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4 questions about

International project partnerships



with Beth Keck

International service chair, District 6110

1. What was your first international partnership project?

My club [the Rotary Club of Bentonville, Arkansas] had not done an international project in its 90-year history. While in India on a family trip in 2016, my husband [Ken Leonard, also a Bentonville Rotarian] and I looked up the Rotary Club of Jodhpur Padmini, an all-women’s club. Over a cup of tea, they said they were interested in doing a global grant project. We stayed in touch, discussing options. We settled on a sanitation project for Jodhpur’s public schools that renovated toilets and linked them to the city sewer system and also helped set up washing stations for kids and kitchen workers through a Rotary Foundation global grant.

One of Rotary’s strengths is making you think about sustainability and the social aspects of projects. So we also put training and other systems into place to ensure that the new toilet blocks would be maintained and cleaned, and we addressed the dropout rate of adolescent girls by partnering with a nongovernmental organization that gives girls reusable and washable sanitary pads. So far we have helped eight schools and more than 2,000 students. 

2. What are good ways for clubs to find international partners?

Rotary Ideas at is where clubs post projects they are working on. Rotary project fairs take place all around the world; districts can now use district grant funding to send a Rotarian to one. Many Rotarian Action Groups and some major international projects have booths in the House of Friendship at the Rotary Convention.

Not everybody has the opportunity to travel internationally, so at my next district training assembly we are prequalifying three projects from international clubs and districts that fall under certain criteria, such as having a good track record for being responsive. We will then match interested clubs in our district with a coach to reach out to the project’s host club.

3. What happens after we find a project to work on?

It’s my job as district international service chair to identify people who understand project planning, design, and implementation, as well as how Foundation global grants work — how to do a community assessment, what sustainability means for us. They can coach other Rotarians to get grants underway.

Rotarian Action Groups also can help. We went to the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group for our project, and their experts taught us about international sanitation standards and other technical information that we, as everyday Rotarians, were not aware of. Another global resource is The Rotary Foundation’s Cadre of Technical Advisers, who all have specialized knowledge in one of the six areas of focus and can help you shape a project. The Foundation staff is excellent. The regional grants officer really helped us improve our project by doing reviews and coaching us along the way.   

4. Any advice for working with other clubs on global grant projects? 

For funding, clubs can pool their resources as a district and work together. Many of our clubs are small, so donating $5,000 may feel out of their reach. But if you can pool together multiple donations of $500, then you can quickly get to $5,000, which is a great point of entry for substantial projects. Working with other clubs also makes it easier for smaller clubs to get involved if they haven’t had any international engagement, and it helps promote more communication and exchange among clubs within the district.


• Illustration by Viktor Miller Gausa

• This story originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of The Rotarian magazine.