John F. Germ
Forty years ago, a man named George Campbell, the owner of the company I worked for, invited me to join Rotary. Back then, that was a common practice in the United States. Your boss invited you to join Rotary because he thought it would be good for business and good for the community, and you said yes. It’s not surprising that our membership surged during that period.
George warned me not to use Rotary as an excuse to slack off at work. Even so, I always had time to attend lunch meetings and serve on committees. I never had to worry that taking a long lunch once a week would hurt my advancement, or what my boss would think about the occasional Rotary phone call at work.
Today, things are different. Companies are less generous about time, and not every manager looks favorably on community service. It’s hard to enjoy a Rotary meeting when you’ve got emails piling up on your phone. It’s harder than ever to balance work with Rotary – and the model that gave us so much growth a few decades ago is part of what’s holding back our growth now.
That’s why the recent Council on Legislation adopted some innovative measures that allow clubs to vary their meeting times and expand their pool of prospective members. Clubs have more flexibility now to respond to the needs of their members and to clear away as many barriers to membership as they can. But there’s one barrier to membership that only you can remove, one thing that every prospective member needs to become a Rotarian: an invitation to join a Rotary club.
Whenever I tell a group of Rotarians that we need more willing hands, more caring hearts, and more bright minds to move our work forward, everyone applauds. But those hands, hearts, and minds won’t magically appear in our clubs. We have to ask them to join. And an invitation to Rotary is something that only you can give. An invitation is a gift. It’s saying to someone, “I think you have the skills, the talent, and the character to make our community better, and I want you to join me in doing that.”
I’m the president of Rotary International, but the only club I can invite someone to join is the Rotary Club of Chattanooga, Tenn. I can’t make your club or your community stronger. Only you can do that – by inviting the qualified people you know to join you in Rotary Serving Humanity.
Today, we look ahead toward a Rotary year that may one day be known as the greatest in our history: the year that sees the world's last case of polio. Wild poliovirus caused only 74 cases of polio in 2015, all of them in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As we continue to work tirelessly toward our goal of eradication, we must also look beyond it: preparing to leverage our success into even greater successes to come.
It is tremendously important to Rotary's future that our role in the eradication of polio be recognized. The more we are known for what we've achieved, the more we'll be able to attract the partners, the funding, and, most important, the members to achieve even more. We're working hard at RI headquarters to be sure that Rotary gets that recognition. But it can't all happen in Evanston. We need you to get the word out through your clubs and in your communities about what Rotary is and what we do. We need to be sure that our clubs are ready for the moment when polio is finally eradicated – so that when people who want to do good see that Rotary is a place where they can change the world, every Rotary club is ready to give them that opportunity.
We know that if we want to see Rotary Serving Humanity even better in the years ahead, we'll need more willing hands, more caring hearts, and more bright minds to move our work forward. We'll need clubs that are flexible, so that Rotary service will be attractive to younger members, recent retirees, and working people. We'll need to seek out new partnerships, opening ourselves more to collaborative relationships with other organizations.
Looking ahead, we also see a clear need to prioritize continuity in our leadership. We in Rotary are all playing on the same team, working toward the same goals. If we want to reach those goals together, we all have to move in the same direction – together.
Every day that you serve in Rotary, you have the opportunity to change lives. Everything you do matters; every good work makes the world better for us all. In this new Rotary year, we all have a new chance to change the world for the better, through Rotary Serving Humanity.