Young Professionals: Redefining What Rotary Means
This summer in Berkeley, California, a group of Rotary young professionals and District leaders from zones 25 and 26 came together to discuss the future of Rotary. I was fortunate enough to attend this summit to find out what we can do to attract younger adults to the organisation. Rotary is renowned the world over for being the organization that works together to achieve results and this summit was no different. It managed to harness the attitudes of all Rotarians in attendance and help us focus on what younger Rotarians are looking for.
I first became part of the Rotary family back in 2010 when I joined Rotaract. Thinking back to the person I was when I attend my first Rotaract meeting to the person I am now a lot has happened. Now, I am founder and President of a provisional Rotary club in my hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. Rotary taught me how to lead, engage and manage groups people, projects, and events. These are skills I use in my daily work. When I am talking to people about why they need to be part Rotary, I emphasize how all encompassing this organisation is. Where else can you make lifelong friendships, network with professionals, learn life skills, volunteer and make a difference to communities all over the world?
Every Rotary conference tries to think out of the box, some better than others, and I can safely say this one was one of the best. Organisers had designed a dynamic, interactive and engaging program. Workshops facilitated by the Haas School of Business had participants discussing, writing down, illustrating our ideas and then presenting them to the larger group. Participants were encouraged to address issues Rotary is facing in appealing to young professionals in particular.
There were several themes and prevailing stereotypes discussed:
Both young professionals and District leaders recognised the same stereotypes which might be holding Rotary back. Most importantly, district leaders were open to change and ideas about how we can try and change these stereotypes. This showed me that age is not a factor in whether Rotary clubs begin to adapt to changing generations, it’s your attitude to change that impacts how Rotary will grow in the coming years.
Encouraging clubs to question how they meet and why they do what they do was a big topic of discussion. Young professionals may not see the benefit of being required to pay to eat at every meeting or singing the national anthem. Being respectful to tradition is important but clubs have to consider what signals their meeting format is sending to potential members.
Common themes were that member engagement was key, young professionals want to be heard and make an impact. Clubs must reach out and understand what members want from Rotary in order to make their experiences rewarding.
Young professionals want to network, this is an important factor in deciding whether to join Rotary or not. From a club point of view, offering networking opportunities is also a great selling point. Some Rotarians felt that networking was taboo at meetings and this was holding back Rotary’s potential.
Young professionals need flexibility. Rotary should fit into members lives not force members to change their life to fit into Rotary’s. This is especially true if a young professional has a young family.
This facilitation style was especially effective in getting young professionals working with District leaders. Normally, the opportunity to work with District leaders is limited and at times younger Rotarians may feel that their voice is not heard. This summit provided a microphone for that voice and I can tell you, district leaders listened. Each district in attendance walked away with an actionable plan to make Rotary in their district more attractive to young professionals. Some plans included having young professional involvement at the district level, new financial models for dues and creating your meeting your way.
Perhaps the best thing about the summit was getting to meet Rotarians from all over the west coast of North America. This is truly one of the great things in Rotary and life: forging friendships.. These people, my friends, are taking action.. Time for discussion is over. Rotary clubs and districts all over the world should assess any changes they need to make and create an action plan today. Having the opportunity to work alongside such inspirational leaders of all ages, I am feeling positive about the future of Rotary. Rotary will only grow in relevance if, and only if, Rotarians of all ages are listening to each other and working together. Innovation and tradition go hand in hand because ultimately we are all Rotary.