Gender imbalance a big challenge before Rotary

Unveiling his theme for the Rotary year 2017–18 as Rotary: Making a Difference, incoming RI President Elect Ian Riseley made a strong statement for including more women and younger members in Rotary. “When we look at the challenges which we have to address in the coming years, two of them stand out to me; one is the gender imbalance in our membership and the other is the average age of Rotarians.”

It was “20 years since our Council on Legislation voted to admit women members in our Rotary clubs. And yet the percentage of women is just a little above 20 per cent, up from 13 per cent 10 years ago.”


At this rate, it would take Rotary another three decades to get “gender parity” with as many women, as men, in the Rotary clubs, Riseley said, addressing the 2017–18 batch of incoming District Governors at the International Assembly in San Diego.

We need more women

“We know that we can do more together than we could ever hope to do alone.

Three decades is far too long to wait to achieve a Rotary that reflects the world in which we live. We need to make it a priority now,” he said.

Noting that 103 of the 539 incoming governors are women, Riseley said to the women DGEs in the group: “You are the finest examples of the women we need in Rotary, women as leaders who Rotary will connect with, represent, and better serve all of the members of all our communities.”

The Governor told me the International Assembly would be a life changing experience and the greatest thing that ever happened to me in Rotary. He said it so often, that I got a bit tired of it.”

The second challenge before Rotary was the age of its members. “Paul Harris was only 26 years when he founded Rotary; today only 5 per cent of our reported membership is under the age of 40. The great majority of our members are aged over 60.” And this figure too was based on “age-reporting that covers only half our membership base. It doesn’t even include the people who don’t want to tell us how old they are!”

To peels of laughter in the hall, he added: “Now think about it for a moment and then consider what Rotary stands to look like 10 or 20 years from now if we don’t get very serious, very soon, about bringing in younger members,” Riseley said, adding, “this is essential for our organisation to flourish.”

Another urgent necessity before Rotary, an important aspect of the sustainability principle that it believed in, and “that underpins all that we stand for, but is too little talked about, but which we can no longer put aside, is the sustainability of our planet.”

RI President John F Germ and Judy Germ.
RI President John F Germ and Judy Germ.

In 1990, RI President Paulo Costa had called upon Rotarians to preserve planet earth, and this had become “even more relevant today as environmental degradation and climate change threaten us all.”

These two threats were even more dangerous to “those towards whom Rotary has the greatest responsibility. Yet environmental issues barely register on the Rotary agenda. The time is long past when environmental sustainability can be dismissed as not Rotary’s concern. It is and must be, everybody’s concern,” he said.

One tree for every Rotarian

Saying this, the RIPE made an impassioned plea to all Rotary clubs to plant trees; one for each of its members “sometime between the start of the new Rotary year (1 July) and Earth Day which is on 22 April, 2018. The environmental benefit that those 1.2 million new trees will bring will be immense.”

Even more important, “it recognises our responsibility not only to the people of the planet but the planet itself!”

Another strategic priority before Rotary was increasing its humanitarian service, Riseley said. Of the six focus areas of Rotary, one was sustainability.  Rotarians “don’t dig wells and walk away”; they make sure that the clinics they built keep running and “when it comes to polio, we aren’t just working to contain it, we are working to end it. It is an investment that will yield not just a long-lasting but a permanent benefit on a global scale, because polio is unique in Rotary’s history. It tells us what we are capable of achieving and should be a model for all our services.” It demonstrated effectively that the best way to do any work is to “do it for sustainability and in partnership with others”.

The President-elect said the three priorities the RI Board had set in its Strategic Plan were to support and strengthen Rotary clubs, increase its humanitarian services and enhance Rotary’s public image.

While the TRF grants process would be simplified, the clubs would be strengthened in various ways and “there will be a far more effective Rotary Club Central which will be faster, easier to use, mobile-friendly, and an essential tool for every club.” Riseley added.

“We know that we can do more together than we could ever hope to do alone,” he told the DGEs. “I ask you to keep that spirit of teamwork and cooperation always in your minds and to take it back with you to your districts.”

Earlier, welcoming the class of 2017–18 DGs, RI President John Germ said, “The International Assembly is designed to provide you with training, information and inspiration to prepare you for the upcoming year. Our goal is to increase your Rotary knowledge, bring you up-to-date on the challenges we face, broaden your experience of Rotary’s internationality, ask you to exemplify the Rotary ideal of Service Above Self, and above all, have fun.”

They would be prepared for their journey as DGs by a dedicated and expert team of general officers, training leaders, and others. At the Assembly, along with their batchmates, they would also have an opportunity to meet RI Board members, Foundation trustees, and past RI Presidents. “Use every opportunity to mingle and meet with them and advance your knowledge of Rotary. By the end of the intensive but rewarding week of training, you will be fully prepared to assist Rotarians in your district and to accomplish Rotary’s 2017–18 goals. We know you will develop fond memories of the time we spend together at the International Assembly as you join the ranks of distinguished Rotary leaders,” added Germ wishing them a successful year as Governors.

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

Life changing experience


Addressing the inaugural session of the International Assembly, incoming RI President Ian Riseley said the hall filled with the incoming Governors reminded him of his own IA 20 years ago, “and how the current Governor told me in no uncertain terms that the International Assembly would be a life changing experience and the greatest thing that ever happened to me in Rotary. He said it so often that I got a bit tired of it.”

“I felt that an IA should be heaps of fun, a lot of hard work, but I didn’t expect it to change my life. It might shock you all to find that I was right. My International Assembly did not change my life. It was fun, we worked incredibly hard, learned a lot and went home with our heads swimming, made friends. It was a wonderful experience but it wasn’t life changing.”

But the year that followed was; not seven days in a hotel with his fellow DGEs, “but the 365 days as a DG, seeing the difference that Rotary could make if I did my job well.” He saw for himself how he and his district could, and would, change lives. “You and I are beginning here something tremendous together… an experience that will change the lives of people who we don’t know, or might never meet. In fact what we do after we leave from here is what makes the real difference… we are here to help mankind and build a Rotary that is sustainable.”

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