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Rotary History

1968: Expanding our reach with Rotaract

The idea for Rotaract emerged in the mid-1960s, building on the success of Interact, Rotary’s service program for young people, which was founded in 1962.

Attendees at the 2018 Rotary International Convention celebrate the 50th anniversary of Rotaract.

Rotary members were looking for a way to promote Rotary to college students and other young adults who were over the Interact age limit. The answer was Rotaract: a service program for men and women ages 17-25 that would be sponsored by local Rotary clubs. (The age requirement later changed.)

The idea became reality in January 1968 when Rotary approved the Rotaract proposal. Members of the Rotary Club of Charlotte-North, North Carolina, USA, had worked with local university students, and they seized the opportunity to sponsor a Rotaract club. The first Rotaract club was certified by Rotary on 13 March 1968 at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

In the weeks that followed, more Rotaract clubs were started in the United States, Mexico, Italy, and India. About a year later, Rotaract boasted more than 200 clubs in over 25 countries and geographic areas.

Early in its second year, Rotaract was featured in a special presentation at the 1969 Rotary International Convention. In a mock courtroom trial designed to explore the question “Is Rotary serving the needs of youth today?” George Lee acted as a witness, giving testimony based on his personal experience as a member of a Rotaract club in the Philippines.

Lee explained to the mock jury that Rotaract clubs serve the community and promote international understanding and goodwill. And that they work with Rotary clubs, but they plan and finance their own service activities. (This remains true of Rotaract today.) Lee’s club was working to reduce juvenile delinquency by mentoring local students at risk of dropping out of school. The club members also corresponded with Rotaract members in India, which fostered an international friendship. Rotaract, Lee felt, was accomplishing something worthwhile by providing young people with the experience and training to become leaders.

Listen to Rotaract member George Lee describe the activities of early Rotaract clubs at the 1969 Rotary International Convention.

Today, Rotaract clubs bring together young professionals and students who are committed to service and leadership in their communities and abroad. Learn how to get involved.

Rotaract facts and firsts:

  • The name “Rotaract” is a blend of the words “Rotary” and “action.”
  • The unofficial Rotaract motto is Fellowship Through Service.
  • Interota is the only Board-recognized triennial Rotaract conference. It’s been hosted in various cities worldwide every three years since the first one in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa, in 1981.
  • The first Rotaract Preconvention was held in conjunction with the 1989 Rotary International Convention in Seoul, Korea.
  • World Rotaract Week was first observed in March 1993.
  • Rotary’s 2016 Council on Legislation gave Rotary clubs greater flexibility in the types of membership they offer, including allowing dual membership in Rotary and Rotaract clubs.
  • Rotary’s 2019 Council on Legislation amended the RI Constitution to recognize Rotaract as a membership type in Rotary. Read more.