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).


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.

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”


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

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”


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

Growing the Membership and Serving the Community: Example of a Strategic Plan for a Rotary Club

On July 1, at the start of each new Rotary year, new club Presidents elected by the membership of more than 34,000 Rotary clubs worldwide take on the responsibility to lead their club for a year.  New elected leaders are also in place, again for a year, at the level of Rotary Districts and even Rotary International.

Rotary has long called on clubs and districts to adopt strategic plans. This is good practice for any organization, but especially so for an organization with new leaders every year. It is not clear exactly how many clubs adopt such plans, given that many clubs are small and may not feel the need to put a strategy plan down on paper. Yet strategic plans can be helpful, especially when clubs or districts try new innovative approaches to strengthening their membership and achieving a larger impact on their community.

Starting this year, my club – the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill, has adopted a number of important and hopefully innovative changes in the way it will function. The changes range from how many times the club will meet each month to the type of service work it will engage in, and how it will aim to strengthen its membership.

As this may be useful for other clubs, I thought I should share on this blog a strategic note that describes these changes and what the club hopes to achieve in the coming year.  Maybe the note can help other clubs think about their own options.

Please do not hesitate to share feedback on the strategic note of my club available here. You can do so by commenting/leaving a reply to this blog post. Over the year I will report occasionally through the blog on the progress (or lack thereof!) made towards our objectives for the 2016-17 Rotary year.


Saving Mothers and Children in Nigeria (Partnerships Series No. 4)

Over their lifetime, one in every 30 women in Nigeria are likely to die due to pregnancy and childbearing. Nigeria alone accounts for one in seven maternal deaths observed in the world today. This post, the fourth in a series on partnerships, innovation, and evaluation in Rotary, tells the story of a project that has succeeded in reducing maternal mortality in Nigeria.

Nigeria saving lives

Project and Partners

Many factors lead to maternal mortality, but a key risk is that of obstetric fistula (a hole in the birth canal). The World Health Organization estimates that each year between 50,000 and 100,000 women suffer from obstetric fistula, which by obstructing labor can lead to maternal death.

Quality assurance mechanisms in hospitals can improve obstetric services and contribute to reducing maternal mortality. This was the premise of a series of Rotary projects aiming to reduce maternal (and fetal) mortality in Nigeria led by Robert Zinser and the Rotarian Action Group for Population Growth and Development (RFPD) between 2005 and 2010.

With support from RFPD and some 200 Rotary, Rotaract and Inner Wheel Clubs, Rotary implemented a first project to improve quality assurance mechanisms in ten hospitals in Kano and Kaduna States in Northern Nigeria. Apart from funding from Rotary clubs and the Rotary Foundation, support was also provided by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Aventis Foundation and the International Association for Maternal and Neonatal Health (IAMANEH). The project was implemented by Nigerian Rotarians.

Innovative Approach

Conceptually, reducing maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality can be achieved through an improvement in the quality of the infrastructure and other inputs used to provide treatment (availability of medicine, better hospital facilities, etc.) as well as improvements in the process of providing treatment (more experienced health personnel). The project team worked on both fronts.

In terms of improvements in infrastructure, a number of investments were made, including two specialized fistula wards (one for each of the two Nigerian states) with rehabilitation facilities. Medical equipment was provided to ten hospitals and some hospitals were equipped with better water supply and solar energy. Hospitals also received intrauterine devices for women requesting them for family planning as well as drugs preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

To improve the capacity of hospital personnel, seven doctors were trained as fistula surgeons and 15 ward nurses were trained in fistula care. Many more doctors, nurses and midwives, and other health personnel such as traditional birth attendants were also trained on how to improve obstetric services. Hospital teams were trained in emergency obstetric care including (among others) in the use of magnesium sulfate to manage eclampsia and the use of an anti-shock garment to treat postpartum hemorrhage.

Apart from providing support to the hospitals participating in the project, support was also given to communities in the hospitals’ catchment areas. Mosquito nets were provided to reduce the risk of contracting malaria. Awareness and advocacy campaigns were held using radio, television, print media, and even drama (public plays on the streets) to inform the population about obstetric fistula, its causes and how to prevent it, and its impact on maternal and fetal mortality. These awareness campaigns enlisted the support of traditional and religious leaders who have substantial influence on behaviors in the community.

Perhaps the most important innovation was the development of a quality assurance mechanism that involved setting standards and systematically collecting data on the quality of the care being provided and the outcomes in terms of maternal and fetal mortality and morbidity. This was done through a “quality circle” process to monitor, review, and improve performance over time. Data were collected in participating hospitals, analyzed statistically, discussed by the teams, and used to assess improvements and take corrective measures as needed.


An evaluation based on the data collected by the hospitals as part of the quality assurance mechanism before, during and after the intervention suggests that the project achieved a 60 percent reduction in maternal mortality in participating hospitals and 15 percent reduction of newborn mortality.


RFPD’s obstetric fistula project combines all three ingredients of a winning combination for impact: partnerships, innovation, and evaluation.

The team established multiple partnerships for funding (the investment for the pilot project in the ten hospitals amounted to one million Euros) and implementation (securing buy-in from the hospitals, the state authorities, the communities, and even traditional and religious leaders).

The project included innovative components in the Nigerian context, especially the quality assurance mechanism and data collection process to improve the quality of obstetric care.

The project was evaluated using data from the quality assurance mechanism and the evaluation was published in an academic journal.

The project has been considered a success by stakeholders and the Kano and Kaduna state governments. This led to a subsequent project to continue to build capacity in the original 10 participating hospitals, and extend the model to 15 more hospitals (five rural hospitals in FCT Abuja, five hospitals in Ondo State, and five more in Enugu State). Additional scaling up is being considered by the RFPD team.

A brief on the project and the Nigerian context is available here.

Providing Water and Sanitation in Uganda (Partnerships Series No. 3)

As in other low income African countries, access to water and sanitation remains limited in Uganda, especially for the poor. This third post in a series on partnerships, innovation, and evaluation tells the story of how Rotary is playing an important role in helping to meet some of the water and sanitation needs of Uganda’s population.


Water Projects

A first important initiative is the Uganda Rotary Water Plus (URWP) program. URWP coordinates work on water and sanitation done by 78 Rotary clubs (virtually all the clubs in Uganda). The program was launched by the Ugandan Minister for Water and Environment in October 2011. It promotes effective service delivery to rural and less privileged communities.

Clubs develop projects for the communities they wish to serve. For this purpose, they must first build strong relationships with the community and develop a needs assessment. Having identified needs, clubs then select partners to meet those needs, including other Rotary clubs for fund raising, non-profits and/or business partners for implementations, and local authorities. Co-funding is typically provided by the Rotary Foundation (TRF) and in some cases other funding agencies.

The design of projects must be based on adequate technologies for the community context, with attention paid to gender and environmental issues. Clubs are encouraged to link the projects to other areas of focus of TRF, for example by providing water and sanitation to schools or health clinics.

The idea is that water and sanitation alone can’t transform a community; the “Plus” in URWP refers to other areas of focus of TRF such as supporting education or fighting disease.

The model also encourages local management committees to oversee facilities cost recovery through tariffs so that funds are available for maintenance.

URWP aims to raise $7 million for more than 30 projects. Rotary International is also partnering in Uganda with USAID to invest $4 million over four years through additional projects, following previous successful similar collaborations in the Dominican Republic, Ghana, and the Philippines (this broader partnership is referred to as the International H20 Collaboration).

Beyond the mobilization of funds, the URWP initiative has also succeeded in uniting 4,000 Ugandan Rotarians, more than 3,000 Rotaractors and many members of Rotary Community Corps (RCCs) behind countrywide water and sanitation initiatives. Many have volunteered their time and financial resources to support the projects.

Community Needs Assessments

Another interesting initiative that is part of URWP has been the implementation of a detailed diagnostic of water and sanitation facilities in communities of Apac District located 250 kilometers north of Kampala.

The idea behind the water and sanitation community needs assessment was to prepare an inventory of resources as well as gaps to be used by the Ministry of Water and the Environment as well as Rotary and other funders for the prioritization of investments. Teams visited communities. After an initial meeting in each community, data collection involved implementing a survey, conducting interviews and focus groups, establishing an inventory of all water and sanitation assets in the community, and conducting community mapping exercise.

Data were collected using the FLOW (Field Level Operations Watch) system developed by Water for People. The application relies on Android cell phones together with GPS data and Google Earth software to document water and sanitation infrastructure as well as its functionality.

The community needs assessments was implemented with support from the Apac government and 16 organizations. Rotaractors served as field enumerators. Data were collected for communities as well as public institutions such as schools and health centers, with ratings provided on the quality of facilities and the satisfaction of users. Tests of water quality have also been conducted in some of the areas.


URWP represents a prime example of efforts by Rotary to invest in projects that have a larger impact through partnerships, innovation, and monitoring and evaluation.

The URWP team has established partnerships with multiple NGOs as well as USAID and Ministry of Water and the Environment. It has been innovative in project design to ensure a higher likelihood of sustainability. Evaluations of the projects are not yet available (many projects are still at the design or implementation stage), but monitoring systems are being put in place.

Finally, in the case of Apac district, extensive data collection has been conducted on water and sanitation assets and gaps at the level of communities in order to inform prioritization of future investments. This should also help in achieving higher impact through targeted interventions.

A brief on the URWP initiative as well as the water and sanitation context in Uganda is available here.

Buying Down Polio (Partnerships Series No. 2)

By partnering with the World Bank in an innovative way, Rotary has successfully leveraged  its funding for polio eradication, contributing to success towards one year without polio in Nigeria and in Africa. This post, the second in a series on partnerships, innovation, and evaluation, explains how the innovative polio buy-down mechanism has worked.

Nigeria’s President vaccinates his granddaughter – Photo courtesy of Dr. Etsano.

Last month, Africa achieved a key milestone towards polio eradication, with no case of polio observed for a full year. It will still take a few weeks for the World Health Organization to officially certify this milestone, and for the region to be declared polio-free, no polio cases should be observed for a period of three years. Still, tremendous progress towards polio eradication has been accomplished. Just a few years ago, hundreds of cases of polio were observed annually in Nigeria. The country achieved its first full year without polio on July 24, 2015. This will leave only Afghanistan and Pakistan on the list of polio-endemic countries.

As noted in a recent post on the World Bank health blog, achieving one year without polio in Nigeria required persistence and courage. In some areas, professionals and volunteers who led the polio campaigns risked their life: Boko Haram assassinated nine polio vaccinators two years ago in the north of the country. Vaccinators had to rely on “hit and run” tactics to reduce exposure to risk, vaccinating children quickly in the morning and leaving the area by the afternoon. (For an understanding of the role of a wide range of people at the heart of polio eradication (in the case of Afghanistan), see the great slide show provided by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.)

The polio campaigns also required great effort and creativity from multiple agencies, including through an innovative buy-down mechanism implemented by the World Bank and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as Rotary International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control via the U.N. Foundation. (The Gates Foundation and Rotary International are the two largest donors worldwide towards polio eradication over the last 30 years.) Partnership with the government of Nigeria, the World Health Organization (WHO), and UNICEF, among others, was also crucial to the success of the campaigns.

How did the polio buy-down mechanism work? The basic idea was for the World Bank to fund polio eradication projects through concessional IDA (International Development Association) loans. In the case of Nigeria, two projects worth $285 million, including additional financing, were implemented over the last dozen years. The projects included clauses that allowed loans to Nigeria to become grants if the country achieved a high level of polio immunization coverage. In other words, if the immunization targets indicated in the loans were achieved and verified independently through in-depth audits, the government would receive grant funding for polio eradication without the need to repay the loans.

For the government of Nigeria, this was potentially a great deal. And for the Gates Foundation and the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International, this was also a pretty good investment. In general, investments towards polio eradication have been shown to be fairly cost-effective. But with the buy-down mechanism, these investments were especially cost-effective.

Due to the concessional nature of IDA loans (long-term zero or low-interest loans which grace repayment periods), for every dollar contributed to the buy-down, the actual amount of resources that could be transferred to the government for the polio campaigns was two times larger. The buy-down funds were transferred by the Gates Foundation and Rotary International (in the case of Rotary in partnership with the United Nations Foundation) to the World Bank at the start of the project, and used to repay the loan at the end of the project if the target immunization rates had been achieved.

Through this buy-down mechanism, the Gates Foundation and Rotary International were able to offset all future loan repayment obligations with a much smaller amount of funding to pay back IDA than the face value of the loans granted to Nigeria. Again, one dollar invested by these private donors generated about $2 for polio eradication in Nigeria, with a similar mechanism in place for Pakistan. The mechanism also had built-in incentives to encourage strong implementation performance by the government of Nigeria since the loans would be transformed into grants only if the specific immunization targets were to be achieved.

At the time of the first buy-down mechanism for polio, then-World Bank President James. D. Wolfensohn stated, “The partnership to buy-down loans to grants on the basis of good performance is an example of the innovative thinking occurring in the private sector and the World Bank about how to increase finances for the fight against global diseases. This financial innovation is bringing the goal of a polio-free world one large step closer to becoming reality.”

Could similar buy-down mechanisms be applied in other areas? That was probably the hope when this innovative mechanism was created for polio a dozen years ago. It seems however that with few exceptions the idea has not yet been replicated much in other development areas, even if it has been mentioned in a number of reports, including in a Results for Development report on education.

A number of conditions have to be met for this type of buy-down mechanism to be successful. But in the case of polio, it has been successful, enabling the Gates Foundations, individual Rotarian donors through the Rotary Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, and the World Bank to achieve higher impact towards polio eradication than would have been the case otherwise.

A brief on polio in Africa and the buy-down mechanism is available here.

This post is reproduced with minor changes from a post published by the author on September 2, 2015 on the World Bank’s Financing for Development blog at