If you’d like to serve your community and belong to a charitable organisation with international reach, Rotary could be the place for you. From organising your local fun run to helping to rid the world of polio and bring clean water to those who have none, the Rotary Club offers like-minded people the opportunity to meet, mingle and change the world.
Here we take an in-depth look at the Rotary Club, asking why people join, what they’ve achieved through Rotary, and what they enjoy most about membership.
What is the Rotary Club?
The Rotary Club was born in Chicago on 23rd February 1905 when lawyer Paul P Harris found he missed the community spirit of the villages of his childhood and called three fellow businessmen to a meeting to figure out what could be done to help local people. From this small kernel, grew the international organisation we know today.
It took until 1915 for Rotary to hop the pond to the UK – now there are 1,700 clubs and 47,000 members across Great Britain – each affiliated to Rotary International:
“A global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.”
Even to this day, Rotary actively participates in UN conferences by sending observers to major meetings. In the words of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill:
“Few there are who do not recognise the good work which is done by Rotary clubs throughout the free world.”
What does the Rotary symbol mean?
Paul P Harris and friends called their society the Rotary Club because, not having a dedicated venue for their meetings, they decided to rotate venues, meeting at each member’s office in turn.
A sensible name deserves a sensible logo – the early Rotary Club adopted not the cog that we see today, but a wagon wheel. Unlike the wagons of the Wild West though, Rotary travelled north, south, east and west, until today, you’ll find Rotary Clubs everywhere from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
What does the Rotary Club do?
If you’re the sort of person who would like to share your knowledge, skills, and expertise for the benefit of communities at home and abroad, Rotary could be for you.
“In 2012, I and another Rotarian visited a rural area of Uganda to investigate the possibility of initiating a project to improve water supply and sanitation. As a result of that, our club adopted the project and early this year the $200,000 scheme was completed, bringing clean water and improved sanitation to about 7000 people.” Mawnan Fun Run Committee Chairman, Falmouth Rotarian Rod Allday
Promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education, and growing local economies – these are the causes to which Rotary is dedicated. But what distinguishes Rotary from other charities in the field is the way Rotarians work.
The Rotary ethos
Rotarians believe in getting things done through their personal connections. Rotary is a global network of useful people collaborating to help their local communities and tackle some of the world’s most intractable problems.
As a Rotarian, you could just as easily find yourself fundraising for a school reading programme, as volunteering to help stamp out Polio in the last three countries of the world in which it still has a foothold.
You could join fellow Rotarians in your area to help provide food and clothing to the homeless, fund your local food bank, or help to raise funds for local youth projects. At the core of all Rotary projects is the ideal of linking like-minded professionals in the pursuit of a common goal.
A social life shared
Socialising and networking are the beating heart of Rotary – it’s by getting together to share information, ideas, skills and knowledge, that this extraordinary organisation gets things done.
Rotary meetups are many and varied, ranging from business breakfasts to club nights, dinners, fundraisers and balls. If you’re new to Rotary, or have been invited to a Rotary Club event, do make sure you check the dress code as this can vary from one local club to another, as well as event to event.
As a professional, you’ll probably already have a well defined standard of dress. If smart casual is your preferred daily look, you’ll fit right in at the more casual Rotary occasions. You’ll also need your lounge suit and tie, or smart navy blazer for more formal lunches and dinners. For black tie events – your full dinner suit is de rigueur.
Joining the Rotary Club
Does the Rotary Club sound like the sort of organisation to which you would like to belong? As an ever-growing network, Rotary is always looking to expand its membership. If you know any Rotarians, it’s a good idea to begin by expressing an interest to them – there’s a good chance they’ll invite you to apply for membership; indeed this often how people gain an introduction to the organisation.
Douglas Nash, past President of Chelwood Bridge Rotary, near Bristol, explains that each Club, or satellite club, is different: “Rotary has gone through a number of changes, keeping our core values but embracing the idea of flexibility: that all clubs need not have the same structure, dress code, or event schedule.” Just because one club doesn’t feel like the right fit for you, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be another group where you’d slot right in.
Membership is by invitation only but you don’t have to know a Rotarian to join – if you’re interested, the best thing to do is to check out the website and make an expression of interest.