Is Rotary a unique opportunity?

In this the first of a series of blogs we ask the questions that every member of the organisation will ask in their journey through one of the most prestigious organisations in the world.

The other week I met with a good friend for lunch. One of the first announcements he made was that he had left Rotary and he said it was like a weight being lifted from his shoulders.  Now this was a person who had helped start a new club and over the years had been involved in taking part in reviews for RIBI so he had a good idea of the organisation and the system. We did not really go into the precise detail for his leaving we had many discussions over the months, and he had spoken with colleagues and I did not want to go over old ground. In our discussions over the months he had  left me in no doubt that he had become disillusioned with the organisation and it’s ability to adapt to the changing world. I came to the conclusion right or wrong that he reckoned he had done his bit to try to bring about change had got his ideas knocked back so many times that he felt the battle was not worth it. He had found lots of other things to do using his extensive experience in business starting companies and using his marketing and sales skills and I knew he did not give in lightly.

I came away from our lunch somewhat concerned . Here was a good Rotarian who had a lot to offer, had a lot of respect for the organisation and was  still supporting the Rotary Foundation but could see no future requirement for his skills and talents and as we talked even less for the organisation within the UK and Ireland. Was he right I wondered to give up and move on? What was so wrong with the organisation from his point of view to bring him to this decision?

In recent discussions with other Rotarians in a similar position I realised that his and their thinking was along much the same lines and some had not taken high office they were members of clubs who could see their club failing and were disheartened.

He had left Rotary and he said it was like a weight being lifted from his shoulders.”

As you do, if you are concerned about something you think further and speak with a few people to balance your view. Should I be alarmed.

Time and again sadly I came up against the same opinions, some members were taking over being President of their club for a second or even a third time but had no club members to take other posts. Others turned up at meetings now when there was a good speaker, some turned up each week because they had friends at the club and just enjoyed a chat and a meal once a week. There were others who would turn out to shake a bucket or help with a charity event but that was as far as  their involvement went. All of them realised they needed new members to freshen the club and all of them like myself think it’s a great organisation that needs to modernise fast to make it relevant to modern day living.

How many others will take flight and offer their skills and expertise to other organisations outside Rotary?

So on their behalf I did some more thinking and came up with a few thoughts and of course questions.

Is the organisation changing, is it adapting to a changing world, do the people leading the organisation see the need for change and understand what needs to be done? Indeed do they have the vision, courage, leadership skills, enthusiastic devotion and organisational ability to bring much needed change about?

Some of us have been asking these questions for years now and the more we ask the more urgent our questions become.

Before suggestions are made it is perhaps worth reflecting on Rotary the organisation in the United Kingdom and Ireland referred to as Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland RIBI. The structure is unique within the Rotary organisation in that there is an association of clubs forming various committees and groups at the top of which is a General Council consisting of the District Governors representing the clubs across RIBI all led by an elected President with a team around them.

This structure is administered by a team based in Alcester known as the Secretariat.

With such a unique organisation and structure come unique opportunities not on offer anywhere else within Rotary. So in many respects members of Rotary within RIBI have two bites of the cherry. They can engage the facilities of Rotary HQ in Evanston Illinois and also what’s on offer at RIBI.

With these unique opportunities comes a responsibility to engage and add value for members within their field of support. RIBI have various committees within their remit to facilitate many aspects of the Rotary Clubs activities within these islands.

“With such a unique organisation and structure come unique opportunities not on offer anywhere else within Rotary.”

Unquestionably the most important of these committees is Membership Development and Retention closely followed by Public Image, then The Rotary Foundation, Community Service, International Service, Vocational Service and Youth Service.

Within all of these committees/groups/teams call them what you will are truly devoted and passionate Rotarians tasked with supporting Districts, Clubs and Members within RIBI. They are or should be tasked with changing mindset and lifting morale, enthusiasm and motivation. I reckon this support is required more now than ever but I’m struggling to find it. The line of communication is from the committee to district then to club and of course the most important person in Rotary the grass roots club member.

I believe if we were to ask many club members, who are the backbone of the organisation but have never been called to high office, what value RIBI adds to their experience as a member and if as a result they would be more engaged in the organisation the answer would almost always be a negative.

So lets face it, the stark truth, something somewhere is wrong and not working, something is fundamentally wrong.  Is it in the execution of the plans of these committees, is it the communication from RIBI to the members after all the chain is long and a link could easily break, result: information and engagement lost. Does RIBI have a pragmatic communication plan, is it planning new and innovative ways to alter mindset to open minds of present members to accept new ideas in the second decade of this century?

Something somewhere is wrong and not working, something is fundamentally wrong.”

So I return to my friend who I had met for lunch and of course discussed Rotary. He is no longer part of the team but he so wanted to be to play his part to help Rotary grow. He was never in a competition for recognition for himself or his club he just wanted to get on and do a good job for Rotary but let’s face it he was rejected and dejected and if you are reading this I am sure you will be concerned as there are so many like him in the organisation. He was a talent we could ill afford to lose, there are a lot more like him so it is beholden on us to try and keep such members, to engage and motivate them to spread the Rotary message of doing good in the world. We say we are people of action but that begins at home so let’s see if the people of action can take the right actions to keep good members, enage the present ones and be attractive enough to encourage people to join us.

This blogpost was written by Allan Berry, a Rotarian from District 1080 and former Editor of RIBI’s National Magazine. In a future blog Allan will take a look at ways and ideas of engaging members present and prospective.

If you are interested in writing a one-off post or become a regular contributor to RotaryBlogger.co.uk please feel free to get in touch. (Please note that anonymous posts or posts under pseudonyms will not be published.)

 

Images in order of appearance by David Bush by CC

…and that’s all folks

I am sure it will come as a great relief to many that this Blogpost will be my last ever personal entry to RotaryBlogger.co.uk due to the fact that when the clock strikes midnight tonight and we move into a brand new Rotary year – I will not be making that journey with the other 45,000 Regular Rots in these islands.

My decision to resign from Rotary is one that will probably come as no surprise to many – as I have toiled long and hard to find a reason to stay in the organisation which continues to stand on many of the humanitarian principles I hold close.

However, for a number of reasons I find myself in a situation whereby I am continually struggling to align myself with an organisation which in my own anecdotal research is not viewed particularly positively by those with whom I have had the opportunity to enter into discussion. And contrary to being proud to be a member, I have found myself becoming less inclined to admit that I am a Rotarian; particularly in and around the modern business world.

This is not how it should be.

Of late, I have had personal experience of an individual Club member taking a frankly antiquated, belligerent, misogynistic and thoroughly inappropriate response when I outlined that I thought he had perhaps been a bit sexist to a young female Club member. And despite the substantial efforts of the Club President, Club Officers and fellow Regular Rots – the individual has yet to accept that that the comment was inappropriate and offence was caused. In effect, he carried on regardless.

I am sure my own experience is not isolated.

Around the same time, we were seeing the use of the word ‘Rotarian’ as a derogatory term in the national media. It was used alongside words such as ‘racist’, ‘right wing’ and ‘sexist’. Yet instead of taking a step back and asking why Rotarians were being viewed in this light; some Regular Rots thought the best defence was that of launching a social media attack on the well-respected author of the piece; ironically exacerbating and further enhancing the viewpoint expressed in his article.

Leading on from this, another of RotaryBloggger.co.uk’s ‘bonnet bees’ also raised its head.

It once again became clear that despite what was being presented in general, the organisation still has Clubs where members where proud they didn’t have ‘lady members‘. I understand that my own incoming District Governor (D1080) comes from an all-male Club which RotaryBlogger.co.uk is led to understand actively discourages females to join. Frankly this just should not be allowed in 2017 – yet despite all the promises and rhetoric of change, equality, diversity – these Clubs (and high Office holders) are allowed to continue to operate in this way.

Is this is not the kind of organisation to which I have an association?

Rotary is not about what you take from it – but what you can give; however when the organisation to which you were once proud to be a member starts to become a ‘dark secret‘ it has to be time to think about the divorce settlement. And so here we are…

When one ceases to admit to being a Rotarian within business and non-Rotarian friendship circles it is probably time to part company

The Blog…?

RotaryBlogger.co.uk started a few years ago when I attended the RotaryGBI Business Meeting in Birmingham and was frankly appalled at the way in which the meeting was usurped by what I felt to be ‘those in the know‘. I’ll never forget the wife of a Past RIBI President turning to a number of us as we walked out the conference hall saying, “Well, that showed them didn’t it?”

“Them”, being the Regular Rots I hasten to add – with me being one of those Regular Rots. I was both angry and disappointed – and I remember questioning myself even back then whether Rotary was an organisation to which I still wanted to be a part?

My get-out was the creation of RotaryBlogger.co.uk.

The blog became my Rotary Therapy. The couch on which I would lie every week (sometimes twice) and offload all the issues that I thought were impacting on the future direction of travel.

Who was I to do this? Well, nobody really – I was just a Regular Rot who had a passion for the organisation and wanted to see it move into the new century, not remain stuck in a 40 year time-warp with Wings’ “Mull of Kintyre” playing as a background musical accompaniment. And as I started to record my weekly counselling session – it seemed that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts.

Over the weeks and months the subscribers to RotaryBlogger.co.uk continued to increase; with more and more people commenting on the posts I was releasing – and not just from around these islands, but from all over the world.

I then started to receive emails and communications from people (some in very senior positions) commending the blog and the discussions that RotaryBlogger was encouraging. To be fair, I’m not sure that would be a view shared by everyone – as there must undoubtedly have been some Sunday mornings where the General Secretary, the RIBI President and other national Office Bearers just put their heads in the hands as the said in unison, “here he goes again.”

In addition, I would receive many communications about what was going on “out there” in terms of Clubs and Districts. Most of which I didn’t run – due to how damaging they could have been to the organisation. (Based on some of the previous blogposts over the years – some readers may find my adopting that position hard to believe. But trust me, there is some really bad and ugly stuff going on in the name of Rotary with which I don’t want to be associated but nor would I report.)

The blog was entitled “The good, the bad and the ugly of Rotary International” – and regretfully over the last year or so I have struggled to get anywhere outside of the bad and ugly categories of the organisation – and this in itself has probably helped catalyse my decision to resign from Rotary. I know there is good going on out there – but just because an all-male club raises £30k every year with their Santa Sleigh – still doesn’t make it right that they actively discourage females from joining their Club or would shun a female District Governor when she visited the Club. Does it?

So what happens to RotaryBlogger.co.uk now?

Well, it certainly won’t be receiving any blogs from me as a non-member, that simply would not be appropriate. However, it is not my intention to close the domain or the platform, and it will remain should any Regular Rots out there wish to use it to present a Guest Blog to encourage discussion or promote a particular agenda. So please feel free to get in touch if you would like to use the web-space to access the many subscribers; you’d be more than welcome.

Bowing out…

I have been a reasonably long standing Regular Rot – having held positions in the Club, the District, RIBI and even a short stint in RI and attributed to all, I am extremely proud.

However, while holding down each position was an extremely positive experience – I also think that sadly having some of those posts gave me an insight into a side of the organisation which is definitely not the positive face of Rotary.

That said, Rotary has brought me a number of great and wonderful experiences. I have met some amazing people – made many lifelong friends and it has given me a chance to travel around the country to places I may not otherwise have thought to go and to see.

I would love Rotary to succeed – but it really, really needs to reinvent itself and look outwards at what is happening in the world.

The world out there is changing in so many ways and maybe membership organisations are no longer de rigueur. Regardless, if Rotary is to continue it has to find which part of the jigsaw puzzle it is in this modern world. It needs to drop some of the old guard and listen to some of the comments coming from those described by an RIBI President as “Mavericks” – not write them off as another eye-rolling opportunity or a phone call to be avoided. There are many people out there on Social media who want to see a new Rotary and would be willing to assist – but not when they would then come up against individuals such as Past RIBI Presidents – actively canvassing against a changing RIBI around the world (this has happened).

I predict that by 2030 RotaryGBI (if it still exists in the world) will have around one third of its current membership if it is lucky. By this stage it will be far more diverse and have a much more gender balanced membership base. But in order for it to get to that position – Rotary needs to throw off the ‘less fun grandad‘ image, become more inclusive and have a much more balanced governance system in place that reflects the way of the world at that time.

Thank you…

I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of this blog – and I would thank all the subscribers and contributors over the years to the blog and associated social media pages; you have certainly given me lots to think about – and at times have challenged my own thinking for which I am very grateful.

Thank you to Rotary – I have enjoyed being a small part of you during out time together – and who knows, once you have had a shower, brushed your teeth, combed your hair, put clean underwear on and sprayed on a little cologne – then, who knows we may very well be reunited one day. But until then I wish you and all your members all the very best of luck.

This is “RotaryBlogger” signing off for the very last time.

Images in order of appearance by Woodleywonderworks by CC