Interact Membership Survey

by Quentin Wodon

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

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

If you are a Rotarian adviser for an Interact club, or an Interact chair for a District, please encourage Interactors to fill the survey. The link for the survey is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ZBF9CDX. (If you read this from Rotary District 7620, please do not use the link above as we have a separate link for that District; send me an email through the Contact Me page and I will give you that link).

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

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

Are Youth Less Involved in Community Service Today?

Broadneck

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

by Quentin Wodon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serving around the World

by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon

Last year, one of the friends of Mike Smith from the Clarksville Rotary Club suggested that he attend a Rotary meeting. Mike discovered that Rotary was not just another social club. The club had a congenial atmosphere and interesting people, but more importantly, passionate voices expressed a commitment to community service, including the need to eradicate polio in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Mike ended up joining Rotary six months ago, and he has attended every single weekly meeting since.

Although Mike has been a Rotarian for only six months, he has been an active volunteer for decades. The project he is most proud of is a school in Haiti. For the past 15 years, Mike and St. Louis Church in Clarksville have donated money and provided other support to an elementary school for underprivileged boys and girls in Haiti. The school goes up to 6th grade which is enough for basic literacy, but does not enable graduates to find good jobs that can sustain a family later in life. For this reason, Mike is now working on providing the children with access to a trade or vocational school where they could learn specific skills.

When Mike was asked about what inspired him to serve as a volunteer, he had two answers. His first inspiration was his mother and his father, who was a Rotarian in Richmond, Indiana. They taught Mike that in order to be a good person (and a good Catholic) you must help those around you. His second inspiration was President Kennedy, who was elected when Mike was just a boy and who inspired him saying “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” and creating the Peace Corps.

Mike is not your usual corporate lawyer. Taking the path less followed, he recently spent a year serving as the General Counsel for the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. When he meets up with his old law school friends, he is always surprised that, even though they have found great financial success in life, they look to him with a tiny bit of envy because he has been able to travel all around the world and experience different cultures, while helping people along the way. Mike realizes that those experiences as a volunteer in the community service tradition of Rotary have made his life rich in a way that cannot be measured in dollars. He is trying to add to those riches by getting actively involved in the Polio Plus project. What has he learned? Sometimes, as Mike said, just one little act of kindness can flip a person’s world upside down for the better.

Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).