We Need a 50-Year Old RI President

RI Board

April 19, 2016 was Paul Harris’s birthday. He would have been 148 years old. I believe that is perceived by many to be the average age of the members of some Rotary Clubs! In an earlier post I pointed out at the first Rotary Club meeting on February 23, 1905 the four original members had an average age of just over 38. In 1910, at the first Rotary Convention, Paul P. Harris was elected the first Rotary International President. He was only 42 at the time. Of the first twenty Rotary International Presidents (for which dates of birth could be found), the oldest was 49 (Harry H. Rogers in 1926) and the youngest was 33 (Estes Snedecor in 1920). Compare that to the last four RI Past Presidents who have been ages 69, 73, 67 and 69, respectively. Interestingly, most of the official biographies of RI Presidents do not list their age or date of birth. When Rotary celebrated its centennial in 2004, Glenn E. Estess was our President. He was an outstanding Rotarian and a great leader. However, as the face of Rotary for that year, he was also 76 years old and ailing with a bad hip that made him appear even older.

How did we get from Presidents in their 40s to Presidents in their 70s? In my earlier March 2015 post, I blamed the “aging” of Rotary membership in general on complacency and laziness. All of us who are members of a Rotary Club know Rotary is a good thing. However, we are apparently not sharing that with enough of our younger friends or are not adapting our clubs to their social and service needs so that they want to join. Rotary has come a long way with the creation of Rotaract and Interact Clubs as well as the recent enactment at the 2016 Council on Legislation allowing Rotarians and Rotaractors to belong to each other’s clubs, if otherwise qualified. However, the excuse for the aging of our RI President has to fall squarely on politics. I have known individuals who, in their 50s, were told they were too young to be an RI President. Individuals who would have been excellent faces for Rotary. Each of them would have been a “poster child” for attracting younger members. However, they were each told they either lacked service in a particular international position or were told another candidate would be chosen, since this was probably that candidate’s “last chance” to serve, due to age. That was a shame.

Presently, I have met five very dynamic young people from different parts of the world. They will remain nameless so I am not accused of campaigning for them. All five are in their 20s and 30s and I have NO DOUBT that, by age 50, they could and SHOULD each be RI Presidents. I would welcome their elections to that job and believe that a 50 year old President could open the floodgates of membership from the younger generations. Once younger prospects see that Rotary leadership recognizes the value of youth by incorporating it into their leadership, they will want to be a part. You can talk about it all you want. However, using a 76 year old man to promote Rotary to youth seems counter-intuitive. Why not a 50 year old woman or a 45 year old man?

The problem, I fear, is that these young, very qualified and experienced leaders – even at age 50 — will be looked at as TOO young. One of them, at age 30, was even told he was too young to be in Rotary in his country. I am even aware that, in some countries, Rotaractors stay with Rotaract past age 30 for that very reason. They want to do service but are being denied access to Rotary Clubs due to either their age or their sex. Again, that is a shame.

How can we change this thinking? I submit to you that the election of an RI President has become a “lifetime achievement award” instead of the selection of the best person for the job. Granted, the available candidates for the job become few when they each realize the time commitment for the job. As a result, the candidates are usually only people who are retired, independently wealthy, or tremendously supported in their profession and home life. In my own dreams, I have considered the possibility of being RI President, but quickly dispelled those dreams knowing I cannot walk away from my business and my personal commitments for two or more years to serve. I stand is awe of those men who have served as RI President. I have seen their travel schedules and truly wondered how someone in their 60s and 70s could keep up the hectic pace of not only being President, but also maintain the personality and congeniality of the position. Nevertheless, for the future of Rotary, we must find a way to allow younger people access to that position, even though they haven’t served as a Foundation Trustee, a Convention Chair, or a Council on Legislation Chair.

Rotary must create an environment for younger leaders at the international level. The photo I have included with this post is a picture of the RI Board of Directors from last year. Not to be offensive to anyone, but all I see is grey hair! Sorry ladies! How does this group of very qualified, dedicated leaders appeal to a 25 – 35 year old prospective Rotarian? Granted, it is WONDERFUL to see three women in this photo – something that would have been unheard of just thirty years ago. However, when we will see someone in this photo in their 30s or 40s? I hope we don’t have to wait another thirty years! I have names in mind of individuals who can and should be in this photo right now and feel they can add a perspective to Rotary that is sorely needed. When will they be given the opportunity?

Rotary’s Demographic Disconnect

In my July 2, 2013 post, I discussed the Rotary “sex” problem. If you read this blog, you will glean that I am not completely sure Rotary can change some of its past customs from within. I am trying to effect change otherwise. The club I helped form in 2009 had women as four of its first six presidents. There are parts of the world where that would NEVER happen!

Putting women in Rotary leadership positions communicates the message that women ARE welcome in Rotary. Rotary International had its first woman vice president and RIBI had its first woman president last year. I must ask: What took so long? With Ann Matthews and Nan McCreadie in those positions, women should see there are leadership roles available for them in Rotary. However, until the CLUBS and their members become more receptive to and welcoming of women, their percentage of participation in our clubs worldwide will not change.

RIBI has an Equality and Diversity Policy that every club President must sign. However, I have heard it said many clubs just pay “lip service” to that policy — signing it, but not abiding by it. The rest of Rotary does not have such a policy document. I am glad they do not. Although club leadership should be fully open to diversity in membership, Rotary should not use diversity to reprimand clubs or “uncharter” them for not reaching some artificial standard of diversity. If club members are harassing, bullying, or otherwise intimidating female and minority members forcing them to leave their clubs, RI must step in and police the organization. I would also hope the rule of law would prevent such abuse from occurring. Rotary cannot REQUIRE a diverse membership. I submit it surely should PROMOTE one. However, I am not overly optimistic of the full integration of women and minorities into Rotary around the world.

I also don’t espouse Rotary developing or approving “separate but equal” arrangements where there are clubs just for women or minorities, but such “separate but equal” clubs could be a solution to the problem. I am aware of places where women were not invited to join all-male Rotary clubs. So, they formed their own Rotary clubs — clubs which were often more active and successful than the all-male clubs. I have seen ethnic groups band together and form Rotary clubs composed of just members of their ethnic community. Again, such clubs have been successful and prosperous. As long as these clubs are open to everyone and not restrictive of membership, they should be allowed to exist and encouraged to form. What we must keep in mind is that Rotary is about SERVICE, not about ethnic, sexual, or religious diversity. If there are communities unwilling to diversify their Rotary Clubs – SHAME ON THEM! The best solution may be to form new clubs composed of women and minorities. If that needs to be the trend – SHAME ON US! Such a trend is only needed where we have failed to see the benefit to asking these individuals to join our existing clubs.

I have promoted the formation of a Hispanic Rotary Club as well as an Asian Rotary Club in those large minority business districts of my city. Some individuals have acted offended by those suggestions. However, I counter their disgust by pointing out the demographics of our local clubs which have very few Hispanics and Asians, not to mention African-Americans, Native Americans, and other so-called “minorities.” Some times, the failure to integrate is not the fault of our members. Where individuals have problems socializing due to the language, customs and culture of our existing clubs, promoting and forming clubs in these minority communities may allow them to discover the benefits of Rotary and network them with existing clubs for service, both locally and possibly in the homelands of those minority members.

I want my Rotary club to have men and women of all colors, philosophies, and genders because I want to see more hands doing service. Therefore, the only traits I will NOT welcome in my club are laziness, a refusal to do service, a refusal to be accepting of others, and a refusal to open your hearts and minds to the wonders of Rotary. All others are welcome!


Choosing to Have Fun Differently

FirstFourPeople describe Rotary as an “old man’s club.” Another branding has been “male, frail, pale and stale” to describe Rotary as many a bunch of aging white guys. How did that happen? Rotary was NEVER meant to be an old man’s club!

The first meeting of a Rotary Club was in Chicago on February 23, 1905. There were four members: Paul P. Harris, Gustavus Loehr, Hiram Shorey and Silvester Schiele. I expect most people who look at the photo of that group above see four old guys! However, the oldest of them — Gus Loehr — he’s the guy on the left — was only 40. Next to him, Silvester Schiele — the club’s first president — was 34. Next to him is Hiram Shorey was the oldest at age 42. Paul Harris, the recognized founder of the organization – on the far right – was 36. That makes the average age of this charter group 38. The first new member after them, Harry Ruggles, was also 36. This is hardly a group of old people! How many of your clubs have an average age below 38? I dare say there aren’t many! How did this “young” organization become “male, frail, and stale?” I submit that it was as a result of complacency and laziness. I am sorry if that sounds harsh. Maybe to paint it a different way: It was as a result of too much of a good thing.

In my visits to Rotary clubs over the years, I have seen clubs with members who have been dedicated attendees for 40 or more years. Why are they still in the club? They enjoy the fellowship! They enjoy what their club is doing! That WANTED to continue to be part of it. However, what that does is create a generational conflict with newer (younger) members and if the club is unwilling to adapt to newer member because they enjoy how the club was operating (i.e., the laziness or “too much of a good thing”), the club reaches a critical mass where they either lose the younger or the older members. I enjoy music. Perhaps a musical analogy is that the generational conflict is like comparing the music of Elvis Presley to the music of Elvis Costello. Comparing the Beach Boys to the Backstreet Boys. James Taylor to Taylor Swift. I think you get my point! These generations both enjoy music. However, they listen to different music because they like different styles. Similarly, they seek different social interactions. When a Rotary club steeped in the traditions of the social interplay of members in their 50s and 60s invites prospective members in their 20s and 30s, there is a disconnect. During the Rotary International Convention last June, I listened to a presentation by a longtime, 65-year-old Rotarian describe a “fun” meeting as being one where members wear funny hats. Most younger people would not consider that a fun meeting. However, at that same convention, at the end of the Rotaract preconvention, there was a young Rotarian wearing a light-up, multi-color Mohawk (sort of a “hat”) taking photos with everybody there using a “selfie” stick. Coincidence? Older member Rotary clubs often have communal singing. Rotaractors are more inclined to just to have DJ-driven background music. These younger members enjoy music, but just don’t necessarily want to sing. Is this love of music similar? Younger people often don’t have time for lunch or breakfast and, even if they do meet socially for that reason, it might not be at a venue where older clubs meet. However, they do often meet in groups at popular places. Can a club set up in that meeting location? Younger people usually view a “service project” as something where you get your hands dirty not something you write a check to support. Can a club do both?

From the above examples, I hope you see that there is quite a bit of similarity between young and old. They just choose to have fun differently. I’d like to suggest two alternatives to address the problem: First, form a Rotaract Club. That club, sponsored by your Rotary Club, can allow younger members to “do their own thing” while still being part of Rotary and part of your older club. This is a great way to attract young professionals who may not otherwise be able to afford membership in Rotary. Second, form an evening (or morning) satellite club that meets for coffee (in the morning) or drinks (in the evening) at a popular spot where you can attract younger members who can then plan their projects or help with yours. They would be actual Rotarians and, although they would have an open invitation to attend your regular club meetings, they can avoid what they might find distasteful or “too old” by participating in Rotary through that satellite club and its activities.

Granted, there is no need for your club to change. Your existing club of members in their 50s and 60s can continue as is and be successful at what they do. However, they won’t grow because they are not making themselves attractive to the younger generations. As a result, they will be subject to entropy, decay and eventual death. I will state with certainty that will be the prognosis for those clubs not willing to adapt. What’s your choice?

My Rotaract Manifesto

I proclaimed in a recent post, “Ich bin ein Rotaractor.” Far from a mere historical reference, I do declare that I AM a Rotaractor. I am fifty-eight years old but feel that Rotaract—more than most Rotary Clubs I have experienced—offers more of what I want out of Rotary.

Some Rotarians will be up in arms when they read this. I have reviewed the Manual of Procedure, containing Rotary’s governing documents, and also examined the Rotaract Standard Club Constitution. As an attorney, I offer the following points of legal analysis:

There is nothing in any of the governing documents defining a Rotaractor as anything less than a Rotarian. We are co-equals.

Rotary Clubs can determine who are members of their clubs, but they do not control the membership of a sponsored Rotaract Club. The Standard Rotaract Club Constitution states, “The method of electing members of this club shall be determined by this club in consultation with the sponsoring Rotary club” (Art. IV, 2). That does not mean the Rotary Club gets to determine the method of membership; they merely get to offer their advice and consent. Once that method has been accepted, the Rotary Club cannot change it. All they can do is withdraw their sponsorship of the club.

There is nothing in the governing documents giving a Rotary Club any control over the operation of a Rotaract Club.

It is provided in the Standard Rotaract Club Constitution that “in the event that the sponsoring Rotary Club is terminated, the governor of the Rotary district will seek to install another sponsoring Rotary club” (Art. III, 4). In other words, the Rotaract Club is destined to survive, even if the sponsoring Rotary Club does not. Of course, a university-based Rotaract Club must comply with the rules and regulations of the host university (Art. IV, 2). That is only logical and expected when the club meets on campus as a quasi-university organization.

Rotary Clubs have a constitutional duty to support their sponsored Rotaract Club (Art III, 1).

This demonstrates the lack of subservience of the Rotaract Club. It places a duty upon the Rotary Club to support the Rotaract Club as best possible.

Nothing strictly prohibits a 58 year old from becoming a Rotaractor.

The Standard Rotaract Club Constitution states, “The membership of this club shall consist of young men and women of good character and leadership potential between the ages of 18 and 30 (Art. IV, 1). However, the Standard Rotaract Club Constitution is just that—a standard form document that each club can modify to suit its purposes. There are many Rotaract Clubs around the world with members over 30—some with members over 40. If the club wants to allow members of, oh, let’s say, 58 years of age, then I believe I would qualify as a Rotaractor. However, even if I don’t formally qualify, I still feel more comradry with the Rotaractors I met than with some Rotarians.

Here is another poignant provision of the Standard Rotaract Club Constitution, which a Rotary Club also signs when sponsoring a club:

“The basis of organization shall be young men and women who are committed to the goals of the Rotaract program and to building a relationship with the sponsoring Rotary club.” (Art. III, 2)

I highlight this language to show the quid pro quo of this relationship. In paragraph 1 of Article III, the sponsoring Rotary Club commits to “provide guidance and have supportive responsibility” for the Rotaract Club and, in paragraph 2 of Article III, the Rotaract Club commits to “building a relationship with the sponsoring Rotary Club.”

This is where a logical argument can be made for both sides. If the goal of Rotaract is “building a relationship with the sponsoring Rotary Club”, then Rotaractors must join in the activities of their sponsoring Rotary Club. That means, in essence, joining in to the rubrics and customs of that club, even if they are considered lame, embarrassing and not fun. That is typically the deductive reasoning of many staunch, older Rotarians who feel they should not have to change THEIR clubs to bring in younger members. Conversely, if the goal of the Rotary Club is to “provide guidance and supportive responsibility,” then what is the inductive argument a Rotary club must consider that will bring in these younger members?

I received a comment from a Rotarian in Irvine, California USA. He boasted his Rotary Club is, “a club that is informal, dynamic, rapidly growing (20+% increase this year), and fun (we don’t sing either). We’ve just won “Best Club” for the second year in a row. What you will also witness is a number of Rotaractors from the UCI Rotaract club who visit us each week; simply because they like hanging out with us.” This club appears to be the prototype all Rotary Clubs need to become.

There are three parts to this prototype club that apparently attract Rotaractors and other younger members. First, it is informal. I prefer a club where I can loosen my tie, have a beer, and relax. Second, it is fun. “Fun,” as we have learned, is a very subjective term. However, to attract those Rotaractors and younger members, your club must determine what the young people in your area consider to be fun and integrate that into your club’s program. That sort of fun does not need to overtake your club. However, if you want these younger members around, you must allow them to have their sort of fun with you. Clearly, the Irvine Club found that “magic formula.” The third part is actually what can be gleaned from the commentor’s statement that the club is “rapidly growing” and has been “Best Club” in their district for two years in a row. It is dynamic.

“Dynamic” is nearly as subjective as “fun.” However, there is a distinct difference. A dynamic club is impressive! If it is impressive, it gains attention. If it gains attention, then individuals want to be part of it and the membership grows. A dynamic club could be comprised of older members having fun in their own way and attracting their own age group to membership, yet not be attractive to younger members and Rotaractors. The mixture we must seek for long term growth is one that is attractive to younger members, particularly in those Rotary Clubs that sponsor a Rotaract Club or an Interact Club. The reason I separate those clubs from the rest is because they have committed in writing to create an environment of a sharing of ideas among generations.

In summary, I want to point out that we, as Rotarians, need to consider Rotaractors as our equals. They are not something less. They are not “kids.” They are not servants or “worker bees” of our Rotary Clubs. They deserve respect and the sooner we give them that, the sooner they will feel comfortable joining in our meetings. However, we, as Rotaractors, need to accept our local Rotary clubs for what they are. There is a quote attributed to many famous people. I first read it from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, “Problems are often opportunities in disguise.” We Rotaractors can often look at our local Rotary Clubs in that way. If we do, then the “problems” inherent in the organization of those clubs become “opportunities” we must meet to assist them in adapting to the changing world and make them a better place for us to be. However, all is not lost if they won’t change. We can always form new Rotary clubs!

I hope you can see that my schizophrenia has some logic. I have been a Rotarian for nearly thirty-two years but have only been a Rotaractor for the past ten minutes! Although I have often been frustrated by the organization of Rotary and many of its clubs, I would not trade the experiences and friendships I have had for anything. There is a quote I have read often that goes, “The American justice system is the worst system in the entire world. However, it is better than all of the rest.” I submit you can substitute “Rotary” for “The American Justice System.”


The Last Day in Sydney

Although David and I attended part of the last day’s morning plenary session, we left somewhat early to spend time in the House of Friendship. The “House of Friendship” is Rotary’s trade show. There are hundreds of booths displaying projects, companies selling products, organizations disseminating information and even a wildlife display with a koala and a wallaby!

After lunch, I decided to forgo the rest of the day’s events to spend some time touring the city of Sydney. I have been in Australia for nearly a week, and have hardly left the convention venue, except in the evening when it is already too dark to see the sights. I took a train to Circular Quay (near the iconic Sydney Opera House), and then walked from there under the Sydney Harbor Bridge to Darling Harbor. Along the way I took pictures and just soaked in the ambience of this beautiful city. Although it was seventeen days before the start of their winter, the temperature hovered around seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit, with a cool sea breeze.

By the time I got to Darling Harbor, I felt I had earned a beer! So, I sat and drank a local beer and watched people stroll by. Although I detected some Rotarians in the mix, most of the people were either locals or tourists. From their appearances and their languages, I could tell just how international Sydney really is. I next walked through the restaurant and shopping district ending up at a wonderful sidewalk restaurant where I ate a kangaroo steak, paired with an Australian wine, while watching part of a light show — complete with fireworks — on the harbor. By that time, my son texted me and asked me to join him and his friends at a nearby restaurant where they were hanging out for one last time together. I was quite exhausted from my walking and was ready to get back to the hotel to pack and get ready to leave the next day. However, I walked to the restaurant and stopped in, just to see the group and say goodbye to those I knew. The above picture showed the group of around thirty who had gathered to celebrate their time together. Of course, after I left, David informed me about thirty or more additional friends showed up and they pretty well took over that restaurant for the rest of the evening.

The picture is, as they say, worth a thousand words… words I will not try to express here. What it shows is young people – most all under thirty years of age – from many countries celebrating together in their way. Of course, in various other venues around the city, I am sure older Rotarians were similarly celebrating together… in their way. Is one way better than the other? Of course not!

As I have observed various international Rotary functions in the past, they typically end, just as this convention did, with everyone joining hands and singing “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” Although the younger people at this restaurant did not join hands and sing (That, my friends, is clearly a generational thing!), they did sit together, listen to music, exchange emails, texts, pictures, Facebook and other social media information and show that peace can and will happen, if we just encourage them to pursue it in their own way.

I’ve already have a friend email me to comment on my blog posts from the convention saying, “You seem frustrated.” I must admit that I am. I do not have the “magic” to find a way to reconcile the generational differences that must be reconciled to allow Rotary to grow. Clearly, if that “magic” can be worked, Rotary will have two million members! However, what we are currently doing as Rotarians is not, for the most part, energizing Rotaractors and younger people to desire to join our clubs. That is, sadly, why there is Rotaract. Rotaract allows these young people to have Rotary their way. Of course, we consider them to be something less than Rotarians. Although Rotaractors profess to want to spend time with Rotarians, my observations have been that this time together has been more courteous than desirous. We, as an organization, do not seem to be able to offer them something that is fun and challenging. Although those intergenerational differences have existed for many generations, I now feel it has reached a critical point that is clearly impacting our organization — either positively or negatively – depending on what we do next.

Past RI President D.K. Lee’s annual theme in 2008-09 was “The Future of Rotary is in Your Hands.” A recent quote from RI President Ron Burton is “Rotaract is not the FUTURE of Rotary… it is the NOW of Rotary.” We need to reconcile those two thoughts and find a way to make our organization more attractive. I’d like to mash these thoughts into one for your consideration:

Although Rotaract is the NOW of Rotary, Rotaractors are the FUTURE Rotarians into whose hands we must deliver Rotary. We, as Rotarians, should strive to offer them a dynamic organization willing to bend and change to meet their wants and needs on their terms to advance Rotary’s mission of world understanding and peace.

Once we can impress this creed on our current Rotary Clubs and make it believable to Rotaractors and other young professionals, I believe we will see growth in our clubs. However, this cannot simply be a FUTURE goal, it must be effective NOW, throughout the world… or at least in those places where we want to see club growth.

Ich Bin Ein Rotaractor

In my last post, I complained about yesterday, Monday, June 2nd. It all stemmed from my continuing frustration with Rotary, youth and service. As I expected, the actual Rotary Convention has paled in comparison to the energy and ingenuity of the Rotaract PreConvention. However, today was redemptive and gives me much hope for the future of our organization. I did not attend the plenary session this morning. I wanted to, but felt the need to step away for a bit. Instead, I spent time in the House of Friendship viewing displays, gathering information, buying things and watching a baby wallaby eat. The House of Friendship is Rotary’s idea of a trade show. It is a gathering place for attendees with food, drink, entertainment, vendors and informational booths, but also is a great place to relax and share friendships. After I sat for a while (and Skyped with my wife), I was approached by two women Rotarians from New Zealand. One of them had fiery red hair and was anything but reserved. As it turned out, she was actively involved in RYLA, Rotaract and Interact – three of my areas of passion – in her district. We started talking about Rotaract ad RYLA and I shared some of my dreams for the Rotary youth programs and how they should feed each other. She smiled, reached out and shook my hand. She was excited to receive some affirmation of her similar ideas on these new generation programs. I then told her of my son’s breakout session that afternoon and she made notes of where and when, since she was so excited to hear some fresh ideas. Of course, I too was going to attend that session to watch David perform. However, I almost felt a need to warn him about this woman before she ambushed him!

After leaving the President-Elect’s luncheon early to get to David’s session, I walked in and was amazed to see the number of people already there. Although I intended to sit at the back out of the way, I was flagged down by my red-haired Kiwi (that’s what they call people from New Zealand) friend. She was seated at a front, center table, pen and paper in hand, ready to absorb information. By the time the session started, there were more than 100 people in attendance. David, who is 23, and a 29-year-old Rotaractor from Australia “tag-teamed” the session’s presentation. They gave their thoughts on several topics (often followed by an affirming “Woo Hoo!” from my Kiwi friend) and then allowed the audience to discuss the same topics at their respective tables before reporting to the entire group on their discussions. The points I took away from the meeting are items all Rotarians must digest: First, Rotaractors want respect from Rotarians. They are not “children.” They want to be treated as equals and, sadly, I know we are not all treating them that way. David’s co-presenter mentioned that, often, Rotarians look at Rotaractors as cheap labor or, as she called them “worker bees.” They call upon Rotaractors to be the “muscle” for their service projects. However, aside from that, they don’t include Rotaractors in their regular Rotary events or consider them equal participants in Rotary entitled to all the privileges of that participation. The comment I made at my table is that most Rotarians would consider a 24-year old Rotarian an equal in their club. However, they don’t give that same treatment to a 24-year old Rotaractor.

Between the program moderators and those Rotaractors, former Rotaractors and Rotarians who shared their ideas, I walked away with a different sense of understanding of Rotaractors. Even though my son is one and I have tried to champion their cause, I too have, essentially, considered them as something less than Rotarians and for that, I apologize. I too have some times considered them to be “kids,” not intellectually equal adults. I too have looked at them as a support arm for Rotary Clubs instead of an equal partner. It will take a lot for all Rotarians to have these same revelations because they were not there for this wonderful discussion and, even if they are talking with Rotaractors, they really aren’t listening to them.

I’ll discuss some of the other ideas discussed in this session later. However, the excitement of today was actually my own “epiphany” that Rotaractors deserve more respect. Although I have actively championed their cause, I did it from a standpoint of not fully understanding their side of this problem.

Many of you will remember President Kennedy’s famous statement made in a speech while standing at the Berlin Wall in 1963, “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner). Well, I want to paraphrase his remarks made in that speech:

All (Rotaractors), wherever they may live, are citizens of (Rotary), and, therefore, as a (young person at heart), I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Rotaractor.”

Although the President’s words resounded around the world that day in 1963, it still took more than twenty-five years for the Berlin Wall to come down. Hopefully, it won’t take Rotary twenty-five years to give Rotaractors the respect they are clearly due.

The Day That Should Not Have Been

Most of you who know me know that I love Rotary. Sure, it has its quirks and its problems. I think it wants to evolve and it is trying. However, today’s Convention sessions revealed a few problems that are indicative of the larger problems Rotary must address.

I think our Convention has been well planned. I cannot imagine putting on one of these events and I want to thank those who did. However this morning, prior to start of the Second Plenary Session, the presider introduced three Interactors (high school age students) to help with the Aussie cheer. He (the presider) is not from Australia and has “botched” the cheer before. So, he invited the Interactors to lead that cheer. After putting a microphone in front of them and asking them to state their names and hometowns, he then announced they would lead the cheer. The “cheer” is just a fun little moment where the leader yells, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” and the crowd responds with “Oy! Oy! Oy!” Well, after again announcing that the Interactors would lead the cheer, just as they were to start, the presider pulled the microphone away from them, and led the cheer himself.  To me, this was somewhat of an analogy to Rotary’s problems with youth programs. We bring in youth, we cheer for them, and then we don’t give them anything relevant to do. I know that our Convention Chairman is a supporter of our youth programs. However, his actions were indicative of how most Rotary Clubs treat their youth program. Much like Rodney Dangerfield, they get no respect. We have to change that.

The second Rotary mishap of the day was dealt during a well-attended breakout session titled “Is it Fun?” The purpose of that session was to provide ideas for making club meetings more lively and fun. The presider was very animated and engaging. However, sadly, his ideas were not. Although I did take away some potentially useful suggestions,  the summary of this session was that EVERYONE likes to sing and you should let your “colorful” members (pictures were shown of some members wearing funny hats) have their time to spread “joy” and laughter throughout your club.  Probably the most telling fallacy of this session was when the presider asked everyone to stand. Around 700 people stood. Then, he asked everyone over age 40 to sit down. That left only about 30 – 40 people standing. I would venture to guess the presider was in his mid to late 60s. That is probably an age range of the majority of Rotarians. As a result, it made sense that his idea of fun involved singing and wearing funny hats. However, can you see prospective members in their 20s and 30s singing and wearing funny hats?

I recall as District Governor visiting a club where the president chastised me for suggesting clubs should not sing, adding “ALL of our members love to sing.” Yet, as the meeting started and their club sang, I looked around the room to see that younger club members were not singing, but instead were looking very uncomfortable having to listen to their club mates sing. It reminded me of a Boy Scout camp I attended in 1999. As our troop was entering onto the parade ground for the flag ceremony, the troop next to ours was standing there with the scouts all looking grumpy and sad. Their adult leader came to me and said, “Well, I’ll bet Troop 20 will sing with me.” As it turned out, this leader, probably in his 50s, was trying to get his boys (ages 13 – 15, mainly) to sing songs to wake up and be happy and they just balked and refused to do so.  As he looked to me for support and affirmation, I turned to him and said, “I’m sorry, we don’t make our boys sing.” 1999 was 15 years ago. Those 13 to 15 year old boys are now 28 to 30 and, potentially, are prospective Rotarians. I would bet money they still don’t want to sing as a group, whether it is in scouting or in Rotary.

I don’t want to chastise the breakout session leader for his enthusiasm for Rotary and for his idea that “fun” involves singing. I am sure there are many in his age group that would endorse that idea. However, that idea, as well as most of the others developed in that session are not what I consider to be fun. I am a person who definitely does not like those who just complain and don’t offer solutions. However, I am sure many of my ideas for “fun” might not be much more successful than his. So, what is the solution? I think each of us must ask that target audience in our community – whether they be young, old, female, or minorities – what it would take to get them to join our clubs. More importantly once we receive those responses, we must ACT on them. They are not lame. They are relevant. They are not stupid. They are defining of the future of our clubs. Some of the other “fun” ideas mentioned in the session were relevant. It was suggested that clubs have a colorful room, emblazoned with Rotary items. Clearly, that makes the room more inviting. I know many clubs have had a piano player playing music as members arrived. However, what is wrong with just having a music mix played through a laptop? It was suggested there be a slideshow of club projects, activities and other events showing during the meeting opening. However, why wait for the meeting? Why not upload it to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media? There should be a club photographer, a website and a Facebook page. However, if they are not updated and made a real-time part of a club meeting, they do not achieve their real purpose. These are all helpful in drawing prospective members to the club. However, unless there is true fun in the meeting, they won’t stay. Is there a “fix-all” solution that works? Sadly, no. But there are ways to find those solutions, if you are willing to ask.