How Can this Blog Be Useful To You? Priorities for 2015-16

This blog was launched almost nine months ago on world polio day. I took a short break from the blog over the last few weeks due to work and a holiday break, but I am now back and fresh to start blogging again. With the new Rotary year starting, I thought it would be interesting to share a few thoughts about my priorities for the blog, trying to make sure that the blog is useful to you – the readers. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you think that these are the right priorities!

Priority 1: Helping Clubs and Districts Design and Evaluate Projects

A number of other blogs on Rotary and service clubs – including Rotary-managed blogs such as Rotary Voices and Rotary Service Connections – regularly feature stories about successful service projects and initiatives. Information on projects is also available in Rotary showcase. All these are highly valuable resources, but there is also space for a different type of blog that would provide more in-depth analysis of successful projects, why they have been successful (or not), and how we know that this is the case. This last point matters: in order to be able to know whether projects have been successful or not, some form of evaluation is needed.

One of the priorities for the blog this coming year will therefore be to feature and analyze more successful projects implemented by service clubs as well as other organizations, discuss why the projects have been successful, and document how we know that they indeed have been successful. One of my convictions is that while Rotary is rightfully implementing many different types of projects, we could also progressively invest more in innovative projects that could be properly evaluated and expanded by others with deeper pockets if successful.

In addition, I also hope to make available through this blog a range of open access resources from different sources – including from my employer, the World Bank – that can help service clubs (and nonprofits more generally) think through the design and evaluation of their projects. Specifically, by the end of this new Rotary year, I hope that the blog will feature such resources in an easily accessible and organized way for most or perhaps all key areas of focus of the Rotary Foundation (promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education, growing local economies, and eradicating polio).

Priority 2: Making the Contribution of Service Clubs Better Known

Rotary and other service club organizations are not always as good as they should be at explaining clearly what they do, and measuring their contribution to local communities and society. Consider just one example. We know how much the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International is contributing to projects around the world, but we do not have good estimates of how much clubs are contributing through their own small foundations and projects that do not benefit from Rotary Foundation funding. I have a few ideas about how this could be estimated, and will try them out. Also important is the value of the time and expertise that Rotarians are contributing to many different types of projects. These are all areas that I plan to investigate this year, with the hope that some of the results will be of use to clubs, districts, and perhaps even Rotary International.

Priority 3: Discussing Constraints and Opportunities for Growth

A year ago I published a book on membership in service clubs based on Rotary’s experience. The data collected for the book, as well as other data, can shed light on some of the constraints faced by clubs as well as opportunities for growth. Similar assessments could also be done for what is referred to in Rotary as “New Generations” (Interact and Rotaract clubs). This is another area where I hope to be able to invest a bit of time and share results as well as examples of good practice through the blog.

While the blog will continue to touch on other topics and will also welcome guest bloggers, these three areas are my tentative priorities for this coming year. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think by commenting on this post or contacting me privately (if you prefer) through the Contact me page.

Interact Membership Survey

by Quentin Wodon

Interact is a vital and growing part of the Rotary family. Globally, Rotary Intenational estimates that Interact membership may be close to reaching 400,000. At the same time, we know relatively little about who the members are, why they join, and what they do. In addition, because Interactors are high school students and thereby minors, Rotary International does not maintain an individual level database of Interactors as it does for Rotary and Rotaract.

In order to learn more about what Interactors do, I launched as Interact chair for my District an online survey. The survey will help us understand better what motivates Interactors, what they focus on, and what they would like to have support for. I would like to invite all Interactors – including those in other Districts, to fill the survey. Responses are strictly anonymous as the survey does not ask respondents to identify themselves or provide contact info.  The survey is in English, but if there is demand to translate it in other languages, I will be happy to consider that – just let me know through the Contact Me page of this blog.

If you are a Rotarian adviser for an Interact club, or an Interact chair for a District, please encourage Interactors to fill the survey. The link for the survey is: (If you read this from Rotary District 7620, please do not use the link above as we have a separate link for that District; send me an email through the Contact Me page and I will give you that link).

If you have questions, again, please send me an email through the Contact Me page of this blog. If we get enough responses, I will be happy to tabulate results from the survey for specific geographic areas if that is useful to you. Note that while the survey does not ask about the Rotary District to which Interactors belong (many Interactors probably do not know the answer), the questionnaire asks about country/state location, so we will be able to look at data by geographic area.

Please, spread the word about the survey so that we get a good number of responses and provide a meaningful analysis. The main results of the analysis will be shared through this blog so that we can all learn from the responses.

Rotary Membership Analysis 1: Introduction

by Quentin Wodon

Millions of people worldwide are members of service clubs. Rotary International has 33,000 clubs and 1.2 million members. Lions International is even larger with 46,000 clubs and 1.35 million members. Kiwanis is smaller but still large with 8,350 clubs and about 233,000 members. These are probably the three best known service club organizations not affiliated with any particular faith or political point of view, but many other organizations have adopted the club model.

Service clubs are membership-based non-profit organizations engaged in charitable work, but their members also value the networking and fellowship opportunities that clubs provide. Rotary, Lions, and Kiwanis were all founded about one hundred years ago. Rotary was founded in 1905 in Chicago by Paul Harris. Kiwanis was founded in 1915 in Detroit. The first Lions club was created in 1917 also in Chicago. All three organizations aim to serve. Rotary’s motto is “Service above Self”, while Lions’ is “We Serve” and Kiwanis’ is “Serving the Children of the World.”

There is a wealth of information on the history of service clubs. Several books have been written about Rotary’s founder Paul Harris, among others by Walsh (The First Rotarian: The Life and Times of Paul Percy Harris, Founder of Rotary) and Carvin (Paul Harris and the Birth of Rotary). For Rotary’s centennial, Forward wrote a history of the organization entitled A Century of Service: The Story of Rotary International. There is even a website dedicated to the history of Rotary, including at the club and district levels. Similar books have been written about Lions International, among others by Martin (We Serve: A History of the Lions Clubs) and Martin and Kleinfelder (Lions Clubs in the 21st Century). And if you are looking for a history of service clubs, Charles’s book (Service Clubs in American Society: Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions) may do the trick.

Service clubs have had their critics, including Nobel Literature Laureate Lewis whose novel Babbitt published in 1922 was a satire of middle class conformism and behavior. Still, service clubs have fulfilled many valuable functions and, as Charles has suggested, mirrored broader shifts in society. Overall it is fair to say that for the better part of their first century, service clubs thrived. Yet as society evolved, service clubs have had to adapt, and there has been concern that they may have lost ground. At least in North America, membership has declined, especially in the last few decades. Growth in the developing world has enabled organizations such as Rotary International to maintain their worldwide membership, but challenges abound.

Is the golden era of service clubs over? As a member of a Rotary Club, I don’t think this is actually the case. But a quick look at Google’s Ngram Viewer may give club members pause. The Viewer charts yearly counts of sequences of letters (n-grams) found in more than five million books digitized by Google up to 2012. It can be used to assess how popular some topics have been in literature and research.

The Figure below plots the number of times that the sequences of letters “Rotary International”, “Lions International” and “Kiwanis International” have appeared in digitized books over time according to the Ngram viewer. Even if Rotary seems to continue to be mentioned more often than Lions or Kiwanis, after a spike that followed the creation of the three organizations in the early 1900s, there has been a decline in the number of times they have been mentioned in books, even though the number of books being published has steadily increased.

Google Ngram Viewer Data
Google Ngram Viewer Data

There is no doubt that service clubs are facing challenging times, at least in North America, even if the extent of the decline in membership may have been overestimated. Unfortunately, while historical accounts of the rich heritage of service club organizations are readily available, in-depth analysis of their current challenges is harder to found, at least in publicly available studies.

In order to grow again, service clubs will need to assess their strengths and areas for improvements. They will need to understand who their members are, why they joined, and why they stay or leave. The vitality of clubs will depend on their ability to engage members with different interests, so that the whole is larger than the sum of the parts. But in order to do that, an assessment of how clubs are doing, and of what they are doing well and not so well, will be needed.

In the next two to three weeks, I will try to provide through this blog a “crash course” in service club membership analysis. A number of different questions will be considered. What is the membership challenge faced by service clubs? Who are their members today? Why do members join? How satisfied are they with their membership experience? How can districts identify geographic areas for growth? How can clubs innovate to attract and retain members? To what extent are clubs and districts involved in service work? How much do club members donate? What types of projects are clubs involved in, and what makes them successful?

The analysis will be based in part on a book I published earlier this year (available here), but I will add other materials as well. My hope is that this analysis will be useful to the readers of this blog, and as always you are invited to comment on the findings I will share.

Note: This post is part of a series of 10 on Rotary Membership Analysis. The posts with links are as follows: 1) Introduction, 2) The Challenge; 3) Why Do members Join?; 4) Volunteer Time; 5) Giving and the Cost of Membership; 6) What Works Well and What Could Be Improved; 7) Targeting Geographic Areas for Growth; 8) Initiatives to Recruit Members; 9) Fundraising Events; and 10) Telling Our Story.

A Great Service Story for World Diabetes Day

by Quentin Wodon

Today is World Diabetes Day. Last week was World Interact Week.  This post is about a great project for children with diabetes in Bolivia that was supported by members of an Interact club in the United States.

Children and Youth Participants in Campo Amigo
Children and Youth Participants in Campo Amigo

Diabetes is a common and lifelong condition. In the US, 9.3% of the population has diabetes. Most patients (about 95%) have type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with genetics or obesity. By contrast, type 1 diabetes (also called juvenile diabetes) is an autoimmune disease whose exact cause remains unknown, but is likely related to viruses and genetics and has nothing to do with obesity.

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed among children whose pancreas does not produce insulin anymore. Without insulin, blood sugars rise. Lack of treatment can lead to severe illness and death. Type 1 diabetes needs to be managed very carefully, but knowledge on how to take care of it is often weaker in low income communities.

Campo Amigo

In Santa Cruz in Bolivia, about 10% of the population, mostly low-income individuals, is said to be diabetic. As elsewhere type 1 diabetes affects mostly children. The cost of managing type 1 diabetes is high, and most families in poverty in Bolivia cannot afford to send their children to camps where they could learn how to manage their condition. Campo Amigo is unique grassroots educational initiative championed by local health professionals and volunteers under the leadership of Dr. Roxana Barbero to serve diabetic children through an annual four-day educational camp in Bolivia.

Learning to manage diabetes
Learning to manage diabetes

During the camp the children learn about diabetes (how to give themselves insulin doses, measure their blood sugars, eat healthy meals, do physical activities, etc.). The camp provides children not only with valuable training, but also with equipment such as glucose meters and medicine (insulin). The experience of the camp also helps fight the isolation in which some of the children with diabetes live. They can share experiences and feel part of a community that cares.

Music courtesy of participants
Music courtesy of participants

It Takes a Village…

Last year a few members of the Interact club of Washington DC raised $7,000 for Campo Amigo ($2,000 by themselves and $5,000 through an application for a grant from the International Service Committee of the Rotary Club of Washington, DC). To fundraise, two members of the Interact club completed a sprint triathlon, an international distance triathlon, a half marathon, and a long distance bike race. With two other members of the club, they also ran a marathon relay.

The camp was held in Muyurina Campus, Santa Cruz, on December 19-22, 2013. It was organized by Roxana and her team at the Programa de Enfermedades no Transmisibles del Servicio Departamental de Salud de Santa Cruz, and by Dr. Patricia Blanco from the Fundación Vida Plena de Cochabamba. The funding raised by members of the Interact club covered the cost of the camp which served 53 children and youth from many parts of the country, including La Paz, Cochabamba, Beni, and rural areas apart from Santa Cruz.

Campo Amigo is Fun!
Campo Amigo is Fun!

The partner Rotary club in Bolivia was the Rotary Club Amboró in Santa Cruz. Other partner organizations – especially in terms of volunteers to run the camp, included the Red Boliviana de Diabetes Juvenil, members of the Sociedad de Endocrinología, the Fundación Niño Feliz, and LifeScan for test strips and glucometers. In kind contributions were received from several firms, including Cascada del Oriente, TIGO, BELLCORP and Arcor, as well as Johnson and Johnson.

All staff running the camp worked as volunteers. A total of 19 doctors, three nurses and one psychologist volunteered. For that reason the cost of running the camp was very low. Housing and meals were provided at low cost thanks to a local NGO. The overall cost of attending the four-day camp was only slightly above $100 per child, including bus transportation from the child’s home (throughout Bolivia) to the camp, meals, lodging, and all diabetes equipment and medicine.

Campo Amigo is a great example of low cost and potentially high impact projects through which Interact, Rotaract, and Rotary clubs can make a difference on the ground by partnering with local teams with great experience and dedication.


How Is Vocational Service Practiced? How Should It Be?

by Quentin Wodon

Members of service clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions often talk about vocational service. How is vocational service practiced today? How should it be? In Rotary, October is Vocational Service month. Before the month closes, it may be useful to discuss how Rotarians engage in vocational service, and what more could be done.

Rotary International has published a guide on vocational service. The idea is for Rotarians to promote (1) High ethical standards in business and professions; (2) The recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; and (3) The dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society. The guide suggests that this can be achieved among others by talking about one’s vocation and learning about others’ vocations, using professional skills to serve the community, practicing one’s profession with integrity, and guiding others, especially youth, in their professional development.

Vocational service can take many forms, but some of those are not specific to Rotary. Everyone should practice his or her profession with integrity. And many different people talk with passion about their vocation and enjoy learning from the vocations of others.

What should be emphasized most in Rotary as well as in other service clubs is the use of one’s professional skills and experience to serve communities. Mentoring younger individuals, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, in order to help them make good career choices is a great step in the right direction. But vocational service should be broader than that, as the Rotary guide indicates. Unfortunately, we are probably not doing enough.

Let me take the example of a club I know well. The club is strong, with a large membership. It runs many different successful service activities, including among others distributing food for the homeless, providing dictionaries to third graders, planting trees in parks, tutoring students in public schools, providing grants to local organizations, visiting wounded warriors, designing international projects, etc. Yet for most of these activities, the professional skills of the membership do not come into play in a major way. When service projects make use of the professional skills of the members, this is typically the case for only a few of those members.

This club – and probably many others – could achieve more in the community by designing and supporting projects for which the unique legal, administrative, managerial, financial, medical, and other skills of the membership would be tapped. Many Rotarians have deep professional skills, and these skills have a high value on the market. But in my (limited) experience, relatively few Rotarians use their skills in their service work in a systematic way.

There are exceptions. One of them is the work of Rotarian Action Groups (RAGs). These groups are led by Rotarians and Rotaractors in their field of expertise in order to help clubs implement projects and exchange ideas and experiences. There are today close to 20 RAGs operating on the following topics: AIDS and family health; Alzheimer’s and dementia; Blindness prevention; Blood donation; Child Slavery; Dentistry; Diabetes; Food plant solutions; Health Fairs; Hearing; Hunger and malnutrition; Literacy; Malaria; Microfinance and community development; Multiple sclerosis; Peace; Polio survival; Population and development; Water and sanitation. A brief description of RAGs together with the contact information for each of the groups is available here.

But the work of many RAGs, while very important, tends to focus more on international than local projects, and the reality is that a larger number of Rotarians are involved in local than international projects. New models are needed to encourage Rotarians to use their professional skills and experience in service to their local community. Yes of course, this is already happening in many places, but it needs to happen much more.  What I have in mind are models such as Taproot (to take just one example) that facilitate pro bono work by professionals in the community. It seems that we do not have such models yet in Rotary, and probably other service clubs do not have them either.

If Rotary and other service organizations were not only promoting, but also facilitating on the ground the use by members of their professional skills in service to the community, either with their own systems or by partnering with existing groups that specialize in this type of facilitation, clubs and their members could probably make an even larger difference in the world.

Are Youth Less Involved in Community Service Today?


Photo: An Interact Club raises $2,000 for Doctor without Borders with a 5K race

by Quentin Wodon

Twenty years ago Putnam suggested in his Bowling Alone paper that in contrast with earlier times in American history, social capital was eroding in the United States. Putnam suggested several explanations for this perceived decline (which has been much debated since). The movement of women into the labor force may reduce the time they have for investing in social capital and community life. A higher labor mobility may be preventing workers from planting deep enough roots in their communities to nurture civic engagement (the “repotting” hypothesis). Demographic and other transformations may also play a role, including through the rise of supermarkets as opposed to neighborhood stores. And perhaps most importantly, the technological transformation of leisure – at the time Putnam wrote his article, the irruption of television, the VCR, and other technologies, may lead to a privatization and individualization of leisure time and a concurrent drop in civic engagement.

In today’s world, at least in wealthy countries such as the US, many teenagers often carry their cellphone, iPad, or other electronic device almost everywhere they go. The irruption of technology – and the apparent privatization of leisure time, may seem to be stronger than ever, potentially eroding further various forms of social capital, including in terms of service work for communities and the less fortunate.

But is this actually the case? The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes annual statistics on volunteering in the US. In 2013 the overall volunteer rate declined by 1.1 percentage points to 25.4% for the year ending in September – this was the lowest rate since the BLS started to collect the data in 2002 (see the press release here). The rate for teens (16- to 19-year-olds) was slightly higher, at 26.2%, but it was also in decline from 27.4% in 2012. However, the volunteering rate in 2012 was also the highest recorded in the previous six years – for teens, the volunteering rate in 2007 was at 25.5%. More importantly, beyond variations over short periods of time, if one looks at longer term trends, as the Corporation for National and Community Service has done, volunteering rates appear higher today than 30 or 40 years ago.

Volunteering among teens seems to be alive and well, not only in the United States, but also abroad. For example, the youth report of the European Union suggests that the proportion of youth working for civil society organizations and associations has increased slightly over the last decade, mostly thanks to large gains in four countries (Denmark, Germany, Finland and Sweden). One of the potential explanations suggested is that lack of satisfaction with political structures would lead youth to get more involved with community activities and small-scale organizations where they feel they can make more of a difference.

In Rotary, the available data also points to substantial, and possibly more volunteering over time among youth. Interact is the branch of Rotary International for children and youth between 12 and 18 years of age. The first Interact Club was chartered with 23 students from Melbourne High School in Florida in 1962. Today Interact worldwide has more members than Rotaract (the Rotary branch for young professionals).

Exactly how many Interactors (the members of Interact clubs) are involved in clubs is difficult to tell very precisely because Rotary International does not maintain a database of Interactors like it does for members of Rotary clubs. But estimates suggest that there are close to 400,000 Interactors worldwide. This is based on a total of 16,742 clubs (April 2014 data) and an assumption (based on the data available) of an average of 23 members per club. Interact Clubs operate in 151 countries and geographic areas. The estimates – based on club growth – also suggest that the year-on-year growth rate in membership is positive (it was 1.7% from 2013 to 2014).

What do Interactors do in terms of service work? They are involved in all kinds of projects, some of which are featured annually through the Interact video contest. This blog will feature Interact projects – as well as other great service initiatives by youth whether they are involved in Interact or not. Some of those stories will also be published as part of the Interact Today newsletter that you can find on the Interact page of this blog. The first issue of the newsletter featured an interview with then-Rotary International President Ron Burton. But it also featured a nice story about the Broadneck High School Interact Club in Maryland. The club held its first Broadneck without Borders 5 kilometer race a few months ago and raised $2,000 for Doctors without Borders. This is the non-profit organization leading the fight against Ebola in West Africa.

Youth – including Interactors – are doing great service work all around the world. Congratulations to you if you are one of them.