“Whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves.”
—Paul P. Harris, founder of Rotary
Rotary International (RI) was first founded on Feb. 23, 1905, when four businessmen in Chicago met and formed a group where professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships. Rotary’s name came from the group’s early practice of rotating meetings among the offices of each member.
Paul P. Harris is credited as the founder of Rotary, and that first club, The Rotary Club of Chicago’s mission quickly shifted to include a more altruistic focus. As the novel idea of a service club spread, within 16 years, other Rotary clubs sprang up, first on the west coast and then throughout the United States and beyond. Today, there are more than 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide in more than 200 countries on all seven continents.
Rotary has survived even the hardest of times. During World War II, Rotary clubs in Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Japan were forced to disband. However, many continued to meet informally, and following the war’s end, members rebuilt their clubs. And in 1992, just months after the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, a Rotary club was chartered in Ukraine.
The impact Rotary has had on the world is impressive. Not only have Rotarians been responsible for improving the quality of life worldwide, but they also have had a hand in helping a wide range of international and service organizations get started, including the United Nations and Easter Seals.
Three Levels: How It Works
The local Rotary clubs are the heart of Rotary. They bring together individuals who are dedicated to serving both their local communities and worldwide, to exchange ideas, build relationships and take action.
Rotary International supports the world’s Rotary clubs by coordinating global programs, campaigns and initiatives. Its headquarters is in Evanston, Ill. Each year, a Rotary International president is selected; previous presidents have hailed from such places as Korea, Australia, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Japan. The current president is from Victoria, Australia.
The Rotary Foundation, founded in 1917 by RI’s sixth president, Arch Klumph, is a nonprofit whose funding comes from voluntary contributions made by Rotarians and friends. It uses these donations to fund projects proposed, and often in collaboration with, Rotarians and other partners in communities around the world.
The foundation uses only the interest it earns on contributions it receives. Ninety percent of that interest is used toward projects and grants. The other 10% of the interest goes for administrative purposes.
Projects such as the eradication of polio, construction of drinking wells in underprivileged countries, safe blood projects, the provision of educational materials to children in third-world countries and supplying mosquito netting for the prevention of malaria are just a few of the projects helping the people worldwide.
‘Service Above Self’
Each year, the RI president selects a theme for the year; this year’s theme is “Making A Difference.” However, the phrase that best describes Rotary — and has since 1909 — is “Service Above Self,” adopted as the organization’s official motto in 1950.
Rotary’s mission is to provide service to others; promote integrity; and advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through its fellowship of business, professional and community leaders.
RI also has two important philosophies that Rotarians follow. The first is the Object of Rotary, which is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:
• First: The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
• Second: 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;
• Third: The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian’s personal, business and community life;
• Fourth: The advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.
The second philosophy is what is called the “4-Way Test.” The test, which has been translated into more than 100 languages, asks the following questions.
Of the things we think, say or do:
1. Is it the truth?
2. Is it fair to all concerned?
3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Rotary International recognizes the value of diversity within individual clubs. A club that reflects its community with regard to professional and business classification, gender, age, religion and ethnicity is a club that has a significant influence on its local community as well as contributes to helping to make a more caring and healthy world.
With more than 34,000 clubs around the world, many working together, a village can have many friends.