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My Life as a Rotary International District Governor

Exactly What is a Rotarian?

Those who know me know that I have been involved in Rotary International for over 20 years. I often hear the question, “What is Rotary?” but a more accurate question is “Who is Rotary?”. While Rotary International is the world’s largest service organization with over 53,000 Rotary Clubs in 200 countries and a membership of 1.4 million, Rotarians are folks just like you and me who care about their neighbours, their planet, and want to give back to their communities. Here’s an interesting fact: Rotary International has a presence in more countries than the United Nations.

Our seven areas of focus:

  • Peace and Conflict Resolution
  • Disease Prevention and Treatment
  • Water and Sanitation
  • Maternal and Child Health
  • Basic Education and Literacy
  • Economic and Community Development
  • Environment

Rotarians around the world work to improve the lives of others. Our biggest undertaking is the eradication of polio around the world. Since 1986, Rotary and the World Health Organization (WHO) have worked tirelessly to eliminate this disease. Through the amazing donations of Rotarians and other foundations, we have raised over $2 billion towards eradicating polio. We are so close, but still have cases in two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Rotary has a reputation, fairly or unfairly, as an old boys club that sits around and has lunch. How do you reply to those who still see Rotary in this light?

Like all organizations, Rotary International has had to adapt to continuously be relevant and necessary in making the world a better place. This is no longer your uncle’s or grandfather’s Rotary club. Rotary has dedicated itself to being more diverse and inclusive, inviting anyone and everyone to be a part of an organization that serves the world. While we still meet as clubs, the emphasis is not on sitting and eating together but on doing service projects that improve people’s lives locally and globally. If you are passionate about making a difference, let Rotary help you help the world.

Looking for your “why?” Check out this blog for some inspiration. 

How Did You Get Started in Rotary?

As a born and raised Edmontonian, my wife and I had the pleasure and opportunity to be expatriates living and working throughout Southeast Asia for seven years. When we returned to Edmonton, I wanted to reconnect with friends and rebuild my network. I was invited to attend a Rotary event and was impressed with the people and their work. I was sold that this was a great place for me to reconnect with my community. One of the greatest joys of being a part of Rotary International is the camaraderie and friendships you build while doing good work in your community and worldwide. Throughout my Rotary journey, I have served in almost every capacity at the club level and am now about to embark on the role of District Governor.

What is Expected of a Rotary Member?

What is asked and expected of a Rotary member is to get involved. There are so many facets of Rotary International that there is a place for everyone, regardless of their interest or background. What you put into Rotary, you gain double in return, through friendship and satisfaction of helping a fellow human being that you might never have a chance to meet. The structure of Rotary has shifted given the pandemic, so while we still meet as clubs, our main focus is to ask Rotarians to get involved in service projects. This could be anything from a clean water project in Ecuador, to setting up playgrounds in Belize, to serving a meal at Operation Friendship Seniors Society. Regardless of the service project, Rotarians are asked to be active and enthusiastic participants in their work.

What Do You Like Best About Rotary?

What I like best about Rotary is the people. When you live and work as an expatriate, you realize that people are the same all over the world, regardless of ethnicity, faith background, gender orientation, or cultural practices. This is what makes Rotary so much fun to be a part of. I have had the privilege of attending Rotary meetings around the world, be it in Thailand, Hong Kong, London, or on a cruise ship. Of course, knowing that you’re making a difference in the world along with great camaraderie creates a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. However, beyond the “work” of Rotary, we hold many social activities and events for no other reason than just to get together and have fun.

Speaking of great people, we cover how to perfect speaking publicly in this post.

What Advice Do You Have for Someone Who Wants to Network and Volunteer?

It’s important to understand that Rotary International is a Service Club, and not a business development network. If someone has an interest in serving their community, then Rotary is the most impactful service club on the planet. If someone is coming into Rotary expecting business opportunities, we have often seen that this is not a good fit. However, once you get to know fellow Rotarians, and with all things being equal, why wouldn’t you do business with a Rotarian as opposed to someone else?

Volunteerism is one of the most satisfying and heartfelt activities that one can enjoy and appreciate. Many famous orators have explained this better than I. Picasso said, “the meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away”. Ronald Reagan said, “we can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone”. And Anne Frank stated, “how wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world”. I volunteer because I care, because I want to lend a helping hand, because I want to make a difference in the world, and because service is a lifestyle I choose to make.

We live in a world where complaining is the norm, yet it is becoming more difficult to inspire folks to get involved. I use the analogy that you stand at a fork in the road – one road is to do something; the other is to do nothing and complain. Regardless of which road you take, you will have supporters and detractors. We all have a passion for something, so why not apply that passion in whatever way makes sense for you to make the world a better place? Whatever you give as a volunteer you will get back so much more in friendship, a sense of accomplishment, and helping a fellow citizen.

What is a District Governor and How Long is the Commitment?

Rotary International, like all other service organizations, has a hierarchy of leaders to support clubs and their members in carrying out their work. In the Rotary world, think of this hierarchy as an inverted pyramid. At the top of that pyramid are the clubs and their individual members. The next tier is what is referred to as a District, below that is what is referred to as a Zone, and the bottom of the inverted pyramid is Rotary International based in Evanston Illinois.

As a District Governor, I will serve as Chair of the Board and CEO of our organization (District) responsible for 70 clubs with approximately 1,700 members. Our role as a District leadership team is to provide guidance, leadership, financial stewardship, good governance, and a strategic plan to assist clubs in meeting their goals.

The journey of a District Governor is a four-year commitment. Any Rotarian in good standing can put their name forward to a Nominating Committee as a potential District Governor. Through a rigorous process, a District Governor-nominee is presented to the membership-at-large to be elected to this position. This is year one of your commitment.

The following year the nominee becomes the District Governor-elect, the year after that the District Governor, and the year after that the Immediate Past District Governor. This four-year commitment allows for continuity and communication with each individual serving in these various roles. While each individual District Governor will have their own set of priorities and goals, this structure allows for greater streamlining of a strategic plan that does not expose members to sudden turns of expectations.

What is Next for You Once This Role is Over?

Once someone has served this four-year commitment, past District Governors often become involved at a higher level within the Rotary organization. Often, they are called upon, as I expect to be, by leaders in the higher levels of leadership and serve in various capacities. Many past District Governors from more than a decade ago are still actively involved in the inner workings of Rotary International. It is my hope and expectation that I will continue to work in areas that are meaningful to me and serve the larger organization.

Any Last Comments?

To anyone reading this blog who has an interest to learn more about Rotary, I encourage you to reach out to me. The only way to understand Rotary is to experience Rotary, and I would invite you to check out for yourself how you can be a part of this amazing organization. Please feel free to reach out to me and I will be more than happy to follow-up.

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