Three Lessons Learned as a Rotary Club President

Every year on July 1, some 35,000 new Rotary club Presidents take on the reins of their club, leading 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide for a year. As I just completed a year as club President, I thought it might be useful to share a few lessons learned over the past year.

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1. Prioritize

Unless you are a member of a large club, it is probably best to focus a club’s energy on only one main goal each year, as opposed to pursuing many different goals. One year goes by quickly. Trying to achieve too many goals may mean not achieving any one well enough.

For my club, our top priority this past year was to rebuild our membership. After many years of decline, we started the year officially with 18 members. In practice, we had at best 15 members since two members told us they were relocating over the summer and another member had to be terminated.  Of those 15 members, about half were fully engaged. We had no choice but to focus on rebuilding our membership. Thanks to a few initiatives explained in a free ebook as well as a bit of luck, today we have 40 members. We know that we will lose a few members due to relocation or termination in coming months. But we also have a few additional prospective members already identified, and we are clearly a stronger club today than we were a year ago.

When we started the year, we had other objectives apart from increasing our membership. In some areas, we did well. In other areas, we still have a long way to go. But what helped us is that we were clear on what our main strategic objective was for the past year: rebuilding our membership.

2. Invest in your local community

Many clubs are involved in both local and international service projects. As I work in international development, the fact that Rotary implements projects in developing countries is important to me. However, it is also clear to me that what sustains most clubs is local service, not international projects.

International projects often involve only a few dedicated club members. Without strong local service opportunities, clubs are at higher risk of losing their purpose and dynamism. The same holds for relationships. International relationships are great, but what will help a club strive are first and foremost the local relationships that a club and its members build, how well the club is known and respected in the local community. There may be exceptions, but it is hard for clubs to do well without a strong local presence.

3. Serve your members

Sometimes, there is a bit of a debate among Rotarians as to whether Rotary is a membership organization or a service organization. It seems to me that Rotary is by its very nature a membership organization first. Without a strong membership, Rotarians can’t achieve as much in their service work.

Recognizing that Rotary is primarily a membership organization has implications. Clubs need to respond to the needs and preferences of their members. This may mean a stronger focus on service in some clubs, but in other clubs it may mean a focus on, say, attracting great speakers. There is a lot of heterogeneity between clubs as well as Rotarians, and that’s a plus.

To bring value to their broader communities, clubs do need to engage in service work. This is an imperative, and I would not remain a Rotarian if this were not the case. My own priority in Rotary is to engage in service work. But not all Rotarians have the same priorities, and priorities can change depending on the stage of one’s own life. There are multiple ways to contribute, and all should be celebrated. All clubs and Rotarians should find their own niche. Diversity in Rotary is a strength that should be nurtured. But for this, a focus on serving the membership is essential.

These are three simple lessons I thought I should share. Nothing surprising really, just my two cents at the end of a year as club President with success in some areas, and a work in progress in others. Please feel free to comment and share your own views.

Free ebook 6: Tell Your Story in the Local Media – Write about Your Rotary Partners to Celebrate Volunteer Work

The sixth free ebook in the Rotarian Economist Short Books series has been released. The book tells the story of an initiative by a Rotary club to improve its public image by writing articles in the local media about volunteering opportunities for residents to make a difference in their community. The articles feature great local nonprofits, some of which the club is partnering with in order to implement service projects. The initiative appears to have been a success. To download your free copy, please go here.

Free ebook 2 – Partner, Innovate, Evaluate: Increasing Rotary’s Impact

The second ebook in the Rotarian Economist Short Books Series has been published. Partnerships, innovation, and evaluation can increase the quality, scope, and reach of Rotary’s service work in communities. The book suggests with case studies how this can be done. All books in the series are free and available here in multiple formats.  Please share this link widely with others for them to be able to benefit from this resource. And if you like the books in the series, please consider writing a quick review at Smashwords!

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Rotary International’s New Website and its Story on Literacy

Rotary International launched a much anticipated new website this month. The Rotary Leader January newsletter mentions five reasons to check out the new site, but I must admit that my main reason to look at it right away was the story on literacy because I knew it would feature a great Nepal project.

NTTI

The literacy story talks about the importance of training teachers. It features several great projects, but the one I know well is implemented by NTTI (Nepal Teacher Training Innovations) and PHASE, two great NGOs my club is working with together with the Rotary Club of Kathmandu Mid-Town. The aim of the project, which will hopefully soon benefit from a global grant, is to improve instructions in Nepal’s primary schools.

Below is a brief excerpt of the story as it relates to NTTI. The story is featured on the “supporting education” section of the new website:

“Before taking part in the NTTI program, one teacher relied heavily on memorization, having her students copy words off the blackboard. After training, the teacher made her lesson on animate and inanimate objects more interactive, says Ashley Hager, NTTI’s director. The teacher asked children to point to objects and describe how they were different. She then listed the differences on the board and paired students up to discuss them. As a final exercise, the class went outside to find examples in nature.

One student approached the teacher with a live ant in her hand and inquired, “This is an animate object, yes?” The teacher agreed. The child then squashed the ant and asked, “Is it still an animate object now?” Caught by surprise, the teacher asked the rest of the students what they thought, and a lively conversation followed. 

Other teachers agree that the training taught them the value of interactive teaching. “It’s transformed my way of teaching and given me brilliant ideas to employ the best teaching practices I have learned,” says Goma Khada, who teaches fourth grade at Shrijana Higher Secondary School in Thumpakhar.”

The literacy story is available at the following link (https://www.rotary.org/en/teaching-teachers-key-literacy). If you would like to contribute to the global grant, let me know!

This story is just one of many great stories on the new website. Stories are provided for each area of focus of the Rotary Foundation. Other stories focus on what it means to be a Rotarian or other topics of interest to clubs. So please check the new website out!

And just for the sake of completeness, let me end by mentioning that the five reasons highlighted in the Rotary Leader January newsletter to visit the new website are (1) Better organization; (2) Improved readability; (3) Compelling storytelling (what I just focused on); (4) Prominent calls to action; and (5) Enhanced metrics.

 

Free ebook series: Let me know your ideas!

Next week, as I take time off from work, I will start working on a series of free ebooks for Rotarians and others interested in service work. The ebooks will be released in coming months. If you have ideas or know of projects that I should cover in this new series, please let me know by commenting on this post or sending me an email.

Strengthening Rotary

A first set of ebooks will be about Rotary and ways to strengthen the organization. Let me give three examples.

First, I will provide estimates of the footprint of Rotary, starting with data from the United States. For example, Rotarians know about the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. But they often do not know about the richness of the activities implemented by club foundations and how much Rotary as a whole contributes to “serving humanity”, the theme for this Rotary year. I will provide estimates of our total contribution – which is large. My hope is that these estimates can then be used to better tell our story.

Second, I will advocate for the need to invest more in partnerships, innovation, and evaluation in Rotary. I will argue for such investments, and share examples of great projects that have achieved impact in each of the areas of focus of the Rotary Foundation as well as polio through partnerships, innovation, and evaluation.

Third, I will share experiences of successful Rotary clubs, starting with my own and how we succeeded in doubling our membership in six months since July thanks in part to changes adopted at the beginning of the Rotary year. I will share lessons learned that I hope will be useful to other clubs.

Project Design in Areas of Focus

In addition, ahead of the Atlanta Rotary International convention, I will prepare a series of short ebooks providing basic facts as well as good practice advise and great project stories about our areas of focus for service work (fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education, growing local economies, and promoting peace).

The hope is that these ebooks will help Rotary clubs and districts as well as other organizations choose and prepare great projects by building on the experience accumulated not only by Rotary (including Rotarian Action Groups) but also by other organizations.

Let Me Know Your Ideas

If you know of specific projects that I should cover in this new series of free ebooks, or more broadly of successful initiatives taken by clubs or districts that I should be aware of, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

You can do so by sharing a comment on this post or by contacting me by email if you prefer (through the Contact Me page of this blog).

Thanks!

November is Foundation Month: Rapid Update on the Rotary Foundation

Every year, Rotary International publishes an annual report for the organization as well as the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International (TRF). As this is Foundation month in Rotary, it may be useful to provide basic statistics on TRF to underscore the good work done by the Foundation around the world and encourage Rotarians to donate.

In the US, Charity Navigator provides ratings for charities. Ratings are available for financial performance, accountability and transparency, and a combination of accountability and transparency. Charities can get one to four stars overall. TRF has a rating of 97 out of a maximum of 100 for financial performance, and a perfect score of 100 on accountability and transparency, which yields a four stars rating overall (the top rating).

In 2014-15, according to its latest annual report, TRF received contributions worth $269 million, a level similar (after inflation) to the contributions received in 2012-13 ($260 million). These contributions include funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for polio eradication. While in the previous year investment gains were positive and large at $108 million, in 2014-15 there was a small investment loss of $5 million. This meant that after expenditures, there was no net contribution to assets. TRF ended the year with assets just under one billion dollars, as was the case the previous year.

Expenditures for 2014-15 were at $266 million. Of this amount, $224 million was provided for program awards (the rest of the budget is for program operations, fund development, and general administration). The program awards included funding for polio eradication whereby Rotary raised $35 million per year and benefited from a 2×1 match from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation worth $70 million, bringing the total contributions to polio to $105 million. The second largest expenditure was for global grants ($69 million). Funding for district grants was at $25 million.

In terms of areas of focus for global grants, the top category for awards were water and sanitation, as well as disease prevention and treatment (each awarded $20 million), followed by economic and community development ($11 million), basic education and literacy ($8 million), maternal and child health ($6 million), and finally peace and conflict prevention and resolution ($4 million). This last amount for global grants in the category of peace and conflict prevention and resolution does not include the allocation for the Rotary Peace Fellows program and associated Peace Centers.

Overall, it is fair to say that TRF is a highly respected foundation with a unique model for fundraising and the implementation of projects in partnerships with local clubs (through global grants) and districts (through district grants). The annual report of Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation is available here.

I encourage readers of this blog to contribute to the Foundation so that next year can again be a great year in terms of TRF’s reach and positive impact (for readers based in the United States, contributions are tax deductible).

Results Are In: 60% Membership Growth in First Trimester

No, Rotary International did not suddenly get 720,000 or so more members, or at least not yet! I am talking about the membership growth in my club – the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, from July to October.60-percent

Let’s admit it: a high growth rate (negative or positive) is more likely with a small club than a large club. Still, after more than five years of almost continuous decline in membership, my club is excited to report a 60 percent growth in membership from July to October. We had 18 members on July 1. Now we have 29, with 11 new members inducted in the first trimester of the new Rotary year. We are still a small club, and we have a lot more to do to gain strength, but we are on the right track.

How did we do it? Let me share our recipe:

Ingredient 1: Less meetings, more service and public events. Rotary’s Council on Legislation has given a lot of freedom to clubs on how they organize their meetings. So we decided to reduce our regular meetings from four to two per month, which gives us more time for service work and organizing public events.

Ingredient 2: Better service opportunities. Many Rotarians are professionals and business leaders, yet most do not use their skills when they volunteer with their club. We changed that in our club by creating teams of Rotarians and non-Rotarians combining their skills to provide free advice to local nonprofits on the strategic issues they face. This is not only more interesting in terms of volunteer work, but it is also more impactful to create positive change in the community.

Ingredient 3: Lower cost. By the standards of Washington D.C., our membership dues are not very high, at $600 per year. But this is too much for many. So we created two new membership types – a membership at half the regular dues for young professionals under 35 years of age, and a spouse/partner membership at one third of the dues. I hope we will be able to reduce dues further in the future.

Ingredient 4: Stronger public image. We are organizing better and more regular public events. One of our recent events was a seminar at the World Bank with great speakers on education for peace and social change. That same week we also had a stand at the main festival in our neighborhood. In addition, we have been writing posts for a local blog, a series of articles on volunteering for the local magazine (Hill Rag) for our neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and another article for a free weekly newspaper (Current Newspapers).

Ingredient 5: Strategic planning. We now have a strategic plan, our first since the club’s creation in 2003. The plan gives us a vision, and clear milestones and targets that we are trying to achieve.

Ingredient 6: Luck. Part of our gain in membership was just luck. For example, two new members transferred from other clubs due to changes in jobs and the location of their workplace. What’s great is that they bring with them a lot of experience in Rotary.

It remains to be seen whether we will continue on the path of membership growth for the rest of the year. We expect some members to relocate, so we will need to recruit more members simply to compensate for that.

We also have a lot of work to do to achieve our goals in terms of impact in the community, which matters even more than membership growth. But we are making progress, and we have exciting initiatives coming up that should help us become better known and make a larger difference in the life of the less fortunate.

This post is reproduced with a few changes from a post published by the author on Rotary Voices on Friday November 4, 2016.

Financing Polio Eradication and Development in Nigeria’s North-East

New cases of polio have emerged in Nigeria. Ahead of World Polio Day, readers of this blog should know that Rotary and other international organizations are stepping up to the plate. In September 2016, Rotary committed an additional $35 million to end polio, bringing its contribution to $105 million in 2016. Two months earlier, the World Bank approved in June 2016 $575 million in additional IDA financing for Nigeria to scale up support for the North-East of the country. This includes $125 million for polio eradication over three years (2017-2019).

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The World Bank program document for the additional polio financing notes that multiple obstacles remain to eradicating polio in Nigeria due to a lack of accessibility of some communities in the Northern States. This has led to special measures being introduced, including “(a) ‘hit and run’ interventions where vaccinators use any opportunity to go to difficult areas with the military and leave as soon as all children have been reached; (b)‘fire-walling’ that is, ensuring immunity in areas surrounding inaccessible villages; (c) using local people as vaccinators who can operate without drawing attention; (d) including IPV (Inactivated Polio Vaccine) in routine immunizations activities; (e) having transit bus-stop and market vaccination teams; and (f) ensuring that all internally displaced people residing in camps are covered.”

Despite these efforts, immunization coverage for polio and other vaccines in the North-East still lags far behind the national average. The $125 million additional financing for polio has two components.

  • The first component provides $60 million for  Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) and other operational requirements of polio eradication activities. UNICEF will receive $50 million to procure OPV. The additional US$10 million will be used by UNICEF or WHO for a range of activities where funding gaps may be identified, including activities for Immunization Plus Days.
  • The second component ($65 million) will help finance routine immunization. The inclusion of a component on routine immunization stems from the fact that it has been shown to be essential for interrupting the transmission of wild polio and thereby completing polio eradication, while also being a critical aspect of improving child and maternal health.

The program document for the additional polio financing is available here.

The difficulties in eradicating polio in the North-East are related in part to insecurity and a broader lack of services and development opportunities. The Boko Haram insurgency has deeply affected the states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Taraba, Bauchi and Gombe, with negative impacts on an estimated 15 million people.

As per the press release for the additional financing package for the North-East, the other components of the package include:

  • $75 million for the Nigeria Community and Social Development Project which provides immediate basic social infrastructure and psychosocial support to communities most affected by displacement;
  • $100 million for the Youth Employment and Social Support Operation to provide youth, women and the unemployed (especially internally displaced persons, returnees and persons with disabilities resulting from the crisis) with labor-intensive work and skills development opportunities. Cash transfers will also be provided to displaced families and individuals as they return voluntarily and safely to and settle in their old or new communities.
  • $50 million for the Third Fadama Development Project that  addresses the emergency needs of farmers by improving access to irrigation and drainage services, delivery of agricultural inputs, and contributing to the restoration of livelihoods in conflict-affected households with a focus on women and youth.
  • $100 million for the State Education Program Investment Project that supports the return to teaching and learning through financial incentives for teachers who have completed psycho-social training, and provide grants to schools to address their needs as identified by school-based management committees.
  • $125 million for the National State Health Investment Project (plus $20 million from the Global Financing Facility) that will help to reestablish health services with a focus on maternal, newborn and child health, nutrition, psycho-social support and mental health. In communities in which health facilities have been destroyed, mobile clinics will be deployed to provide care.

As Rachid Benmessaoud, the World Bank Country Director for Nigeria explained it,  “The needs are staggering. Millions of people have lost their livelihoods, schools and health facilities have been destroyed, and the psychosocial impact of the crisis must also be addressed. To help create economic opportunities for the most vulnerable, we have identified a set of initiatives that will have a quick and tangible impact on the population in four priority areas: agriculture, education, health and social protection.

The World Bank press release on which this blog post is based is available here together with links to other related resources.

Education, Peace, and Social Change Event at the World Bank

For readers of this blog who are based in the greater Washington, DC, area, please take note of an event I am organizing at the World Bank. On September 20, 2016 at 4 PM (until 5:30 PM followed by a light reception), we will have a great panel discussion on education for peace and social change featuring innovative programs in the DC area. The event is co-sponsored by my Rotary club and organized ahead of International Peace Day. Details are provided below. Feel free to share this information with others as all are welcome, but please do register at the following link if you intend to come but are not a World Bank staff (space is limited).
 
Education, Peace, and Social Change: Innovations in the District of Columbia

Panel on September 20, 2016 at 4:00 PM, Room J 1-050 (Address: 701 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20006)

How can secondary education be safe for students while also promoting peace and social change? This question will be discussed by a panel featuring innovative programs in Washington, DC. These programs provide useful insights not only for the United States but also for developing countries. Case studies will be presented about work in this area by District of Columbia Public Schools (in terms of improving safety in schools and promoting restorative justice), Street Law (in terms of empowering young people with legal and civic knowledge, skills, and confidence to bring about positive change for themselves and others) and One World Education (in terms of improving the research and writing skills of students and enabling them to write about issues that they deeply care about). The panel is organized for International Peace Day (on September 21) by the World Bank’s Education Global Practice together with the Global Partnership for Education, the World Bank Community Outreach, and the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill. A light reception will follow the event.

Introduction: Quentin Wodon, Lead Economist, World Bank

Chair: Joel Reyes, Senior Education Specialist, World Bank

Speakers:

David Jenkins, Manager of Behavior and Student Supports, DC Public Schools

Lee Arbetman, Executive Director, Street Law

Eric Goldstein, Chief Executive Officer, One World Education

Discussant: 

Arthur Romano, Assistant Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University

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”

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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”

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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.