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Engagement through experiences

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During the COVID-19 pandemic's initial U.S. wave in 2020, Detroit, Michigan, was one of many cities where first responders and medical personnel needed more personal protective equipment. A Rotary club in India learned about the situation and contacted its longtime partner, the Rotary Club of Detroit.

"Our Indian partners got to work and were able to locate and coordinate shipments of personal protective equipment to Detroit," says Margaret Thorpe Williamson, a past club president who is now assistant governor of District 6400. She says the club has always had an international perspective and has worked with partners in Australia, Canada, Ethiopia, India, New Zealand, and more.

Getting needed equipment from India to the U.S. is just one example of the power of the Rotary network. And being able to instantly activate that network to make positive change is a key factor in engaging participants, because it shows people the breadth of Rotary's reach and how quickly members can take action.

"If you're interested in knowing something about women's economic development in Papua New Guinea, it takes two phone calls to reach a Rotary club or member who can tell you more," says John Townsend, chair of the Rotary Action Group for Reproductive, Maternal, and Child Health. "If we can make this incredible network known to more people, we're going to attract and engage more [people of action] to Rotary. And that means our clubs will be in very good hands for the future."

Highlighting Rotary's capability for broad engagement is also critical to showing members with big ideas that no club is too small to make a difference and that Rotary brings clubs together for large-scale projects.

"If you want to make an impact on maternal and child health, you have to go big — to make a difference at scale and for the long term," Townsend says. "It's going to take more than helping one clinic or one school."

Another experience that lets members engage more deeply with members around the globe is getting involved with a Rotary Action Group. These groups are independent, Rotary-affiliated organizations made up of people from all over the world who are experts in a particular field, such as peace, economic development, or the environment. Action groups offer their technical expertise, global network, and support so that clubs can plan and implement projects that increase their impact — a key priority of our Action Plan.

But only about 10 to 15 percent of Rotary members participate in action groups, Townsend says. That means people may be missing out on experiences that can connect them more with others and with Rotary.

For Williamson, joining an action group was a way to expand her horizons and ensure that her club didn't become "just a check-writing" organization. "I realized there were other people to meet and other clubs to work with," she says. She later became chair of the Rotary Action Group for Community Economic Development, which had 11 countries represented on its board of directors.

"We all need to be willing to step outside of ourselves and embrace new people and opportunities to serve above self," she says. "I've been enriched by all the relationships I've made in Rotary — and we know that the more relationships people make, the longer they stay in Rotary. Helping people experience the full power of the Rotary network is really a way to look toward the future."

Connect your club to a Rotary Action Group or to find other clubs to partner with.