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.

Early Childhood Development Free Online Course: Part 3 – How to Implement ECD Interventions?

Note: This post is part of a series of three explaining what is covered under the why (part 1), what (part 2), and how (part 3) modules of the World Bank’s online course.

by Quentin Wodon

Following up on the posts of yesterday and the day before, today’s post is about the “how” of early childhood development (ECD). This is the question asked in the third and last module of the World Bank’s new online course on ECD.


The first question – the “why” of ECD – focused on individual child-level outcomes: how children grow and develop, the powerful positive impact that ECD interventions can have for them, the high economic returns from such interventions, and the risks incurred without them. Next, with the “what matters” question, we took a step back and looked at ECD systems as a whole at the country level – are country policies and programs structured in such a way that they can deliver ECD interventions for young children. The third question is about “how”. The “how” question looks at what lies in between country systems and ECD interventions at the child level. It deals with how ECD program and policies can be designed, implement, and evaluated.

How to implement ECD interventions is again a fairly broad area of inquiry. The World Bank course focuses on six different topics related to the “how” question. Each is briefly discussed in this post. As before, the hope is that together with the two previous posts, this post will enable readers to decide whether it would be worthwhile for them to actually take the online course, and if they do not, to at least provide them with a few useful resources on ECD.

The first topic on the “how” of ECD focuses on what the World Bank has done in this field in terms of support to governments. This is after all a World Bank course! Key findings from a 12-year review of the World Bank’s experience with ECD projects are provided. The good news is that lending and grants as well as analytical work for ECD has increased dramatically in the last few years after a number of policy document recognized the importance of investments in ECD. Examples of projects implemented in countries such as Mexico, Eritrea, and Indonesia are also provided.

The second topic considers the issue of inter-sectoral coordination between agencies and Ministries, as well as between the wide range of providers of ECD services. It discusses what a comprehensive EDC system could look like and how coordination helps in achieving synergies between interventions as well as cost savings though the combination of interventions in service delivery. Again, examples of coordination mechanisms from Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean are provided.

The third topic is devoted to ECD diagnostics, whether for countries or projects. The topic discusses the inputs that are needed for ECD interventions, and how such interventions can be funded. It reviews some of the broad indicators (including those related to the Millennium Development Goals) that have been used to monitor ECD outcomes at the country level, as well as some of the more detailed child assessment tools that can be used for more detailed evaluations, including by servicer providers such as NGOs.

These assessment tools are then described in more details in the fourth topic in order to help practitioners chose the right type of child assessment to measure whether they are indeed achieving the outcomes that they are trying to achieve. The issue of how to adapt such assessment tools to local conditions – an assessment tool for the United States may not work in Bolivia – is also discussed. The topic finally presents briefly the area of focus of on-going impact evaluations being implemented by the World Bank, in part using these tools, in ten countries in Africa, Latin America, East Asia, and South Asia.

The fifth topic looks in more details at the cost of ECD interventions and their financing. The topic shows how to estimate the overall cost of specific interventions, as well as the cost per beneficiary. While some costs may be borne by families, many of the costs should be paid for by governments and/or other funders, especially when programs targeted low-income beneficiaries. Guidelines as to how much countries should invest in ECD programs are provided and examples of combinations of funding sources, allocation mechanisms, and coverage rates for different types of ECD interventions from Columbia, Denmark, and Indonesia are documented.

The sixth and last topic considers issues related to project design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. The discussion is based in part on a case study for a large project implemented by the World Bank in Indonesia. After providing a snapshot of the project, the concepts of results chain and results framework are introduced to link inputs with outputs and intermediate as well as final outcomes. While the case study is based on a large project, the concepts presented also apply to smaller initiatives led by NGOs and other service providers.

That’s it for the structure of the course! As mentioned in the first post of this series, the course takes about four to five hours to complete. The course was initially designed for World Bank task team leaders in education, health, and social protection who are involved in the design and implementation of ECD projects or in policy dialogue on ECD with governments and other organizations. While these staffs have broad-based program and project-related responsibilities, they may not be familiar with some more detailed aspects of ECD interventions and policies. The e-learning course provides them with a resource to broaden their knowledge base.

But it is also hoped that the course, which is available free of charge, should be of interest to policy makers in countries as well as staffs from donor and other agencies, including non-governmental organizations. The course may also be of interest to undergraduate and graduate university students. The hope is that many of you, the readers, will take the course to learn more about this fascinating and very important topic.

Note: This series of three posts is based on the e-learning course mentioned above, which was developed by a World Bank team comprising of Amina Denboba, Monica McLin, Michelle Neuman, Rebecca Kraft Sayre, Yidan Wang, and the author.


Early Childhood Development Free Online Course: Part 2 – What Matters for ECD?

Note: This post is part of a series of three explaining what is covered under the why (part 1), what (part 2), and how (part 3) modules of the World Bank’s online course.

by Quentin Wodon

Scientific and economic arguments make a clear case for investing in early childhood development (ECD). This was the topic of yesterday’s post. But what should ECD providers and countries focus on when investing in ECD? What do they need to pay attention to? How can they assess whether their ECD programs and systems are sound? Some issues will be program-specific. For example, what is the scope of the available ECD programs? What is their coverage? How equitable is access to programs? Other issues will be system-wide. How good is the enabling environment for ECD programs and policies? Are various agencies and Ministries coordinating their interventions? Are quality assurance mechanisms in place for providers?

These are complex questions. To answer them a framework is needed. The second module of the World Bank’s free online ECD course does just that: it provides a framework for assessing the quality of ECD programs and policies in a country. The module is designed with policy makers in mind, but it should also be useful for practitioners, including those implementing ECD programs on the ground, simply because understanding how the overall ECD system works (or does not work) matters when thinking about a particular intervention. This second blog post in the 3-part series on ECD explains the thinking behind this second module.


The course’s second module is based on the ECD component of the SABER (Systems Approach for Better Education Results) framework. SABER ECD identifies three policy goals that matter most for effective ECD country systems: (1) Establishing an Enabling Environment; (2) Implementing Widely; and (3) Monitoring and Assuring Quality. Taken together the three goals help in addressing constraints to effective ECD policies such as fragmented policy between ministries, limited and uneven access to services, and poor quality assurance mechanisms. For each policy goal, three policy levers are identified to strengthen ECD systems. The Figure below presents the structure of the SABER-ECD framework with the three goals and nine levers.

SABER ECD Framework
SABER ECD Framework

Establishing an Enabling Environment. This is the foundation for effective ECD policies. A country’s enabling environment can encourage diverse participation and service uptake, promote efficient service delivery, and ensure adequate financing and institutional capacity. In the context of ECD, establishing an enabling environment entails developing an adequate legal and regulatory framework to support ECD provision. Coordination within sectors and across institutions is necessary to ensure effective service delivery. Finally, the availability of adequate fiscal resources and systems to allocate financing will determine the extent to which the enabling environment supports the ECD system.

Implementing Widely. This goal refers to the scope of existing programs offered and their coverage level, as well as the extent to which access to these programs is equitable and children’s holistic development is addressed. A robust ECD system should include policies that support programs in all essential sectors and target all beneficiary groups (e.g., pregnant women, infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and caregivers). Finally, particular attention must be paid to children from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds as well as those with special needs, so that all children have equitable access to the programs being offered.

Monitoring and Assuring Quality. This goal refers to the availability of data and systems to monitor ECD outcomes, the development of quality standards for ECD service delivery, and the establishment of systems to monitor compliance with these standards. Under political and budget pressures, policymakers may expand access to ECD services at the expense of quality. This could jeopardize the very benefits that policymakers hope children will gain through preschool and other ECD interventions. Sound evidence is required to inform policy decisions. Impact evaluations suggest that the benefits from ECD interventions are large, but if programs are of poor quality, the benefits may be negligible and the programs may even be detrimental. Furthermore, in many countries, a large proportion of ECD services are provided by the private sector; for these systems, well-defined and enforced monitoring and quality assurance systems are critical to ensure that standards for service delivery are met.

To summarize, what the second module of the online course does is to 1) Describe the three policy goals and how they affect ECD outcomes; 2) Explain the nine policy levers in more details and how they contribute to the three policy goals; and 3) Examine how ECD systems affect children’s growth and development through two stylized country case studies – a well performing country, and a poorly performing one.

Implementation of SABER ECD

Before concluding, it is useful to mention that apart from the two stylized country case studies used to illustrate the above framework, the course also provides examples from actual countries on programs and policies that have worked especially well (good practice cases). These examples stem from lessons learned from the application of the SABER ECD diagnostic tool to about 50 countries worldwide. The map below provides a visualization of the countries where the tool has been (or is being) applied to date. In the third and final post of this series, the focus will shift to the third question considered in the online course, namely how to implement ECD programs and policies.


SABER ECD Implementation Map
SABER ECD Implementation Map

Note: This series of three posts is based on the e-learning course mentioned above, which was developed by a World Bank team comprising of Amina Denboba, Monica McLin, Michelle Neuman, Rebecca Kraft Sayre, Yidan Wang, and the author.

Early Childhood Development Free Online Course: Part 1 – Why Invest in ECD?

Note: This post is part of a series of three explaining what is covered under the why (part 1), what (part 2), and how (part 3) modules of the World Bank’s online course.

by Quentin Wodon

“The child who has gone to a preschool can study in primary school with more ease than a child who joins a primary school directly”. Unfortunately, “preschool fees range from 50,000 to 150,000 Shillings (US$ 20-60) per term of three months. Most parents cannot afford this, so many of them wait until their children are of age to start primary school”.

These quotes from Ugandan villages illustrate how parents value investments in young children, but often cannot afford them. The same is true for healthcare and nutrition. Early years are essential for children’s development. Unfortunately, investments in early childhood development (ECD) remain low in most countries. This is the case not only for governments, but also for the private sector and philanthropies. Investments in ECD can be shown to have larger returns than investments later in life. And yet public and private resources allocated to ECD are small in comparison to resources invested in other areas.


Complexity of ECD

The lack of sufficient investments in ECD stems in part from the complexity of the field. The fact that the early years of a child – from birth to seven or eight years – are crucial is now well recognized in the scientific literature. But ECD policies and programs are complex and managed by multiple public and private service providers, regulatory agencies, and ministries, including those in charge of education, healthcare, and social protection. Policy makers and practitioners may be expert in one specific area –maternal or child mortality, preschool education, nutrition, or child protection. But their knowledge of other areas may be limited. It is of course not necessary for all to be experts on all matters related to ECD. But more awareness of the comprehensive nature of the investments needed would help in improving ECD programs and marshalling more resources towards them.

To some extent, service club organizations such as Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions are an exception in terms of their investment strategies. Their signature initiatives all focus on young children – these are polio eradication through vaccination for Rotary, tackling iodine deficiency for Kiwanis, and avoiding blindness and promoting child health for Lions. But again, few members of service clubs are aware of what needs to be done more broadly to give each child a great start in life. And to some extent, the same is true for policy makers and practitioners.

New Online Course

The good news is that resources are available to learn about ECD. These resources now include a new and free online self-spaced e-learning course from the World Bank. The course consists of three interactive web-based modules that aim to answer three simple questions: (1) Why invest in ECD?; (2) What matters for ECD?; and (3) How to implement ECD interventions. The online course takes four to five hours to complete (about 45 minutes for the first module, 75 minutes for the second, and 120 minutes for the third). The completion of the three modules need not be done in one go – each individual learner can go through the course at her/his own pace, stop for a while, and come back later. After each topic questions are provided for review.

This post is the first in a series of three on this e-learning course that aim to answer in a concise way the above three questions: the why, what, and how of ECD. The hope is that the three posts will enable readers to decide whether it would be worthwhile for them to take the online course, and if they do not, to at least provide them with a few useful resources on ECD.

Why Invest in ECD?

So let’s start with the first question – which is actually the easiest and fastest to answer of the three. Why should governments, NGOs, and service clubs invest in ECD? There are both scientific and economic arguments in favor of investments in young children.

From a scientific point of view, neurological studies show that synapses develop rapidly during a child’s first few years, forming the basis of cognitive and emotional functioning for life. Adequate nutrition, especially from conception to age two, and stimulation in a child’s early years play a critical role in brain development. Malnutrition in the early years leads not only to poor physical growth, but can impede brain development; malnutrition is also linked with delayed cognitive development and low academic achievement throughout a child’s life. Great resources on this scientific evidence are available from the National Council on the Developing Child. Another resource is the Lancet’s second Child Development in Developing Countries series.

From an economic point of view, while the specific rate of return on investments in ECD depends on a number of factors, including the focus of a program, duration of exposure and quality, these rates of return have been shown to be as high as 17:1 according to Nobel Economist James Heckman (many of his papers on ECD are available here). Just as one example, increasing preschool enrollment to 50 percent in low- and middle-income countries could result in additional lifetime earnings of $15-$34 billion according to a paper by Engle and others in the Lancet series. An often used stylized visualization o the high returns to investments in ECD is provided in the Figure below from a paper by Heckman and Carneiro that argues that investments in ECD often have higher returns than investments in human capital later in life.


Another example may help make the case for the high economic returns to investments in ECD. In a paper published in May 2014 in Science, Gertler, Heckman and others looked at an intervention conducted in 1986–87 in Jamaica to provide psychosocial stimulation to growth-stunted toddlers through weekly visits from community health workers over a two year period. The intervention increased earnings of the beneficiary (treatment) group by 25 percent versus the earnings of children in the control group.

While not all interventions achieve such dramatic results, the evidence is strong that investments in ECD can make a dramatic difference in the life of children, especially for children from disadvantaged groups. The ECD period presents a unique window of opportunity to improve a wide range of outcomes later in life. Conversely, a lack of investment in young children can lead to irreversible damage and long term disadvantage. In the next two posts, the questions of what matters for ECD and how to implement ECD interventions will be discussed.

Note: This series of three posts is based on the e-learning course mentioned above, which was developed by a World Bank team comprising of Amina Denboba, Monica McLin, Michelle Neuman, Rebecca Kraft Sayre, Yidan Wang, and the author.


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.