Rotary Club of Genève International, Switzerland
Original membership: 31
Bucking conventions: In Geneva, a cosmopolitan city that is home to tens of thousands of expatriates, a club for English speakers was an apt idea. As the European seat of the United Nations, the city hosts 179 permanent missions, along with the offices of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations and multinational corporations. The Rotary Club of Genève International reflects this diversity, with members representing more than a dozen nationalities.
Club innovation: The club is committed to bringing young people into Rotary through Rotaract and Interact. As one of their first actions, members drafted a plan to establish an English-speaking Rotaract club, followed by an Interact club — a goal it met within two years. Rotarians and Rotaractors work together on projects, and mentoring is central to the club’s culture.
The Rotary Club of Genève International wasted no time in getting to work in 2015: Members including Walter Gyger, a retired diplomat and RI’s principal representative to the UN Office at Geneva, worked their connections to organize a fundraising gala to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The event was a joint effort with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
With a number of former Rotaractors among its members, the club decided to focus on young people. “We call it engaging the next generation instead of working the pipeline,” says Royston Flude, who led the youth outreach initiative. Thanks to that effort, the Rotaract Club at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies was chartered in 2016 and, the next year, an Interact club was established on the La Châtaigneraie campus of the International School of Geneva.
“It is absolutely crucial to create a cascade into Rotary,” Flude says. When the club took on the ambitious task of running events for the 2017 Rotary Day at the United Nations in Geneva, the Rotaractors stepped up as active partners. The gathering drew 1,200 attendees representing more than 80 nationalities, Gyger says, adding that “because of the involvement of the Rotaractors, about one-third of participants were younger than 35.”
The Rotary club has a robust mentoring program for Rotaractors. “You have people going through large career jumps, especially those just coming from universities to their first management job,” Flude says. “We’ve held career fairs and events on interviewing techniques. Rotary is providing mentoring — not just in career enhancement, but in life.”
The club encourages Rotaractors and Interactors to attend its meetings, always mindful of practical matters such as expenses. “The InterContinental isn’t the cheapest place,” Flude says of the luxury hotel where the club meets, so the Rotarians fund meals for Rotaract and Interact members. More important, the Rotarians never underestimate their younger cohort: “We park ego,” Flude says.
A case in point is the club’s involvement in the Classroom to Boardroom entrepreneurship program, offered through the International School of Geneva. “Students create a quasi-business and go to an international organization such as the World Bank or International Committee of the Red Cross, and over a week, they offer solutions,” Flude says. “The Interactors showed these organizations how they could digitize the marketing and appeal to young people.”
Rotary benefits when young people get involved in its programs, Flude says. “When you get someone who is an Interactor, immediately you’re connected to the parents, the grandparents, and a community in the classroom and the school. For every Interactor you get on board, you probably get a connection with four to 10 people. It’s a brilliant opportunity.”
— Brad Webber