Is Rotary now a ‘negative’ adjective?

As many readers of this blog will be aware, I along with many others have been becoming increasingly disillusioned by the organisation known as Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland over the last year or so – and through this blog have attempted to prompt constructive discussion regarding the bad and ugly of the association.

I have been a Rotarian for over around 10 years, having been proud to have played a role at a Club, District, National and even a short-stint at an International level – and of course the important role I undertook as a Regular Rot.

Could prospective members be influenced by the use of ‘Rotary’ as a negative adjective?

However, during this time, I have witnessed the membership decline to an all-time low.

During this time, I have perceived an increase in reluctance to embrace the workings of the modern world and a changing society.

During this time, I have witnessed and experienced a change in the way the public now perceive Rotary.

As an individual, I have been becoming increasingly concerned being associated with an organisation viewed in public as negatively-positioned to sit alongside descriptors such as, “racist pub bores”, “golf club sexists”, those who sneer at “food bank users” or physical examples where calling a female Rotarian “little girl” is viewed as acceptable by the person making it.

So it was interesting that an article in The Guardian by Paul Mason titled “A simple people’s Brexit plan can replace May’s flawed strategy” was brought to my attention due to the Rotary references contained therein.

Mr Mason is described by The Guardian online as “writer and broadcaster on economics and social justice” and although his article makes some really interesting points about the upcoming UK General Election and the issues voters may be considering such as Brexit; it is not this part upon which that I wish to focus spotlight. But more the way in which some Regular Rots (and even our National President) has reacted to the Rotary reference in the article.

You see, in his piece Paul Mason states,

“As we face the coming election, then, whose galaxy do you want to be in? What we are up against is not just the antics of the Tory negotiating team – May, Boris Johnson and David Davis – but also a galaxy of pub bores, Rotarians and golf-club sexists.

The reference to Rotary has prompted a letter to the Editor by Eve Conway, President of RotaryGBI in which she attempts to highlight the counter-position, detailing the work or Rotary and at the same time informing the Editor that the article was a “disappointing read” and not reflective of what Regular Rots stand for. Read Eve Conway’s full response here (while link is available).

Now, as one would expect – Eve Conway as National President has herself been lauded by some of social media for having stood up for the objectives of Rotary. She should be congratulated as in the main her response hits all the marks. [That said, I’m not sure I would have been as brave to try to portray the image of a diverse membership with different ages, backgrounds, cultures and viewpoints, all working together on one common ethos. I’m not sure that is as factually correct as she may think as outlined in a previous blog called, “Will the last one to leave…”]

Going back to the article itself – Paul Mason surrounds Rotary’s reference by words associated with many other attributes contrary to the accepting,  modern, multi-cultural country in which we live. And for Rotary in these islands…that should be a worry.

The problem for the Rotary establishment is that they need to urgently open their eyes as to how people ‘out there’ view the organisation. I have undertaken a fair bit of my own ‘anecdotal research’ as to where Rotary is sits in the minds of modern working people – and I am being polite when I say the responses I receive are not particularly well placed.

Well done to the National President in trying to clarify the position with her reply. She has been brave to stick her head above the parapet when other research and anecdotal evidence may easily counter to her claims.

I wonder whether this ‘word association’ with Rotary Clubs and Rotarians in these islands is one that is prompting individuals internally as well as prospective members to consider whether they wish to be associated with an organisation that is used as an adjective to describe the less socially acceptable aspects of society?

It’s definitely had an impact on me.


Images in order of appearance by R~P~M by CC

Will the last one to leave…

It’s been a while…

But I’ve been prompted to get back to the RotaryBlogger keyboard on the basis of the increasing numbers of conversations I am having with fellow Regular Rots that are giving serious consideration to making a quiet backdoor exit from what they once believed was a wonderful organisation.

Now, to put this in perspective, I’m not speaking to hundreds of Rotarians around the world who are thinking of leaving – but I am in direct or indirect contact with quite a few who are giving some serious consideration as to whether Rotary International is giving them any of the satisfaction or fulfilment it once did.

Despite the best efforts of many initiatives and the way in which the figures are presented, it seems from those in the know that net membership figures across the organisation are effectively dropping year on year.


Is it really moving towards a position of “Could the last one to leave please turn off the lights” for Rotary International?

Are we now getting to a position where the age profile of the organisation has reached the ‘tipping point‘ many people spoke of a few years ago? This tipping point being the position whereby the demographic direction of the organisation gets to a position whereby it is non-recoverable, i.e. destined to continue on the same trajectory on which it has travelled for the last number of years and nothing is going to stop it.

Take the issue of age; I happened to stumble across a photograph posted on Facebook by a Rotarian currently attending Governor Elect Training this weekend in Madrid. In a line up of eleven posers in the photo – I would have put the average of those in the gallery in their mid-sixties – and even then, admittedly I may have been a little kind in reaching my conclusions. But without equivocation there is no doubt their age profile lay within the 65-75 year old age bracket.

On a personal basis, I have slowly come to the conclusion, perhaps even realisation that Rotary is not modern enough for today’s society. And despite all efforts previously been made, only a matter of weeks ago a work colleague confirmed she still had the perception that Rotary was a retired, male-only organisation affiliate to the Freemasons!

After all this time – why haven’t we got it right?

In terms of the other equalities issues we are still way off the mark as well and it would seem that Rotary is nowhere near as diverse at it would paint itself to be or it would have the outside world believe.

Based on the UK Census Data of 2011 – 51% of the population was female (yes, you read that right – females actually held the balance in the most recent census), 87% of the UK was white and 18% deemed themselves to a long-term health problem or disability. In addition, an Office for National Statistics survey in 2013 assessed that 93.5% of the population classed themselves as ‘heterosexual’ or ‘straight’ with 1.5% being Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual (LGB) and the remaining 5% preferring not to say.

Therefore if we are talking about RotaryGBI and reflecting the 2011 census – then based on a membership of 50,000 Regular Rots we should therefore have:

  • 6,500 non-white Rotarians;
  • 9,000 with a long-term health issue or disability;
  • 750 Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual Rotarian (with the potential to be 3,250)
  • 25,500 female Rotarians

I am sure these figures would be reflective in many of the countries where Rotary is prevalent.

So as we look at the demographics of age, gender, sexuality, disability and race – it seems that Rotary International (certainly in UK and Ireland) doesn’t seem to be reflective of the changing face of the society to which it claims to be very much a part.

However, during my travels around Rotary Clubs, I have heard of potentially racist jokes being printed in Club and even District magazines; I have heard of homophobic behaviour and what I believe has recently been referred to as ‘locker-room’ chat taking place at meetings, I have even printed blog posts regarding female members being ‘encouraged’ to join other Clubs and yet little – if anything is ever done about these things [“Rotary’s Ticking Time Bomb” – May 2015].

So is it any wonder that modern, equality-savvy, feminists like myself are becoming increasingly disillusioned with what is clearly developing into a more and more out of date organisation – and therefore taking a personal decision to disengage as a member?

Only this week I read on social media a post from a positive, forward thinking and young Rotarian from Down Under who is probably one of the most enthusiastic Rotarians I have had the pleasure to come across over recent years – that they had been given a hard time by another Rotarian for apparently using Rotary for ‘self-promotion’. Reading ‘enthusiastic’s’ response you could hear that he was royally p*ssed off – but still offered a far-more, sensible and balanced comeback that the prompting comment.

But why would anyone do this? Jealousy? Envy? Keeping the youngsters down? Stop the rising stars? To be honest, I don’t know – I have no idea. But what I do know is that – such an example of this is yet another ‘tipping point‘ moment – one of those fragments in time where thoughts like ‘why do I do this?’ comes into your mind and having the potential to make an undecided Rotarian press the big red button and slip out the backdoor.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it – in 2016 there are so many ways to do ‘Rotary’ and many of those in posts and positions delegated to be making and taking decision on behalf of the Regular Rots would be well placed to remember:

  • I don’t need to endure weekly ‘corporate chicken’ to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need to pay a subscription to an organisation to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need to attend regional or national meetings to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need to be bound by outdated rules and regulations to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need a top-heavy hierarchical structure to govern me to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need to be connected to an old-fashioned and out of date organisation to do good in my local community;
  • I don’t need a Rotary Club to connect with similar minds to do good in my local community.

This list could go on and on and I am sure you the reader could add your own “I don’t need to’s….” to the list as well.

So, as RotaryBlogger returns for one of the now infrequent posts – please do what this blog was created to do – and think!

Think about this decline in membership we are witnessing and perhaps at the same time as trying to attract new members – maybe think about why new members are not looking to join our organisation? And always remember it’s easier to retain a member than recruit a member – trust me, this is a very well documented fact in business.

Remember when Coca-cola unilaterally changed the formula of their soft drink. They could have done all the promotion and advertising they wanted to get their customers back – but the consumer no longer liked the product and therefore stopped buying it. It wasn’t until they undertook a bit of soul-searching and effectively admitted they didn’t know best and hadn’t necessarily got it right that things started changing for the better.

Maybe…just maybe there’s a lesson for our Rotary King and [infrequently] Queen-makers in there somewhere…

Images in order of appearance by Alexander Synaptic by CC