Rotarians — men and women alike — volunteer their efforts to improve the quality of life in their own communities and beyond their communities’ borders. The world’s Rotary clubs meet weekly and are non-political, non-religious, and open to all cultures, races, and creeds. Club membership represents a cross-section of local business and professional leaders.
Rotarians initiate community projects that address many of today’s most critical issues, such as violence, drug abuse, youth, AIDS, hunger, the environment, and illiteracy. Rotary clubs are autonomous and determine service projects based on local needs.
Rotarians work with and for youth to address challenges facing young people today. Through participation in Rotary-sponsored Interact clubs (for secondary school students), Rotaract clubs (for young adults), and Rotary Youth Leadership awards, young people worldwide learn leadership skills and the importance of community service. Rotary Youth Exchange gives high school students the opportunity to broaden their world view and build international friendships.
In large cities often plagued by urban violence, Rotary has the community-based network to help. Rotary-sponsored projects and conferences address the root causes of violence such as drug abuse, poverty, lack of role models, and gangs.
The main objective of Rotary is service — in the community and throughout the world. Rotarians build goodwill and peace, provide humanitarian service, and encourage high ethical standards in all vocations. The Rotary motto is “Service Above Self.”
Current membership figures worldwide
Rotary members worldwide 1.2m
Rotary clubs worldwide more than 32,000
Rotary countries over 200
Rotary districts 530
Rotary members in Great Britain & Ireland 56,800 approx
Rotary clubs in Great Britain & Ireland 1,838
The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International was created in 1917 for the purpose of “doing good in the world.” It supports Rotary’s efforts to further world understanding and peace. Through the Foundation, Rotarians sponsor international educational and humanitarian programs, where some US$90 million is invested annually.
PolioPlus is Rotary’s commitment to eradicating polio. Through the efforts of Rotary and its partners in the fight against polio, more than one billion children worldwide have been immunised since 1985. By 2005, Rotary’s financial commitment will reach a half billion US dollars. Of equal significance is the huge volunteer army mobilised by Rotary International for social mobilisation, vaccine transport and immunisation activities.
Rotary’s international network helps link people in need with Rotarians in other countries who can provide resources. The Foundation’s humanitarian programs improve health care systems, support sustainable sources of food and water, and provide literacy and vocational training — particularly in developing countries.
The Rotary Foundation’s educational programs include Ambassadorial Scholarships, the world’s largest privately funded source of international scholarships. More than 1,300 scholarships are awarded annually for study in another land. Grants are also awarded for university teachers to serve in developing countries and for international exchanges of professionals.
The world’s first service club was the Rotary Club of Chicago, Illinois, USA. The club was formed 23 February 1905 by lawyer Paul P. Harris and three friends — a merchant, a coal dealer, and a mining engineer. Harris wished to recapture the friendly spirit he had felt in the small town where he had grown up. The name “Rotary” was derived from the early practice of rotating meetings among members’ offices.
The first Rotary club was formed to promote fellowship among its members. Word of the club soon spread and other businessmen were invited to join. By the end of 1905, the Rotary Club of Chicago had 30 members. Three years later, a second club was formed in San Francisco, California, USA.
As Rotary grew, its focus shifted to service and civic obligations. Early service projects included building public “comfort stations” near Chicago’s City Hall and delivering food to needy families. In 1913, the 50 Rotary clubs then in existence contributed US$25,000 for flood relief in two US Midwestern states.
By the end of its first decade, Rotary had grown so large (nearly 200 clubs and more than 20,000 members) that a district structure was required. During Rotary’s second decade, clubs were launched in South and Central America, India, Cuba, Europe, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
During World War I, Rotary discovered new areas of service — at home in war relief and peace-fund drives as well as in active service and overseas in emergency efforts. After World War II, many clubs disbanded during the war were re-established, initiating a new era of service. Clubs in Switzerland and elsewhere organised relief efforts for refugees and prisoners of war. Forty-nine Rotarians participated in the 1945 United Nations Charter Conference in San Francisco.
The Rotary Foundation was established in 1917 as an endowment fund and became The Rotary Foundation in 1928. When Paul Harris died in 1947, Rotarians donated generously to the Foundation as a memorial.
The Rotary Foundation’s first program was Graduate Fellowships (now called Ambassadorial Scholarships), which sent 18 students abroad to seven countries in 1947.