In the emerging post-Covid scenario, the world needs Rotary more than ever and “we have a great opportunity to create innovative club models to attract professionals of varying age groups,” said RI General Secretary John Hewko.
He urged Rotarians to study the growth trajectory of Rotary and its membership graph over the last 115 years to understand “where we are heading in terms of growth in the next 4–5 years.” Speaking at a webinar titled Synergy Plus to kick-off Membership Development Week in RID 3201, the RI’s top honcho pointed at four narratives that are critical to sustain growth in the near future — Elevate Rotaract, membership retention, implementing projects in a virtual environment, and holding fundraisers when field activities and events such as dinners, walkathons and fellowship may not be possible.
A big tragedy
While Rotaractors were elevated as part of Rotary, more than 90 per cent of them never make the transition as Rotarians. “Clubs must attract Rotaractors, make them comfortable and give them district leadership posts to make them responsible. We have to find ways to retain existing members as attracting new ones will be very difficult in these times,” he explained.
When it comes to raising funds and resources, Rotary clubs must leverage the skills of Rotaractors who are adept in the usage of tech platforms to network and connect with influential people. In the next 4–5 years, Rotary membership might fluctuate in a negative bandwidth of 1–2 per cent, he said, but assured that “we are operationally and financially very strong to overcome this hurdle.”
During this pandemic, the RI Board has swung into action and sanctioned $7 million under the Covid Disaster Grant, for which a special task force was set up, and $29 million under GGs for Rotary clubs to execute emergency relief work such as distribution of food, PPE kits, setting up Covid centres and arranging logistics in managing the health crisis.
There should not be any let-up in polio-eradication efforts despite the corona challenges, he said, but added that it is only natural that part of the Rotary infrastructure under GPEI will be redeployed for fighting the pandemic in many countries. Africa will be declared polio-free by August-end and the “wild poliovirus will be left only in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
DG Jose Chacko Madhavaserry RID 3201
Hewko added that for some years, the membership had stagnated at 1.2 million and now with the pandemic, “we are concerned over its decline in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Japan. Hence, we need to step back and re-evaluate ourselves as the market is offering challenges,” he pointed out. Rotary is not selling soap or a product, “but selling a club experience where professionals enjoy spending their time, energy and money on social projects. While the core values of Rotary such as vocational service and the Four-Way Test will never change, members should not be rigid on rules or get bogged down on procedural issues. Instead they must focus on ensuring quality projects and services which will attract new members, he said.
Unveiling his action plan for the year, DG Jose Chacko Madhavaserry said RID 3201 has targeted an addition of 700 new members, including 200 women, in 2020–21. With 145 Rotary clubs, over 5,600 members (445 women), 107 Rotaract clubs and 72 Interact clubs, he is aiming for a 15 per cent overall growth. Quoting Rotary founder Paul Harris, the DG said, “in a changing world be prepared to change with it.”
Toastmasters International, District 121, Director Nirmal Lilly said both the NGOs have similar goals and entering into a strategic alliance they can share best practices on leadership training and host joint events to facilitate excellence in service projects. DRR Janani, RID 3201, said Rotarians and clubs need to be proactive to attract Rotaractors, especially young professionals, as “most of them are not aware of the opportunities that await them in Rotary.” Perhaps Rotaractors can be offered discounts in membership fees by Rotary clubs as a bait to attract them, she opined.
District trainer PDG Baby Joseph, membership chair S Subramaniam, events chair Sundaravadivelu from RC Coimbatore, which organised the webinar, DGE S Rajasekhar, DGN Rajmohan Nair, PDGs Suresh Mathew and K S Pillai shared their views on membership growth. Earlier DG Chacko inaugurated a Fellowship of music loving Rotarians from Coimbatore zone which has already inducted 40 members and will be hosting an inter district music fest soon. Around 450 Rotarians took part in the webinar.