Make Rotary irresistible

How will you make your club “irresistible” to your members, and foster a “sense of belonging” in them? This is my challenge to you,” said incoming RI President Stephanie Urchick, while addressing a general session at the RI Convention in Singapore.

Incoming RI President Stephanie Urchick

While there would be so many different ways of doing so, she gave them one example of how the Rotary Club of Holyoke in Massachusetts, US, grew its membership by making some changes and adopting some innovations in the immediate aftermath of the Covid pandemic. “Turning this setback into a strength, the club started meeting in the community room at the local library, and now it gets lunch from a nearby deli. Lunch costs $10 per person, but it’s optional. Folks can bring their own lunch if they want, and attending the meeting is free of charge for those who don’t buy lunch. What a great way to work towards being fair to all concerned.” Since then, RC ­Holyoke has gained 13 new members, she said, amidst applause.

Of course, one change did not mean any club could afford to stop focusing on the club experience. “But making lunch more flexible in meetings did something important for Holyoke — it fostered a sense of inclusivity by acknowledging and adapting to different considerations, the first step toward belonging.”

She urged club leaders to make changes to give members a greater sense of belonging, and the best practice was to ask both existing and prospective members what they expected from the club experience and Rotary membership. Once they get the feedback, “you might find that some members don’t feel like they fit in or that the club experience is not compelling to prospective members.” Here, Rotary’s Action Plan can help, as it has tools to collect feedback, assess the club’s strong points, identify areas to improve, and address challenges, she added.

Let’s welcome even those who don’t look or act like the typical members of our clubs. With a focus on inclusivity and belonging, it’s easier to be united for common goals.
Stephanie Urchick, RI President Elect

Stephanie said that in a constantly changing world Rotary clubs couldn’t afford to stand still. “But the changes we make need to be consistent and strategic and towards a greater vision, which will give you the continuity you need to create effective change within your club. Following the Action Plan and addressing suggestions from the community will go a long way to foster the sense of belonging we want all Rotary members to feel in their existing or new clubs.”

This was where, she added, the importance of “expanding our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is so important. Anyone who has the heart and hands for service belongs in Rotary, and I hope you’ll join me in opening your arms to future people of action even if — and in some cases, especially if — they don’t look or act like the typical member of your club.”

With a focus on inclusivity and belonging, it’s easier to be united for common goals, and members committing to each other’s well-being was the first step to expand Rotary’s reach and spread positive peace in these troubled times.


Peacebuilding a priority

Building peace in the world remains a top priority for Rotary and one of the most effective ways Rotarians do this is through its Peace Fellowship, a project TRF announced in Singapore 25 years ago, which helps existing and aspiring peace and development professionals learn how to prevent or end conflict. “It’s fitting that we return to Singapore 25 years after our peace fellowship programme was first announced, and the progress we’ve made in that time is nothing short of magical. More than 1,800 peace fellows have graduated from Rotary Peace Centers and are working in more than 140 countries towards a better world.”

Now, thanks to a $15.5 million gift from the Otto and Fran Walter Foundation, one more peace centre was coming up at the Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul, where the next year’s Rotary presidential peace conference would be held from Feb 20–22. Its very appropriate theme was ‘Healing in a Divided World,’ and it would focus on Rotary’s systematic peace efforts and provide opportunities to learn together. Rotary Peace Fellows, Positive Peace activists and Rotary’s key partners in peace would participate and registration for this conference will open in July, she said, seeking Rotarians’ support for this important initiative.

“The truth is, we’re not going to bring peace to the world, end polio, or grow membership by waving a wand and saying some funny words. It’s up to you. You create the magic with every project completed, every dollar donated, and every new member inducted.”

Signing off on a nostalgic note, Stephanie said: “I will always cherish my memories of the last international convention in Singapore 25 years ago. I was district governor then, and I am truly honoured to accept the position of Rotary International president now.” She urged the participants to return home and build on the connections they had made at the convention. n

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