One aspect of Rotary Culture, different from other cultures, lies in the formality of running the Rotary organisations. Arguably, this is the best method to normalise Rotary activities and practices across the world and bring in a transparent and acceptable eco-system, minimising subjectivity.
During such an evolution, an important element called “the current year” became an all-pervasive factor. Starting from the club presidents, all the echelons right up to the top are “responsible” for achievements during ‘their’ year. This ‘one year’ thinking resulted in a major practice that is detrimental to the growth and future of Rotary. Every year, the Club President raises resources internally, and The Rotary Foundation. This puts tremendous burden on members. As the club presidents need not look beyond ‘their years,’ legacy projects for societal good extending over a few years are hence not taken up. This manifests itself in lack of USPs to the clubs. In addition to yearly financial burden, absence of the big picture makes people leave Rotary. During my 25 years of Rotary association and during so many years of leading the clubs, starting new clubs and implementing novel corporate programmes like Mind Trigger etc., I found to my dismay that the situation is accepted largely and rarely challenged.
How does one overcome such an in-built lacuna in the system? It is very necessary that the clubs should have recourse to funds for their projects not only from internal resources, but also from external resources as a routine. All over the world, the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is increasing and spreading. Business establishments, high net-worth individuals, trusts, families, etc., believe increasingly in giving something back to society. If such organisations and individuals can be co-opted in the planning and execution of Rotary projects, resource problems will diminish to a large extent. Clubs can concentrate on social projects. But, no institution or individual will be happy to be associated with a Rotary club unless they see a big picture in the form of a credible USP and long term projects covering a few years.
They look for a system that will be accountable for the resource utilisation over a few years and a system that results in the value additions to the corporations in terms of image and in terms of their employees taking part in social activities. Not much to ask by a giver; but too much to ask from Rotary clubs of today’s dispensation.
This is again my experience with the Rotary because I was for more than a decade a Director of one of the largest multinational companies in the world and an active member of Rotary simultaneously. I could rarely keep at bay the criticism of many promising corporate houses that would like to engage Rotary in a big way. CSR has to be taken to different heights by the actual implementation of synergy between organisations on either side of the CSR.
Absence of the big picture makes people leave Rotary.
Rotary’s future depends on the credibility of its projects and its value addition in other spheres. An eco-system
of involvement of the world outside (read corporate, HNIs etc.) for long term programmes is an excellent way to change Rotary from the ‘current year’ mindset to ‘long term’ mindset. Bringing CSR imaginatively is one of the solutions that is doable and doable immediately.
More and more organisations are encouraging their employees to engage in social work through social service organisations that are auditable and long standing. They would like to channel CSR through such representatives of their own.
Isn’t it the right time for Rotary to use this beautiful opportunity?
(The author, member of RC Bangalore Jeevan Bhima Nagar, District 3190, is former Director of Motorola organisations in many countries and an Ex-officer of Indian Air Force. His current entrepreneurship of growing short rotation forests and produce cheap electricity from biomass is first of its kind in the world. He holds two world records in two different fields, namely Aerial Weapons and Software.)