making a difference through our service.
As an organisation we recognise how important it is that the world understands what Rotary is and what we do. At the same time we know that it is more important than ever to allow our clubs to define Rotary service for themselves. As Rotarians we have more flexibility than ever to decide how we want our clubs to meet, work and grow. We are focussed more than ever on ensuring that Rotary reflects the people we serve with more women and a more diverse membership. And we are working hard to ensure that Rotary remain the world’s pre-eminent volunteer service organisation by emphasising long-term planning, sustainable service and continuity in leadership in every level.
In 2017-18 we will answer the question ‘What is Rotary?’ with the theme Rotary Making a Difference. However each of us chooses to serve, we do it because we know our service makes a difference in the lives of others. Whether we are building a new playground or a new school, improving medical care or sanitation, training conflict mediators or midwives we know that the work we do will change people’s lives for the better. Whatever motivation each of us had for joining Rotary, it is the satisfaction we find in Rotary which causes us to remain, the satisfaction that week by week and year by year we are part of Rotary Making a Difference