Rotary is built on connection. When Paul Harris came to Chicago as a young lawyer, he formed Rotary for one compelling reason: to help him connect to others in a new city. More than a century later, we have at our disposal countless ways to form friendships and networks, most of which Paul Harris never dreamed. Yet Rotary’s ability to connect us remains unique — and unrivalled.
Through its distinct mission and structure, Rotary International provides a way to connect to our communities, to network professionally, and to build strong and lasting relationships. Our membership connects us to a global community through our countless projects and programs, our leadership in polio eradication, and our work with and through the United Nations.
Our service connects us to people who share our values, who want to take action for a better world; it connects us to people we would never otherwise meet, who are more like us than we could have imagined; and it connects us to people who need our help, allowing us to change lives in communities around the world.
As a new decade begins, we are shaping Rotary’s future. In 2019-2020, Rotary will implement its new strategic plan, respond to the innovation of the Council on Legislation, and serve in our revitalized areas of focus. But the real work of shaping Rotary’s future lies in our clubs, where our organization must do the most to adapt to today’s changing realities.
While the club remains the core of the Rotary experience, we are now far more creative and flexible in deciding what a club can be, how it can meet, and even what can be considered a Rotary meeting. We need to be organized, strategic, and innovative in how we approach membership, forging wider and deeper connections to our communities and forming new club models to attract and engage more — and more diverse — members.
Rotary is indeed a family. Yet too often, the structure of membership or the demands of leadership seem to place Rotary out of reach for today’s younger professionals. Rotary can and should be an experience that complements our families instead of competing with them. When our Rotary clubs are warm, welcoming places where service and family go hand in hand, we give family-oriented young professionals the opportunity to embrace Rotary service and model positive civic engagement. And when we make the expectations of Rotary offices realistic and manageable for busy professionals, we develop the skills and networks of a new generation of Rotarians — who will become Rotary leaders.
In 2019-2020, it will be our challenge to strengthen the many ways that Rotary Connects the World, building the connections that allow talented, thoughtful, and generous people to unite and take meaningful action through Rotary service.
Since Rotary was founded 113 years ago, its role in the world and in the lives of its members has been in a state of continuous evolution. In its earliest days, Rotary offered its members a way to find fellowship and friendship and to build connections within their communities. Soon after, service found a place in Rotary and, as our organization expanded, so did its influence.
In time, Rotary’s service, supported by our Rotary Foundation, would change the lives of families and communities across the world. We formed partnerships and focused our service to increase our impact. We launched the world’s largest public-private health initiative, partnering with governments, international organizations, and countless local and regional health agencies to eradicate polio. More and more, our members came to us seeking not just friendship but a way to take action for good.
Rotary still is, and always will be, the organization Paul Harris envisioned: a place where people from every corner of the earth can come together to become something greater than themselves. Yet Rotary today offers something of singular and enduring value: the chance to be part of a global network of people who have the talent and the drive to change the world. We are men and women who believe in the power of community action to make a global impact — and together, we have the capacity and the resources to achieve almost anything.
Globally, Rotary is more relevant than ever before, and its potential for good is vast. Unfortunately, not enough people fully understand what Rotary is and does. Even within our clubs, many Rotarians don’t know enough about Rotary to take full advantage of what Rotary membership offers. Rotary service transforms lives and communities. To achieve even more of that truly transformational service, we need to think differently about our role in Rotary, and Rotary’s role in the world. We need to put more emphasis on our public image, using social media to build our membership and attract the partners that can help us scale up our service. We need to focus on larger projects that have a more lasting impact, taking the time to research and plan work that spans Rotary years and terms of office. Most important of all, we need to Be the Inspiration for positive change, inspiring our clubs, our communities, and our organization to face today’s challenges head on, with courage, optimism and creativity.
As Paul Harris put it, “Rotary is a microcosm of a world at peace, a model which nations will do well to follow.” To me, Rotary is not only a model but an inspiration. It shows us what is possible, inspires us to reach for it, and gives us a path to act — and to Be the Inspiration to our world.