Rotary International is an organisation of service clubs known as Rotary Clubs located all over the world. The stated purpose of the organisation is to provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world.
It’s a secular organisation open to everyone regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or political preference. There are 34,282 clubs and over 1.2 million members worldwide. Members of Rotary Clubs are known as Rotarians and usually meet weekly, which is a social event as well as an opportunity to organise work on their service goals.
The object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:
- The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
- High ethical standards in business and professions, the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations, and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society;
- The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian’s personal, business, and community life;
- The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.
This objective is set against the ‘Rotary 4-Way Test’ used to see if a planned action is compatible with the Rotarian spirit. It is still seen as a standard for ethics in business and every day interaction with others.
Of things we think, say or do:
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Rotary’s primary motto is ‘Service above Self’.
Who started Rotary?
The first Rotary Club was formed in 1905 by 37 year-old attorney Paul Harris.
He was raised by his New England grandparents with values of tolerance toward all, gained his law degree in 1891. In his senior year, a former graduate told his class that they should… “Go to a small town for five years make a fool of themselves, then go to the big city!” Paul decided to hit the road for the entire world.
He worked as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, 1891; manual labourer on a fruit ranch, then raisin packing plant, teacher at the L.A. Business College in 1892. Denver, Colorado, 1892: Actor in a stock company, reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, cowboy, reporter for The Republican. Jacksonville, Florida: St. James Hotel night clerk, travelling granite/marble salesman 1892/93, reporter on the Washington Star, cattleman on a ship 1893, haymaker and cannery worker 1893, sub-foreman of the gang of cattlemen 1893, (where he wrote that, on his first voyage, he experienced sub-human conditions); orange picker in Florida 1893, back to Jacksonville selling marble granite. His territory included the southern states, Cuba, the Bahamas and Europe.
When he announced that he was going to Chicago to practice law his employer said, “Whatever the advantages of settling in Chicago may be, I am satisfied you will make more money if you remain with me.” To the Paul replied: “I am sure you are right but I am not going to Chicago for the purpose of making money; I am going to the purpose of living a life.”
On February 23, 1905, Paul Harris had dinner with his closest friend, Chicago coal dealer Silvester Schiele. Afterwards they walked up to Room 711 of the Unity Building where they met their host, Gustavus Loehr, a mining engineer; and another friend, Hiram Shorey, a merchant tailor. Harris proposed that they form a club. No name was chosen for the group. But they agreed to meet next at the offices of Silvester Schiele.
The second meeting was March 9th. Three other men, Harry Ruggles, William Jenson, and A. L. White joined them. Ruggles was a printer, and created the ‘name badge’ version of the Rotary ‘wheel‘ and also started singing in Rotary. In fact his singing kept the group from disbanding more than once. It was also decided that ‘rotating’ the meetings made ‘Rotary‘ the most logical name.
Two weeks later the group gathered at the office of Silvester Schiele, in his coal yard at Twelfth and State Streets. Six of the previous seven were present along with Charles Newton and Arthur B. Irwin.
Paul was very interested in starting Rotary in other cities. Harris also had a vision of ‘Around the World Rotary’ which was also opposed by many of his fellow Rotarians. It was not until he won the loyalty of the man who was to be Rotary’s secretary from 1910 – 1942 that Rotary became organised and international. That man was Chesley Perry, whom Paul called the ‘Builder of Rotary’.
By August 1910 there were sixteen clubs and the National Association of Rotary Clubs was organized and held its first convention that year, in Chicago. At the 1911 Portland Convention, ‘Service, Not Self’ was introduced by Frank Collins of Minneapolis. It later became ‘Service Above Self’.
When clubs were formed in Canada and Great Britain in 1912, the name was changed to the International Association of Rotary Clubs, and was later shortened to Rotary International in 1922.
Paul Harris was the first president of the National Association of Rotary Clubs, serving two terms. And over the next 35 years, he and his wife, Jean Thomson Harris, made numerous exhausting trips to nearly every continent, visiting hundreds of cities, planting friendship trees and attending Rotary conferences. He was named President Emeritus of the International Association in 1912 and served until his death in 1947.
As Rotary spanned the globe, branch offices were opened in Europe, South America, South Asia, Southwest Pacific. In the UK British Rotary had its own office. When Rotary International President Emeritus, world traveler, author and prominent Chicago attorney Paul Harris passed away on January 27, 1947, his dream had grown from one group of four to 6,000 clubs in 75 countries with 300,000 members brought together through the service and fellowship of Rotary
Two world wars changed the face of Rotary – parts of the Far East and Eastern Europe were closed to Rotary. Eventually, clubs were re-established in Japan, Germany, Poland and Hungary. In 1990 the first club was opened in the former Soviet Union and negotiations are currently underway to re-establish Rotary in China. In 1987, Rotary membership was opened to women, and in 1989 the RI Council on Legislation standardised all Rotary documents and rules.
In 1985, Rotary launched its PolioPlus program to immunise all of the world’s children against polio. As of 2011, Rotary has contributed more than 900 million US dollars to the cause, resulting in the immunisation of nearly two billion children worldwide.
As of 2006, Rotary has more than 1.2 million members in over 32,000 clubs among 200 countries and geographical areas, making it the most widespread by branches and second largest service club by membership, behind Lions Clubs International.
In order to carry out its service programs, Rotary is structured in club, district and international levels. Rotarians are members of their clubs. The clubs are chartered by the global organisation Rotary International (RI) headquartered in Evanston, a suburban city near Chicago. For administrative purposes, the more than 32,000 clubs worldwide are grouped into 529 districts, and the districts into 34 zones.
The Rotary Club is the basic unit of Rotary activity, and each club determines its own membership. Each club meets weekly, usually at a mealtime on a weekday in a regular location, when Rotarians can discuss club business and hear from guest speakers. More recently E-clubs have evolved and Rotarians meet online each week.
Each club conducts various service projects within its local community, and participates in special projects involving other clubs in the local district, and occasionally a special project in a “sister club” in another nation. Most clubs also hold social events at least quarterly and in some cases more often.
Each club elects its own president and officers among its active members for a one year term. The clubs enjoy considerable autonomy within the framework of the standard constitution and the constitution and bylaws of Rotary International.
The governing body of the club is the Club Board, consisting of the club president (who serves as the Board chairman), a president-elect, club secretary, club treasurer, and several Club Board directors. In the majority of clubs, the immediate past president is also a member of the Board.
The president usually appoints the directors to serve as chairs of the major club committees, including those responsible for club service, vocational service, community service, youth service, and international service.
A district governor, who is an officer of Rotary International and represents the RI board of directors in the field, leads his/her respective Rotary district. Each governor is nominated by the clubs of his/her district, and elected by all the clubs meeting in the annual RI Convention held in a different country each year. The district governor appoints assistant governors from among the Rotarians of the district to assist in the management of Rotary activity and multi-club projects in the district.
Approximately 15 Rotary districts form a zone. A zone director, who serves as a member of the RI board of directors, heads two zones. The zone director is nominated by the clubs in the zone and elected by the convention for the terms of two consecutive years.
Rotary International is governed by a board of directors composed of the international president, the president-elect, the general secretary, and 17 zone directors. The nomination and the election of each president is handled in the one-to-three year period before he takes office, and is based on requirements including geographical balance among Rotary zones and previous service as a district governor and board member. The international board meets quarterly to establish policies and make recommendations to the overall governing bodies, the RI Convention and the RI Council on Legislation.
The chief operating officer of RI is the general secretary, who heads a staff of about 600 people working at the international headquarters in Evanston and in seven international offices around the world.
According to its constitutions (“Charters”), Rotary defines itself as a non-partisan, non-sectarian organization. It is open to students, business and professional people ers of all ages (18 and upwards) and economic status.
One can contact a Rotary club to inquire about membership but can join a Rotary club only if invited; there is no provision to join without an invitation as each prospective Rotarian requires a sponsor who is an existing Rotarian.
Active membership is by invitation from a current Rotarian, to professionals or businesspersons working in diverse areas of endeavour. The goal of the clubs is to promote service to the community they work in, as well as to the wider world. Many projects are organised for the local community by a single club, but some are organised globally.
Honorary membership is given by election of a Rotary Club to people who have distinguished themselves by meritorious service in the furtherance of Rotary ideals. Honorary membership is conferred only in exceptional cases. Honorary members are exempt from the payment of admission fees and dues. They have no voting privileges and are not eligible to hold any office in their club. Honorary membership is time limited and terminates automatically at the end of the term, usually one year. It may be extended for an additional period or may also be revoked at any time.