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Rotary and the coronavirus impact: Frequently Asked Questions


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Grants

As people of action, Rotary members want to find ways to respond to COVID-19, and to help people affected by it. The Rotary Foundation offers several options that Rotarians can use to help care for and protect people in their own communities and others around the world.

Q: Can my district use district grants to fund COVID-19 related projects?

A: Yes, districts can use district grant funds to support local activities, like purchasing thermometers, protective medical gear, or other items to donate to medical professionals who need them. Districts can also use contingency funds from an open district grant or repurpose previously planned activities as a COVID-19 response.

Q: Can I use a global grant to fund COVID-19 related projects?

A: Yes. Global grants remain an excellent way to make a transformative impact in a community. If medical equipment is needed in order to respond effectively to COVID-19, global grants can help pay for these items. Note that global grant applications must adhere to standard eligibility requirements as noted in the grant terms and conditions and the area of focus policy statements.

Q: Can I apply for a disaster response grant for COVID-19 related projects?

A: No, disaster response grants are no longer available to support COVID-19 related projects.

Q: Can my club or district use Rotary Foundation grant funds to purchase COVID-19 vaccines?

A: No, Rotary Foundation grant funds may not be used to purchase COVID-19 vaccines. This restriction applies to district, global and disaster response grants.

For additional information, contact your regional grants officer.

 

COVID-19 vaccinations

Q: Will Rotary have a role to play in COVID-19 vaccinations?

A: Yes. Rotary will tap into its decades of experience in bringing polio to the brink of eradication, to highlight the power and efficacy of vaccines. Rotary’s tenacity, strategic partnerships, and innovation can all support the effort to protect communities from COVID-19. 

Rotary and its partners at the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) recently announced that it is ready to support vaccine introduction and delivery. The group is also committed to equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and lending its support to ensure that all communities have equal access to vaccines.

More information and resources will soon be available for clubs and districts. 

Q: Are the RI Board of Directors and Foundation Trustees taking action in regards to vaccines? 

A: Yes, they are. At a recent joint session, the RI Board and Trustees created a joint task force that will develop and execute a plan to encourage Rotary and Rotaract clubs to support vaccinations. 

Q: How can Rotary and Rotaractors get involved? 

A: There are several ways members can get involved. Members can enhance community education on COVID-19 vaccinations by sharing information from local and regional health authorities and supporting their efforts. They should contact local health departments to determine where assistance is most needed. Moreover, members can connect with local health officials, including World Health Organization and UNICEF where applicable, to advocate for and support their efforts to ensure all communities receive equal access to the vaccine. 

Q: What about vaccine misinformation and hesitancy? Are there ways to combat this?

A: Yes. Rotary is asking members to disseminate accurate, fact-based information as provided by local health agencies. It’s important to spread the word that vaccines work by using #vaccineswork in their social media postings. Highlight Rotary’s work on polio as a key example. 

Members can invite medical professionals or local health officials to speak at club meetings. Try to also engage with local media, for example writing letters to the editor, in support of local efforts and vaccine safety and efficacy—using Rotary’s success in polio eradication as a proof point.

Q: COVID-19 is still spreading around the world. What should members do to help stop the spread?

A: Members need to continue to participate in projects that support mask wearing, social distancing, proper hygiene practices, and donations of personal protection equipment. 

More importantly, members should lead by example, by wearing masks and practicing social distancing  . Share images online that reflect these lifesaving behaviors. Get vaccinated. When the time arrives for you to receive the vaccine, share your experience online. 

Q: How can I share my efforts? 

A: Let the Rotary world know what your club or district is doing to support COVID-19 vaccine introduction efforts by posting your initiatives and projects on Rotary Showcase. 

 

Polio

Q: How does the COVID-19 pandemic impact Rotary’s fight to end polio?

A: In our work to end polio, the program sees the devastating impact that communicable diseases have. With this in mind, we are fully committed to supporting national health systems by engaging our expertise and assets to help mitigate and contain the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside continuing concerted efforts to eradicate polio.

Using the vast infrastructure developed to identify the poliovirus and deliver vaccination campaigns, the polio eradication program is pitching in to protect the vulnerable from COVID-19, especially in polio-endemic countries. From Pakistan to Nigeria, the program is drawing on years of experience fighting outbreaks to support governments as they respond to the new virus. Learn more.

Q: How can I become involved with COVID-19 while still fighting to end polio?

A: Rotary and its partners remain steadfastly dedicated to fulfilling our promise of a polio-free world, and work continues to meet the remaining challenges. We still need the support of Rotarians everywhere to help make global polio eradication a reality.  The most important way that Rotary members can continue the fight polio is to raise $50 million each year for PolioPlus, which is matched 2-1 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. By continuing to raise funds for polio eradication, you’ll ensure that Rotary and its partners can continue its critical work to vaccinate vulnerable children against polio, perform vital surveillance activities, and implement new strategies to meet the remaining challenges to achieving a polio-free world.

 

Club and district meetings

Q: Should my club or district continue to hold meetings?

A: Rotary International recommends that districts and Rotary and Rotaract clubs meet virtually, cancel, or postpone meetings. Closely examine your personal circumstances, including any health issues, when you consider travel and participation in events.

Learn from other clubs about hosting virtual club meetings in the Learning Center.

 

Rotary leadership, committees, RI secretariat

Q: How is the secretariat addressing vaccinations for staff and visitors?

At Rotary, we’re contributing to efforts to end COVID by mandating full vaccination as a condition of employment and for entering our work premises, with exceptions for legitimate medical or religious reasons.

We will also require senior leaders and Rotarians to demonstrate proof of vaccination prior to attending meetings at One Rotary Center, our world headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, USA.

Q: Will the RI Board of Directors and The Rotary Foundation Trustees meet during this pandemic?

A: Yes, the RI Board and the Foundation Trustees meetings will take place remotely via webinar rather than in-person.

Q: Did the RI Board take any recent action in response to COVID-19?

A: Yes. At the January 2021 Rotary International Board of Directors meeting, the Board made important decisions to reflect Rotary’s clear responsibilities in mitigating the threat of COVID-19. As the pandemic continues to surge in many parts of the world, protecting the health and safety of our employees, members and families, and communities must be our first priority.

The Board decided to host the Rotary International Convention virtually again this year. As an added precaution, the Board also decided not to fund any expenses (travel and otherwise) associated with in-person meetings for Rotary leaders for the remainder of the Rotary year, other than for the president, president-elect, and trustee chair. This decision applies to directors, trustees, regional leaders, district governors, assistant governors, and other leaders. RI Board meetings and committee meetings will remain virtual as well. 

Through this decision, Rotary is following the guidance of the World Health Organization and national public health authorities in limiting unnecessary travel and observing the best public health practices, fulfilling our responsibility to best protect our members and the communities we serve. 

Read more about Rotary-funded travel

Q: Is the Rotary International secretariat taking precautions?

A: All RI staff travel, both international and domestic, has also been canceled through 30 June 2021. 

RI staff at Evanston headquarters and all of Rotary’s global offices are practicing social distancing by working from home.

 

Rotary Youth Exchange

Q: Are Rotary Youth Exchanges still taking place?

A: Updated March 2021: The Board has been regularly monitoring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities around the world to determine when it is safe to reinstate the Youth Exchange program. With the continued uncertainty of the pandemic and COVID-19 virus variants, inconsistent disease mitigation efforts, and the global imbalance of vaccine access – the Board has decided to suspend the Youth Exchange program through June 2022. 

Q: How was this decision made?

A: The Board reviewed a comprehensive risk assessment prepared by Rotary International staff experts, considered feedback from the Rotary Youth Exchange volunteer community, and continues to review detailed, real-time data about the impact of COVID-19 around the world from global health experts and the Rotary Pandemic Task Force. Factors that were carefully considered were the ease and availability of international travel (taking into account border security and travel restrictions), access to medical care and insurance coverage, school delays and closures, and the potential financial impact on participants’ families and Rotary volunteers. Given the global imbalance of access to the COVID-19 vaccine and the financial impact of the pandemic, many areas of the world would be unable to participate in 2021. Moving forward with only the limited number of participating countries with access to the vaccine would contradict Rotary’s core value of fairness and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. When exchanges are permitted to resume in the future, districts will be required to use the safety guidelines and a comprehensive crisis management plan. The Board is confident that they can assess the situation and make the right decisions to ensure a safe and enriching experience for young people through Rotary Youth Exchange.

Q: When can students go on exchange again? 

A: If a district can confirm that it has assessed the risks according to the safety guidelines, students can start long-term or short-term exchanges beginning 1 July 2022.

Q: What is the difference between long-term and short-term exchanges?

A: Long-term exchanges typically last an entire academic year and require the student to be enrolled in school.

Short-term exchanges last from several days to three months and usually occur during school breaks. Because the length is much shorter, it is easier to determine whether there may be any travel restrictions or other impacts related to COVID-19, however districts are still required to follow all of Rotary’s safety guidelines.

Q: Do students who are currently on exchange have to go home?

A: Students who may still be on exchange should plan to return home as soon as it is determined to be possible and safe. Consult travel advisories and guidelines issued by embassies or consular offices, international public health agencies like the World Health Organization, and local health authorities for the latest and most relevant information.

Q: How do we know when it’s safe to plan exchanges?

A: First, make sure your district is certified to participate in Rotary Youth Exchange. Then, closely review the Rotary’s safety guidelines issued by the Board and discuss them with your district Rotary Youth Exchange committee and district governor. It’s important to consider the risks carefully, and to have a comprehensive crisis management plan and a committed team of volunteers to dedicate extra time to communicating with students and families, monitoring local health authority recommendations, and acting quickly if the situation changes. If your district is concerned, the best option may be to suspend your program and resume it only when you are ready. 

Q: What is a crisis management plan?

A: A crisis management plan is a comprehensive and detailed outline of the team that is dedicated to responding to a crisis and the procedures that should be followed to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of everyone involved in a program or activity. The plan should cover various types of crises, such as accidents, violence, natural disasters, political instability, and in this case, health emergencies and disease outbreaks such as COVID-19. According to Rotary’s safety guidelines:

  • A district’s crisis management plan must be reviewed and/or developed in consultation with a local health authority.
  • Each district must have procedures to monitor health and safety developments related to COVID-19, such as travel restrictions and quarantine measures, that could affect either inbound or outbound students.
  • The host district must have a comprehensive communications plan to:
    • Ensure consistent communication between volunteers, students and parents, host families, and Rotary International about important developments related to COVID-19
    • Allow program leaders to quickly locate and communicate with all parties in the event of an emergency
  • A procedure for transporting students home or ensuring their safety if quarantine measures or travel restrictions are implemented during an exchange.

Your plan should list a crisis management team and define each member’s responsibilities for communication, emergency procedures, media relations, and expenses. It's important to consider in advance what factors would prompt canceling or postponing all planned program activities. Also consider what criteria would need to be met to safely resume exchanges. Find more information in the Rotary Youth Protection Guide.

Download the Developing a Crisis Management Plan resource from Rotary International and access our on-demand webinar to learn more about developing a comprehensive plan.

Q: What happens when we’re ready to plan exchanges but we can’t find any partner districts?

A: Many districts have suspended their programs or will do so after reviewing Rotary’s safety guidelines. If your district is having difficulty finding opportunities with established partners, this may be an opportunity to explore alternative ways to keep young people engaged in Rotary, including virtual exchanges and Rotary programs such as Interact and Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA). Planning can also continue for Rotary Youth Exchange or New Generations Service Exchange later. District Rotary Youth Exchange officers can use the district chair directory to contact their counterparts and join the Rotary Youth Exchange Discussion Group to meet and share ideas. No district is obligated to participate beyond its ability or willingness.

Q: Do we need approval from Rotary International before we start planning exchanges?

A: You do not need approval from Rotary International to start planning exchanges. So that Rotary staff can support you and help you communicate in the event of an emergency, districts will be required to report program participation before students travel, and you must provide updates within 48 hours of any changes. Instructions for reporting participation will be sent to district leaders in the coming months. The following information will be required for each student who participates in a long-term exchange:

  • Participant’s full name, age, sex, and contact information (email and telephone number)
  • A parent’s or guardian’s full name and contact information (email and telephone number)
  • A parent’s or guardian’s signed consent form, including acknowledgment that personally identifying information will be reported to Rotary International in accordance with Rotary’s data privacy policy and other data privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • Sending district and hosting district numbers
  • Host family’s full names and contact information (email and telephone number and physical address)
  • Start date and end date

Q: How will Rotary communicate with students?

A: Rotary International will communicate with students and families to make sure that they understand Rotary’s youth protection policies, how to access resources related to Rotary Youth Exchange and Rotary’s programs for young leaders, what to expect from the club and district leaders, and who to contact if they have any questions or concerns. Rotary International staff will facilitate communication between students, families, and Rotary volunteers in an emergency. 

Q: What does it mean that some districts voluntarily suspended their programs?

A: Given the uncertainty related to COVID-19 and the potential risks to the health and safety of our students, suspending the program until the situation stabilizes or a vaccine is widely available may be the right decision for some districts. Any decision that prioritizes the health, safety, and well-being of our students is the right decision. Districts should suspend their programs if they determine that’s the best course of action.

Q: What are we supposed to do while in-person exchanges are not permitted?

A: Continue to support Rotary Youth Exchange. Now is the time to strengthen your program, explore alternatives such as virtual exchanges or other Rotary programs such as Interact and Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA), and continue planning for a Rotary Youth Exchange or New Generations Service Exchange. Our staff will continue to support Rotary Youth Exchange leaders by providing updated and new resources, sharing engagement strategies, collecting participant information, and addressing any of your questions or concerns. We’re confident that when the program fully resumes, Rotary Youth Exchange will be stronger than ever.

Q: While in-person exchanges are suspended do we risk losing the program?

A: Our members consider their participation in the exchange program to be the highlight of their membership in Rotary. The program will indeed continue when it is safe to do so. Our program is successful thanks to the commitment, knowledge, and passion of our volunteers in enriching the lives of students around the world through these amazing experiences. When the program resumes in-person exchanges we will be stronger than before thanks to Rotary members, with the confidence and trust of participants and their families intact. 

Q: What is a virtual exchange?

A: Virtual exchanges are an engaging alternative to in-person exchanges. They offer young people a unique opportunity to engage and collaborate with people from other cultures and communities online. When they’re structured, safe, and developed with specific student goals and learning outcomes in mind, virtual exchange experiences can be just as valuable as physically going abroad by allowing young people to engage in intercultural dialogue and meet people with different viewpoints from around the world. They can also help students challenge stereotypes, increase empathy, and develop intercultural competencies — all of which can help give them the knowledge and skills they need to become global citizens and peacebuilders.

Q: What if we don’t want to follow the safety guidelines issued by the Board? Can we instead use our own guidelines?

A: No. The safety guidelines adopted by the Board represent a careful and thorough evaluation of all the risks, not just to students, but to host families, volunteers, and Rotary’s reputation. We state unequivocally that student safety is our top priority and these safety guidelines represent our commitment in words and actions. Even though the list of guidelines seems long, it is important to follow them in order to evaluate the risks carefully, have a plan, and instill confidence in students, families, and your community. Many of the guidelines are safety precautions that you may already be following or may have quickly adopted in response to COVID-19. In accordance with Rotary’s youth protection policies for unauthorized exchange activity, any district found to be participating in any exchange activity contrary to this guidance will have its certification to participate in Rotary Youth Exchange suspended for a period of two years. Any activity that puts students at risk will have serious repercussions.

Q: Why isn’t Rotary’s position aligned with other student exchange programs that have decided to continue in some form during the pandemic?

A: The business model of other student exchanges is dependent upon them continuing to be profitable. Because we can put the safety of our participants and communities first, and prioritize a quality experience backed by volunteers, we can afford to take additional time to ensure that our exchange program is safer, equitable, and a fully engaging experience for everyone involved. 

Q: I’m a student, and I want to do a Rotary Youth Exchange. What should I do?

A: Complete our Contact Us form or find a local Rotary club to find out if it is participating in virtual exchanges or how to get involved in other Rotary programs for young leaders. Even though you won’t be able to participate in a traditional Rotary Youth Exchange, you can find out about planning an exchange for the future or learn more about how to get involved in Rotary through Interact, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA), or New Generations Service Exchange.

Q: Who should I contact if I have questions?

A: Write to youthexchange@rotary.org. Direct youth protection questions or concerns to youthprotection@rotary.org.

 

Rotary Peace Fellowships and other programs

Q: How are Rotary Peace Fellowships impacted by the pandemic? 

A: Due to the current pandemic situation, funded travel is highly restricted and will be approved on a case-by-case basis. Fellows currently in a country experiencing the spread of COVID-19 are advised to follow the recommendations of your host university and the country’s national health agencies. 

For first-year fellows preparing for your applied field experience, we recommend you consider options in your study country and have an alternate plan in place in case travel is restricted further. Beyond health and safety concerns, we do not want fellows to be subject to quarantines or have challenges returning to the country where you study because of your field experience travel. You can contact your staff specialist with specific questions about how Rotary’s policy may affect your field experience planning.

Q: What should I know about Interact and Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) during this time? 

A: Consider whether planned events, trips, or local activities could expose young people to an increased risk, and consider canceling or postponing nonessential travel or large gatherings. 

Follow the guidance of schools for any closures or delayed start times that may affect school-based program participants. Discuss how they can stay engaged and safe until school resumes. Talk with parents or guardians about their child’s health and safety and what Rotary clubs and districts are doing to minimize the exposure and impact for participants in Rotary activities and events. 

Q: What should I know about other types of Rotary programs and exchanges?

A: Participants in Rotary Fellowships and Rotary Action Groups and their affiliated chapters should follow recommendations from the World Health Organization and the host region’s national, regional, or local health authorities when considering whether to cancel or postpone events, meetings, or activities.

Districts organizing international programs such as Rotary Friendship Exchanges and New Generations Service Exchanges could expose participants to an increased risk. Organizers should follow the guidelines set by the World Health Organization and the national, regional, or local health authorities of participating districts when considering whether to cancel or postpone planned trips or activities.

 

Rotary-funded travel

Q: Have there been any changes to Rotary-funded travel for 2021?

A: Yes. The RI Board, with input from the COVID-19 Task Force, will allow Rotary-funded business travel to resume, as long as it is essential to Rotary’s business operations, effective 1 July 2021, through 31 December 2021.

Travel is considered essential if:

  1. It is critical for Rotary’s business
  2. Business cannot be conducted without in-person interaction in a specific location(s)
  3. The purpose and intended outcomes of the travel are dependent upon the presence of the funded traveler(s) at the in-person meeting/location

The Board continues to recommend that Rotary conduct its business virtually or in a hybrid form. 

Learn more about the COVID-19 Travel Policy. If you have questions about whether your trip qualifies as essential travel, contact your staff liaison.

Q: What about grant-funded travel?

A: Grant-funded travel is paused until 31 December 2021, with the exception of scholars. Contact your regional grants officer if you have questions about grant-funded travel.

Q: Will Rotary refund me for expenses related to cancelling my event or attendance, such as airfare, venue, accommodation, etc.? 

A: In line with the Board’s decision, Rotary will not issue refunds for expenses related to in-person events or meetings. Please review your contracts and cancellation policies; most vendors have been flexible with respect to cancellation fees.

Q: How does this affect Rotary Peace Fellows? 

A: Peace fellows currently studying abroad will be funded to return home. 

Q: How can I fulfill my responsibilities solely through virtual meetings and events? How can Rotary help me?  

A: Our organization has done a remarkable job adapting to these unique circumstances with excellent results, and our members have found effective and innovative ways to meet virtually. 

The Rotary Learning Center created a new topic, Meeting Online, where members can share their own resources and best practices with one another. Visit the Rotary Voices blog, for numerous examples of how clubs and members are carrying out virtual events and service projects.