Which Is Better? Creating Your Own Event or Participating in an Existing Event?

As part of our new strategic plan, our club is stepping up efforts to improve our public image and our presence in the community, in part through social and traditional media, but also through the organization of public events and participation in existing events. Which is better? Creating our own event, or participating in events that already exist in your community?

As expected, the answer is “it depends”. Both types of events are an option, and if you can do both, all the better for your club. Let me illustrate this with two events for our club in the past week: our participation in the Barracks Row Festival (an existing event) on September 24, and our seminar on education for peace and social change at the World Bank (an event we created) on September 20.

The Barracks Row Festival is an annual family-oriented community event for Capitol Hill, the neighborhood in which our club is located in Washington, DC. Some 140 organizations and vendors have stands. Depending on weather, up to 10,000 people pass through the street where the event is located from 11 AM to 5 PM. For the second year in a row, we participated. This year our stand featured a bean bag game (as shown in the picture where you can see that our game has the Rotary emblem!)  Children and adults who succeeded in throwing a bag in the hole got a cute slap bracelet. In practice, we (of course) gave the slap bracelet to all the children who wanted it. Thanks to one of our members and her colleagues, we also had face painting for children for a few hours. This was as expected an even better attraction for children than the bean bag game.

barracks

A few hundred people came by our stand, on a few occasions because they were interested in Rotary, but mostly because their children wanted to play or get their face painted. We did make a number of useful contacts, but more importantly we got our name out there in a positive way.  We contributed to an important event in our community, which we should do independently of any potential benefit for our club.

Our second event this past week was very different. We organized a seminar at the World Bank on education, peace, and social change with three very good speakers: one from our public school system and two from great local nonprofits (Street Law and One World Education). A Rotary Peace Fellow from George Mason University served as discussant, and one of my colleagues at the World Bank served as chair.

I will write more about the seminar when I will have the video to share, but for this post, in terms of comparing participation in an existing event with organizing a new event, the lessons are twofold. First, the seminar was well attended (with about 55 participants), but it reached fewer people than our stand at the Barracks Row Festival. On the other hand the people we reached included professionals that we are aiming to work with through our Capitol Hill pro bono initiative whereby we provide strategic advise to local nonprofits and agencies on the challenges they face. The event not only contributed to the broader discussion on education and peace, but it also contributed to our credibility as a partner. The fact that we co-organized the event with the World Bank. a respected organization in DC, did not hurt.

So, the message that I wanted to convey with these two examples of recent events for our club is simple: if you can, you should consider multiple types of events to make your club better known. Some of these events could be created from scratch, as we did for the seminar at the World Bank, while others could entail participation in existing community events with broader reach. Both types of events are great opportunities to make your club better known and contribute to the community.

Telling Your Rotary Club’s Story on Social Media: Posting on Local Blogs

Using social media to tell the story of your Rotary club does not mean focusing only on your club’s own website, blog, or Facebook/Twitter accounts. It may be useful to post stories on websites and blogs that have a stronger readership base than your own.

The main local blog for my club’s community is “The Hill Is Home”. So I started writing posts for that blog, not directly about our club, but about the really great work of our nonprofit partners and how we are working with them. This may help not only our club, but also the local blog on which I post hopefully useful stories as well as the nonprofits we work with. It seems to be win-win for all parties and it may help in promoting volunteer work more generally.

In case this may be helpful as an illustration of the approach, the text of two recent posts are reproduced below. Note that in each post I provide basic information on our club and how to be contacted in the note at the bottom of each post. Each post has a picture from the respective nonprofits reproduced here. Please don’t hesitate to share your own views on how to use social media by posting a comment.

Example 1 – Post published after a speaker from a local nonprofit partner came to our club – “Reaching Out to the Homeless: Capitol Hill Group Ministry”

HART06

This week Abby Sypek was the guest speaker at our bi-weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill. Abby is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Capitol Hill Group Ministry. She has worked in homeless services in DC for almost three years and is passionate about ending homelessness in the District. Before moving to DC, she worked in the non-profit sector for over ten years.

I was impressed by Abby’s personal commitment and outgoing personality, the work of Capitol Hill Group Ministry (CHGM), and the opportunities the organization provide for volunteers who would like to help. CHGM provides a comprehensive suite of services for homeless families and individuals, ranging from homelessness prevention to helping those on the street regain access to housing and connecting them to health services, among others.

One of their innovative programs is HART, which stands for Homeless Assistance Response Team. HART volunteers are trained in street outreach techniques and processes to be able to help the homeless access shelter, especially on hypothermic nights. When temperatures are very low, the body may lose heat and lead to hypothermia, which can ultimately lead to death. This makes it essential to have volunteers checking on those who need shelter. But the program also runs at other times of the year to provide snacks and seasonally appropriate supplies as needed. The fact that the program runs year-long is a great way to build relationships with those who are homeless and make sure that if they need support, such support can indeed be provided.

HART is operated by volunteers to complement outreach by case workers. The program is coordinated by Abby. It is not only beneficial for the homeless, but also for volunteers who often find the experience highly rewarding. As part of our Capitol Hill Pro Bono Initiative, our Rotary club is partnering with Capitol Hill Group Ministry in order to conduct a rapid assessment of the benefits of HART not only for the homeless and volunteers, but also for the city.

If you would like to volunteer with CHGM through the HART program, you can register for their volunteer training which typically takes place once a month on the third Tuesday of the month. This is likely to be a great experience that you will not regret. The next training is on August 16 and you can sign up to attend here. All are welcome!

 Quentin Wodon is President of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill which meets every second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 7:30 AM at the Dubliner on F Street. To contact him, or to learn more about the Capitol Hill Pro Bono Initiative, please send him an email through the Contact Me page of his blog at www.rotarianeconomist.com.

Example 2 – Post published before a speaker from a local nonprofit partner came to our club – “Enabling Disadvantaged Youths to Succeed: Latin America Youth Center”

LAYC

More than 17,000 young adults ages 18-24 in the Washington Metropolitan Area are considered as disconnected from work and school. Quite a few of them live in or near Capitol Hill. These youth are often from low-income families. They are not in school and out of work. They typically face multiple challenges, including homelessness, issues with the courts, or substance abuse. These challenges prevent them from successfully transitioning into adulthood. There is hope, however, in that programs reaching out to these youths have been proven to work.

The number of nonprofits in the District that have implemented rigorous impact evaluations of their programs for disadvantaged youths is small. Latin America Youth Center (LAYC) is one of them. The organization uses an innovative approach to address the needs of youth at especially high risk. Its Promotor Pathway is a long-term, intensive, holistic case management and mentorship intervention. Data from a five year randomized controlled trial impact evaluation suggest that the program has led to positive changes in terms of increasing school enrollment, reducing birth rates, and reducing homelessness among youth participating in the program. The evaluation report is available on the website of the Urban Institute.

The Promotor Pathway program is a flagship initiative for LAYC, but the organization also runs other programs, including in the areas of education, workforce readiness, housing, community building, mental health services, arts, and healthy recreation. LAYC was founded in 1968. Today, it serves 4,000 individuals per year. As a result there are plenty of ways for you to get involved if you would like to help. In order to volunteer, simply go to their website, and check for opportunities under the “Get Involved” section of the site. By volunteering, you can really make a difference in the life of the less fortunate with a top notch local nonprofit.

One last thing: Shayna Scholnick, the Director of the Promotor Pathway program for the District, will be guest speaker at our bi-weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill on Tuesday August 23. As part of our Capitol Hill Pro Bono Initiative, my Rotary club is partnering with LAYC to help Shayna conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the Promotor Pathway program. If you would like to know more about the program or LAYC more generally, please feel free to join our Rotary club meeting that day. All are welcome to join.

Quentin Wodon is President of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill which meets every second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 7:30 AM at the Dubliner on F Street. To contact him, or to learn more about the Capitol Hill Pro Bono Initiative, please send him an email through the Contact Me page of his blog at www.rotarianeconomist.com.

Strengthening Rotary Clubs through Stronger Partnerships with Local Nonprofits

As readers of this blog may be aware, my Rotary club launched last month a number of partnerships with key nonprofits in our community as part of a “pro bono initiative”. These partnerships bring several benefits: 1) better service opportunities for our members and larger impact in the community; 2) more visibility for  our partners and our club; and 3) new members. Let me briefly explain these three benefits in case they may inspire other clubs to adopt a similar model.

Better service opportunities and larger impact: Most Rotarians are professionals and/or business leaders. We are building on these skills in our club by providing pro bono strategic advise with small teams of 4-5 individuals (both Rotarians and non-Rotarians) that support local nonprofits. This makes our club more interesting for our members in terms of the service opportunities we provide, and it also increases the impact that we have on the community through local nonprofits. I mentioned this pro bono initiative in previous blog posts, so let me focus here on the other two benefits.

More visibility for our partners and our club: This higher visibility is achieved is several ways. First, we are sharing our work on social media using some of the better known blogs in our community. The main blog for our community is “The Hill Is Home”. So we started writing posts for that blog, not directly about our club, but about the great work of our nonprofit partners … and the fact that we are working with them. We also started writing short articles about our partner nonprofits in the main monthly magazine for the community. Again, the stories are about our partner nonprofits but they mention in passing that our club works with them. These efforts should give us more visibility, and they also help our nonprofit partners who truly appreciate the visibility they get with this initiative. Finally, we have started placing small posters in local cafes, libraries, and other locations to advertise the fact that our nonprofit partners are invited as speakers to our club meetings. We indicate when they are speaking, which can bring us more visitors.

More members: Our club has been losing members for quite a few years. As mentioned in a separate post on this blog in which I shared our club’s strategic plan, our top priority this year is to attract new members and revitalize the club. It is too early to assess whether we will be successful, but the last few weeks have been promising. On July 1, we had 18 members, down from 31 a few years ago. Right now, we are back to 26 members thanks to 8 new members who joined in the last three weeks. Our pro bono initiative and our partnerships with local nonprofits have helped us in recruiting some of these new members and we have a number of other potential members we are in contact with thanks to the initiative. We will loose a few members in coming weeks/months due to relocations (Washington DC is for some a temporary location), but we are hopeful that we will achieve a substantial net gain in membership this year thanks in large part to the pro bono initiative and the benefits it brings not only to the club, but more importantly to local nonprofits and the community.

There are multiple ways for Rotary clubs to partner with local nonprofits in a strategic way, and some clubs have a long history in doing so. Our new model emphasizing pro bono consulting teams working closely with local nonprofits may not be the right model for all clubs, but it appears to be working for us, and it ties in nicely with our efforts at improving our public image and recruiting new members. If you would like to know more about our new model, please do not hesitate to post a comment on this post, or to email me through the Contact Me page of the blog.

 

 

 

Partnerships, Innovation, and Evaluation, 1: Introduction

This post is the first in a series on increasing the impact of Rotary. The series will feature case studies of great service projects that have achieved larger impact through partnerships, innovation, and evaluation. The hope is that the case studies will encourage clubs and districts to think bigger in their service work.  The series will cover each of the areas of focus of the Rotary Foundation, as well as polio.

Service work through volunteering or projects is at the heart of what Rotary is all about. Membership surveys suggest that the main reason why members join and remain in Rotary is the opportunity to serve (see my recent book on Rotary). Fellowship and networking are also very important, but service is first.

Rotary is a fairly decentralized organization with at its core the Rotary club. Rotarians come in many shapes and forms, beliefs and passions. There is amazing diversity in the types of service work that Rotarians engage in. This is a strength as members choose to contribute to the causes they are most passionate about.

Most of the service work that Rotarians engage in is done through volunteering, not through service projects that benefit from financial support from the Rotary Foundation (TRF). In adition, many projects implemented with TRF support are small and based on local opportunities identified by clubs. These projects may not rely on partnerships, they may not be especially innovative, and they may not be evaluated in depth. As long as it is clear to clubs and local communities that the projects are helpful, a lack of partnership, innovation or evaluation is not necessarily a major drawback. One straitjacket does not fit all in Rotary.

At the same time however, if Rotary is to have a larger impact globally, there is also a need to put together more and larger projects that do rely on partnerships, are innovative, and are monitored and evaluated properly.

Partnerships help to implement larger projects and benefit from the expertise of organizations that are among the best in their field. Partnerships may also generate visibility and media coverage for Rotary (polio is the best example). Partnerships have a cost since effort is required for collaborations to work. But if partnerships deliver scale, expertise, or visibility, gains outweigh the costs.

Innovation is even more important than partnerships to achieve larger impact and discover better ways to serve communities. Without innovation, the contribution of TRF is a drop in the development assistance bucket. TRF does have a respectable size, but in comparison to development funding, it is very small.

Total annual giving by the foundation represents less than half a percent of what the World Bank provides in development assistance every year, and this is just one of a number of development agencies. But if Rotary experiments and innovates, pilots that prove successful can be scaled up by other organizations with deeper pockets, thereby achieving larger impact.

Without serious monitoring and evaluation, innovation does not help much because impact on the ground must first be demonstrated at the pilot stage for a promising intervention to be scaled up. Innovation and evaluation are like twins: they work best as a pair. Evaluation is also needed for Rotary to learn internally from both successes and mistakes.

All three ingredients ̶ partnerships, innovation, and evaluation, can help increase the impact of Rotary’s service work. In order to encourage clubs and districts to move in that direction, this series will show how partnerships, innovation, and evaluation can be harnessed to serve Rotary’s mission of service above self.

The series will tell the story of projects in each of the areas of focus of TRF: promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education, growing local economies, and eradicating polio.

You will learn about an innovative financing mechanism for polio eradication; an award winning project reducing under five mortality in Mali; a program that is transforming teaching and learning in Nepali classrooms; a project to save the life of mothers and children in Nigeria; a program to invest in the writing skills of disadvantaged youth in the United States; projects and initiatives to improve access to water and sanitation in Uganda; and the work done by Rotary with Peace Centers.

All these projects are in one way or another innovative. They all leverage partnerships. And virtually all build on solid monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Hopefully, the series will give you additional insights into some of the great projects that clubs and districts are implementing around the world.

Please do not hesitate to send me an email through the Contact Me page of this blog if you believe other projects should be featured (perhaps in another series), and feel free to post comments on the projects that you find particularly inspiring.

 

 

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.

World AIDS Day: The Role of Civil Society and Rotary

by Quentin Wodon

Today is World AIDS Day. Over the last three decades, the pandemic has taken the lives of 36 million people. According to the WHO, 35.3 million people live today with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), but only about a third (11.7 million) receives antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries. The theme for the day this year is “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free generation”, calling for governments, NGOs, and individuals to contribute to AIDS prevention and treatment. This post is about the role of civil society and Rotary in fighting the AIDS epidemic.

Rotary's Family Health Days in Action
Rotary’s Family Health Days in Action

Role of Civil Society

Governments and donors play a key role in the fight against AIDS, but civil society and individuals also play an important role and that role is being increasingly recognized and supported. Last year I published with World Bank colleagues a book entitled Funding Mechanisms for Civil Society: The Experience of the AIDS Response (the book is available online without charge here). We noted that in the past decade, international funding for the HIV and AIDS response provided by governments rose dramatically.

In addition donors have increasingly shifted their financial support toward funding community responses to the epidemic. Yet little is known about the global magnitude of these resource flows to civil society, especially at the local level, and how funding is allocated among HIV and AIDS activities and services by community organizations.

Part of the study focused on the mechanisms used to fund civil society and community-based organizations (CBOs) by four large AIDS donors: the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Bank’s HIV/AIDS Program, and the UK Department for International Development. On average, these four donors provided at least US$690 million in funding per year for civil society organizations (CSOs) during the 2003–09 period.

Much of this funding went to large national CSOs. While part of the funding also went to smaller NGOs and CBOs, including through partnerships with the larger CSOs, in many cases only a small share of international resources trickles down to local communities. More needs to be done to support local-based organizations that are actively contributing on the ground to the fight against AIDS, often relying on volunteer work.

Role of Rotary

Rotary is active in the fight against AIDS in part through the Rotarians for Family Health & AIDS Prevention (RFHA) Rotarian Action Group. Rotarian Action Groups (RAGs) are groups are led by Rotarians in their field of expertise in order to help clubs implement projects and exchange ideas and experiences. There are close to 20 RAGs operating, and RFHA is one of them.

The signature program of RFHA is Rotary Family Health Days (the information provided here is from the RFHA website). The program promotes healthy living and disease prevention through annual campaigns in four African countries: Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda. Family Health Days provide comprehensive, free health care services to underprivileged communities. The services include lifelong immunizations to children, such as polio and measles vaccines, and comprehensive life-saving annual screens such as HIV, TB, Malaria, Diabetes, Hypertension and more, including information about HIV-AIDS.

The program was initiated in 2011 when Past District Governor (PDG) Stephen Mwanje from Uganda asked Marion Bunch, the founder of RFHA, for partnership support in obtaining funding and other resources for this program. PDG Mwanje’s vision was to have all Rotary clubs in his district work together towards a common cause, focusing on HIV/AIDS but also including other disease prevention measures.

Family Health Days is a Rotary-led program, but it leverages partnerships with others including the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, the U.S. Mission – including the Centers for Disease Control, USAID and the health service delivery expertise of their Implementing Partners – as well as each of the four countries’ Ministries of Health that provide services and supplies at the sites.

Equally important in each country are the primary media partners that include the SABC and Caxton in South Africa, and other media centers in each of the other countries. The Family Health Days program has grown from serving 38,000 citizens in one day in 2011 to serving 343,622 citizens in 2014 in 402 sites with the help of more than 8,000 Rotary volunteers. RFHA hopes to expand the program in more African countries in 2015 and is planning a pilot in India. Importantly, it is also thinking about the measurement and evaluation of the impact and sustainability of the program.

Conclusion

In the fight against AIDS, community-based organizations play an important role because of their proximity to the population, their knowledge of the issues on the ground, and the trust that the population has in them. Rotary could be considered as a large NGO given the amounts of funding managed by The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. But it can also be considered as a small local-based quasi-community group given that many Rotary clubs are indeed small and working at the local level collaboratively with other NGOs.

A key question for Rotary is how to leverage effectively the resources provided by its network of clubs and members around the world. The Family Health Days, the signature program of the RFHA Rotarian Action Group, is a very interesting case of a successful mechanism to leverage the energy of many local Rotary clubs into programs that reach at least some level of scale and make a difference in the fight against AIDS and the improvement of broader health indicators.

Rotarian Economist Call for Briefs and Papers

by Quentin Wodon

The Rotarian Economist blog was launched on World Polio Day in October 2014. The blog discusses challenges and opportunities encountered by Interact, Rotaract, and Rotary clubs, as well as other service clubs. It also features stories about service work and analysis of sometimes complex issues related to poverty reduction and development. This includes discussions about priority areas for Rotary International such as promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education, growing local economies, and (of course) eradicating polio. The hope is that the blog and the resources posted on this website will be useful to Rotarians worldwide, as well as to others interested in service work and development.

A briefs and working papers series will soon be launched on the Rotarian Economist blog and website. This may be an opportunity for readers of the blog to feature their project, initiative, or analysis. Briefs and working papers may be submitted by Interactors, Rotaractors, and Rotarians, as well as by others interested in nonprofit service and development work. For example, great projects by NGOs could be featured even if they have not received any support from Rotary.

This initiative will not duplicate tools such as Rotary Showcase where Rotary projects can be listed with a brief description (typically a paragraph) and basic project and contact information. The idea is rather to provide a space for more in-depth analysis of service projects and development issues through briefs (about 4 pages single spaced in length) and working papers (typically 12-30 pages single-spaced; please use Times New Roman font 12 for both briefs and papers).

The series will welcome briefs and working papers on service projects as well as  thematic issues – especially in the areas of focus of The Rotary Foundation. For service projects, authors should first explain the focus area of the project typically with a few links to the literature on that area (these links to the literature are more important for working papers than for briefs). The following sections of the brief or working paper should describe the project not only generally but also with a focus on what makes it especially innovative or interesting. If quantitative or qualitative data on a project’s impact are available, these should be included. The brief or working paper should also have a conclusion and a list of references.

For work on thematic issues, the briefs or working papers should provide insights or analysis about a specific issue related to service or development work, as academic or professional papers and knowledge briefs would do. This could be an issue related to the management of service clubs, their growth, and the challenges they face. It could also be an issue related to development programs and policies, again ideally with a focus on the areas of intervention of The Rotary Foundation.

The series will be indexed with contents aggregators, and many of the briefs/papers will be announced on the Rotarian Economist blog with a post summarizing the key findings from the work. For briefs and papers on specific service projects, it is a good idea to provide one or more photos.

If you would like to submit a brief or working paper for this initiative, please send me an email through the Contact Me page.  Thank you!