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!


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).


Increasing the Impact of Rotary (Partnerships Series No. 9)

This post is the last in a series of nine posts on partnerships, innovation, and evaluation in Rotary. The rationale for the series was my conviction that if Rotary is to have a larger impact globally, it must rely more than has been the case so far on partnerships, innovation, and evaluation (and in some areas advocacy, as has been the case with polio). Seven different projects or investments that have relied on partnerships, were innovative, and were evaluated at least in some way, were showcased. A compilation of the case studies together with a brief introduction is available here. Separate briefs are also available for each of the projects here.


As I mentioned it in the introduction to the series, partnerships help to implement larger projects and benefit from the expertise of organizations that are among the best in their field. Rotary’s Foundation was created almost 100 years ago (the Centennial is next year) and it has about $1 billion in assets. This is respectable, but in the world of development projects, which is in practice where Rotary is investing most of its funds, this remains small. Without innovation, the contribution of Rotary is an important drop, but still a drop in the development assistance bucket.

By contrast, if Rotary clubs and district innovate, successful pilots can then be scaled up by other organizations with deeper pockets, thereby potentially achieving much larger impact. However, for innovative projects to be recognized as such, proper evaluations are needed. We must be able to demonstrate the impact of pilot projects. Innovation and evaluation are like twins: they work best in pairs. Together, partnerships, innovation, and evaluation are the key to larger impact.

To encourage clubs and districts to think bigger and more strategically, stories of great projects were shared: an innovative financing mechanism for polio eradication; an award winning project fighting malaria and Ebola in Mali; a teacher training program that is transforming teaching and learning in Nepali classrooms; a project on obstetric fistula saving the lives of mothers and children in Nigeria; a program to invest in the writing skills of disadvantaged youth in the United States; a project to improve access to water and sanitation in Uganda; and a global network of Peace Centers and Peace Fellows to help promote peace.

Some of these programs and projects are large. Others are small. Most were implemented through global grants, but one was implemented through a district grant. All these projects have been in one way or another innovative. They have all leveraged partnerships not only to crowd in financial resources, but also – and even more importantly – to build on great expertise. And they have all relied on monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to assess their impact, at least partially.

Putting together great projects requires work. Fundraising is often time consuming in Rotary given the funding model of the Rotary Foundation that requires raising funds from many clubs and districts first before getting a match from the Foundation. Planning, implementing, and in addition evaluating projects also takes time, especially when one tries to do this in a professional way. Finally, in order to be innovative, Rotarians leading projects need to be aware of where the frontier is in their field, and what could be innovative. This also takes some time.

There is nothing wrong with clubs and districts funding and implementing traditional Rotary projects. Most projects will continue to be fairly simple, with funds provided to worthy charitable causes. These projects, as well as the volunteer time often contributed by Rotarians when implementing them, serve an important purpose. The beneficiaries of these projects are better off thanks to them. These projects help communities, and they also benefit Rotary through the goodwill that the projects create.

But if we want to raise the bar and achieve larger impact, we also need to do more innovative projects. Rotary needs to be bolder, more ambitious. It needs to better learn from its projects, both the great and not so great ones, and make sure that lessons learned are shared broadly, well beyond the Rotary family. The launch of the Future Vision model, despite some challenges, was a step in the right direction. As we celebrate the Centennial of the Rotary Foundation next year, let’s make sure that we have the right vision for what Rotary and its Foundation could accomplish in the next 100 years.

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.



Rotary Foundation Basics, Part 2: Where Does the Money Go?

by Quentin Wodon

This second post in a series of three looks at how funding provided by The Rotary Foundation (TRF) is allocated. TRF disbursed $232 million in program expenses last year. More than half ($131 million) was allocated PolioPlus, with the rest allocated to Rotary grants ($92 million) and other programs ($ 8 million). This post briefly describes and discusses those investments.

TRF Polio Vaccine


TRF gave $131 million in 2013-14 for polio. While the report does not state explicitly where the funding came from, simple calculations suggest that two thirds may have come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), with the rest provided by Rotarians. This is because from 2013 to 2018, for every dollar raised by Rotary for PolioPlus, BMGF provides a 2 to 1 match up to a maximum of $70 million per year, as shown in the Figure below. In addition, TRF’s annual report mentions a previous $20 million match by BMGF for polio on the revenue side. If the $90 million in revenues provided by BMGF for polio were allocated the same year to TRF program expenses (this is not stated explicitly in the report), then Rotarians would have contributed in 2013-14 about a third of total TRF program expenses for polio. If my assumption is erroneous, please let me know!

TRF Polio

As mentioned in my first post for this blog, Polio used to be a devastating disease worldwide, affecting 30,000 children per year in the US alone in the mid-1950s. Thanks to vaccines and mass immunization, the number of polio cases has dropped to close to zero. This has been a great success built on public-private partnerships. While many governments have funded polio eradication campaigns, after the United States (with $2.2 billion in contributions and pledges) the two largest donors from 1985 to 2014 have been private foundations – BMGF ($1.9 billion) and Rotary International ($1.3 billion). Apart from financial donations, hundreds of thousands of volunteers – including many Rotarians – have participated in polio vaccination campaigns.

Today, it seems to me from informal conversations with fellow Rotarians that some wonder whether it still makes sense to spend that much money on a disease that now affects few children. Is this the best investment that TRF can make? This is a difficult question to answer, but there is evidence that at the very least, this is a good investment, simply because the cost of a spreading virus could be much higher than the cost of the polio eradication campaigns. A report prepared last year for BMGF suggests that previous investments of $9 billion since the creation in 1984 of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) may have generated $27 billion in net benefits out of $40-50 billion in potential benefits estimated by researchers in an economic analysis of GPEI. Investments in polio eradication campaigns do have higher initial costs than routine immunization, but they may also have greater long term payoffs.

At the same time, we need to be careful in what we promise. It is important to reach the last mile towards polio eradication, but this will not be easy. Vaccination remains difficult in conflict affected areas, and the risk of exportation of the virus from those areas to other countries is real. As the TRF report highlights, only three countries remain polio-endemic today (Pakistan, Afganisthan, and Nigeria). But reports documented polio outbreaks last year in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Central Africa, leading the World Health Organization to declare in May 2014 that the spread of the virus constituted an “extraordinary event”. In terms of costs and funding as well, there seem to be some challenges. In a February 2014 report, UNICEF and WHO estimated the price tag for polio eradication for the period 2013-18 at $5.5 billion. At the time, available and confirmed contributions amounted to $1.8 billion, so that there was a funding gap of $3.7 billion.

Rotary Grants and Other Programs

TRF’s annual report provides great stories of impact in other areas of interventions apart from polio, but relatively limited details on how funds are allocated by thematic area. The information provided focuses on the allocation of funds for global grants in each of six areas of focus of TRF apart from polio. A total of $47.3 million was disbursed for global grants in 2013-14. As shown in the Figure below, disease prevention and treatment received the largest allocation (265 grants for a total value of $14.2 million), followed by water and sanitation (198 grants and $11.2 million), economic and community development (148 grants and $7.8 million), basic education and literacy (121 grants and $6.5 million), maternal and child health (69 grants and $5.1 million), and finally peace and conflict prevention/resolution (67 grants and $2.7 million, excluding allocations to Rotary peace centers in a handful of universities).

TRF Global Grants

Information is also available in the TRF annual report on which regions benefit from the largest amount of funding all programs combined. Sub-Saharan Africa came first, with $104 million in funding provided, followed by South Asia ($56 million), East Asia and the Pacific ($24 million), North America ($19 million), the Middle East and North Africa as well as Europe (each $9 million), Central America and the Caribbean ($6 million), Latin America ($5 million), and finally Russia, Georgia, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (less than $1 million).

That’s it for the basics of how TRF program expenses are allocated. While a majority of funds allocated by TRF go to polio, quite a bit of this investment comes from matching funds provided by BMGF, so that a large share of the funds donated by Rotarians or earned by the foundation from its assets go to other priority areas. In the last post in this series, I will discuss the foundation’s performance.

Note: This post is part of a series of three on TRF: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

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!