The Convention was Great! Let’s Stop Having Them.

I just returned from the 2017 Rotary International Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. The presentations were inspiring. The new and renewed friendships touched me deeply! My thanks to Rotary and the Atlanta host committee for their tremendous work. Attending an international convention makes me proud of our organization and fires up our members to do even more good in the world. I especially recommend Convention attendance to incoming club presidents. The energy you will find there will supercharge you to lead your club. There were 43,000 people present for this Convention. Hearing amazing speakers like Bill Gates, John Cena, Ashton Kutcher, Jack Nicklaus and Brittany Arthur left me in awe. Personally, I was mesmerized by former Atlanta Mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young. It may have been the greatest speech I ever heard and it would NOT have happened had the Convention not been in Atlanta. I arrived the Wednesday before the Convention to participate in the Rotaract Preconvention. It is my favorite part of a Rotary Convention! In addition to plenary sessions, interacting with these energetic and enthusiastic people gives me great hope for the future of Rotary. They “get it” and they WILL both carry on and expand our legacy.

After pondering what I experienced at this, my fourth Rotary International Convention, I recommend we stop having them. Not stop having conventions; just stop having one, ginormous global Convention. The reason for my recommendation is simply this: The enormity of Rotary. Atlanta has a massive convention center which can easily accommodate an even larger group. However, I would never want to attend that large of an event. Just moving the crowd through the corridors toward the main event hall, getting them into dining rooms, breakout sessions, moving them through the “streets” in the House of Friendship, getting them fed at lunch and letting them purchase items from the vendors had to be overwhelming for the staff. The large crowds were frustrating and disappointing for those of us in attendance who were trying to experience the Convention. To get a good seat to hear Bill Gates, I arrived at the plenary session nearly two hours before the event started. Even then, I was seventy rows away the stage. There were breakout sessions I wanted to attend. However, the rooms were filled before I arrived. Some of them started before ticketed-lunch events ended making them impossible to attend. One that I did attend ran out of handouts. The presenter said she planned for 85 people attending but ended up with more than 400. I would have liked to have purchased Rotary clothing in the House of Friendship. However, most booths selling Rotary-themed merchandise were stacked four to six customers deep throughout each day.

Please understand I am not blaming anyone for these problems. They are simply the result of the passion our members have for our amazing organization. But, if we logically ponder our desire to see our organization double in size, the Convention might double as well. As a result, the gargantuan task of herding 43,000 through the Convention could then mean guiding 80,000 or more. My suggested solution is Regional Rotary Conferences (“RRC”). I suggest having one of these annually on each continent. Of course, Rotarians could visit more than one. If you want to travel and have the time and money, you could attend several of your choosing. Although I live in North America, I might decide to attend an RRC in Australia or in Europe. Multiple venues could reduce travel costs to members. Additionally, if we spread 40,000 – 80,000 attendees among six venues, Rotary would have 5,000 to 15,000 attendees to accommodate at each RRC putting less pressure on hotels, transportation systems, food services, vendors, and conference planners. A smaller group of attendees would make more moderate-sized convention sites available and make the flow of traffic for events, breakout sessions, and meals more functional. It would be easier for vendors. Those who market to various parts of the world (e.g., vendors who sell specifically to Asian, African, Australian or American members and clubs) could choose to either attend only the RRCs where their main customer base might be, or they can attend all of them. Speakers could either appear in person or by live video or simultaneous appearances at several of the RRCs held at the same time. Although it was an honor to hear Ambassador Young and Bill Gates, quite frankly I watched both of them on the jumbo screens because I could not actually see them from my seat. It is somewhat of a “stretch” of the Four-Way Test to say I “saw” Bill Gates. What I “saw” was a small man on stage in the distance while I watched a video projection of Bill Gates.

As I considered this recommendation, I knew there would be responses such as, “We’ll lose our international flavor.” “I won’t be able to see my international friends.” “The Convention just won’t be as impressive.” My response to each of those is emphatically “No.” Any Rotarian can attend one or more of the RRCs. You and your “international friends” can choose to meet up at any of them. I truly believe these smaller conferences could be MORE impressive since they will be interactive and more “up close and personal” for those in attendance. I estimate I either passed by or bumped into more than 5,000 people at the Convention. However, the number of those I actually spoke with, shook hands with, or interacted with, was less than 500. I would expect that at an RRC I would meet and interact with more than that.

Between travel, lodging, meals, events, and entertainment, attending a Convention costs a lot of money. However, I cannot imagine the cost of traveling from Asia, Australia, Africa or elsewhere. Making a Rotary Regional Conference more local will lessen these costs while still allowing members to experience Rotary on an international stage. I mentioned how much I enjoyed the Rotaract Preconvention. There were around 700 Rotaractors, Rotarians and guests registered for that event and, aside from their main sessions, they also planned some great social events attended by 100 or more. Much like my suggestion for Rotarians, Rotaractors could decide each year where they will all meet for their annual Preconvention. In that way, with this smaller, more closely knit group, they can be at the same venue if they so choose. I know of many Rotaractors who didn’t come to Atlanta because of lack of time and money. As we all know, the cost of the convention registration is just the tip of the iceberg. For college students and young professionals, the cost of convention attendance is prohibitive, even with a stipend from their sponsoring club or district. As a result, they were unable to experience the wonders of Rotary in a conference setting.

Probably my main reason for this recommendation is that smaller conferences can be more “hands on.” In a breakout group of 400 like the one in which I sat, it was difficult to exchange ideas. I spoke only with a young Rotarian sitting next to me. When you are more than a five to ten minute walk from the stage, it is difficult to engage a speaker even when he or she is on a jumbo video screen nearby. Having to endure getting out of a venue with 30,000 of your closest friends is…challenging. Surely, technology can bring us closer even when we are not in the same room. I encourage Rotary to think outside the convention box and find more ways to accomplish that.

 

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If Our Product is Members…. We’re Doomed!

I haven’t posted in a while. However, I was in a membership session recently that got me roiled! The presenter asked a question of the Rotarians in attendance. Let me set this up a bit more: The presenter was a past district governor who was older, had a strong leadership background, had been in Rotary more than thirty years and, most importantly, was VERY hard of hearing. I add in that last point because it was either that, or he was just ignoring all of the responses given by those in attendance. He described what he referred to as the membership trilogy continuum, a symbiotic connection of membership, public image, and The Rotary Foundation as a cycle for membership development. I get that. We must use media and other forms of publicity to expose more people to Rotary. We must use our Foundation to spread the good of Rotary around the world. However, his question to all of us was: “As a Rotary Club, what is our product?” Several people were calling out various answers, but our presenter did not react. To myself, I was thinking, “Clearly, our product is service!” I was sitting close enough to him and he was looking right at me and I said, “Service.” However, again, there was no reaction from him as if he did not hear me. After a few moments he looked out at all of us and, making it seem as if it were the most obvious answer, he said, “Our product is MEMBERS!”

Hmmm. That just struck me wrong. If the primary purpose of Rotary is to have members, we’re doomed! Do we just have Rotary Clubs to have members attend? Is our strongest value the fact that there are more of us than anyone else? Is the biggest value of being a Rotarian the fact that you are a member of a Rotary Club?

I don’t believe this presenter said what he wanted to say in the right way. Although he constantly drilled into us the fact that membership is the responsibility of all of us – a point in which I agree – he seemed too focused on the FACT of membership, instead of the PURPOSE of membership. The PURPOSE of membership is to do service. What I believe we need to do is get the word out that Rotarians do things. I believe the perception of many Rotary Clubs is that we are “pale, male, stale and frail.” In other words, we are a bunch of old white guys who sit around, eat lunch, listen to speakers, and write checks. Is was for those reasons that I left one Rotary Club and, in my opinion, it is for some or all of those reasons that we lose so many members. We bring them into our clubs by talking about all of the great things Rotary DOES, yet they join and all they see are the meetings at which we sit, eat lunch, listen to speakers, and write check. Quite frankly, that is not what I signed up for and if my club started being that way, I’d leave too.

In many of my Rotary membership talks, I have used the line from the movie, Field of Dreams where the voice on the wind says, “If you build it, he will come.” We will not get members to join and stay with clubs doing what many of them are – being lunch meetings where we sit, eat a meal, listen to a speaker, and write a check. We will get members to join and stay when they see, through publicity generated by our efforts or otherwise, that we are doing good in the world. My Rotary Club is growing. Our biggest drawback is that we meet at 7:00 in the morning! However, even with that, we grew this past year. Let me tell you why I think we grew:

We had a social night once a month every month.

We go have a fun breakfast once a month every month.

We started an Interact Club and several of our members visited it regularly and their members helped ours with two service projects.

We have at least one service or volunteer project a month (sometimes more).

For the past several years, we have cancelled our last meeting of the year and have done a service project in which we purchased supplies and filled personal hygiene bags for a local school for the homeless.

We visited our District’s Camp RYLA and coordinated a service projects with the campers.

Our members range in age from 30 to 70+. All are active. With a few exceptions, none of us knew each other before this club yet, I dare say now all of us are friends. I don’t think someone telling me “our business is membership” will affect our club. I would respectfully submit to you that “cutting the fat” might help Rotary. By that I mean we don’t need (or want, quite frankly) those members who are just there for the lunch and the speakers. Of course, I realize there are some “dyed-in-the-wool” Rotarians who are just too old, frail, or disabled to be able to get out there and “get their hands dirty.” However, I am sure a good service club can still find ways to keep those members engaged. I can see the future and a time when I might be too frail to be able to go out and carry boxes of books or plant trees or do other physical things. However, I can assure you I still want to be involved!

I submit to you that we are going about membership wrong. We are too focused on the numbers. I know we SAY we are looking for quality Rotarians. However, due to pressure from our Districts and Zones, we are settling for warm bodies just to show we are growing. Let’s forget about numbers. If you and your club are offering people in your community a fun, active, and engaging service organization, they’ll join.

“People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

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.