In the 1950s, after 33 months, four days, eight hours, and twenty minutes in the infantry, I entered the University of Florida intending to earn an engineering degree. One glorious birthday, my wife, who had scrimped on our grocery money, surprised me with a Post Versalog slide rule, the elite hand calculator of the day. That slide rule served my calculation needs, including sitting for my Professional Engineer's examination in 1972. Programmable calculators were just coming on the market. In the 1980s, I purchased a Hewlett Packard 48G programmable calculator (The display shows the Rotary Club of Sarasota's annual retention rate). Then, of course, came the age of computers, and my engineering firm adapted new technologies. My slide rule and HP48G served their purposes very well, but what was purposeful back then became outdated and had to be retired.
Our son followed to the University of Florida. Now the owner of an engineering firm in Charlotte, NC and past president of the South Mech Rotary Club, he recently related this Tweet to me: In the 1990s, I used to go to a joint called “Burrito Brothers.” They had great burritos. One day, a friend of mine got the tacos, something that no one in UofF history had ever dreamed of doing. Fascinated, I asked him, “How are they?” My friend replied, “Meh. I think there’s a reason they don’t call them ‘Mexican Food Brothers.’”
I’ve always used this as an illustration of the idea that organizations should stick to what they are good at, i.e., what their purpose is.
Rotary International (RI) and its member clubs have only one purpose: develop Rotarians by advancing the Object of Rotary in local social fabrics throughout the world. This alone makes the world better, one community at the time. Are the institutions and practices that may have once been useful in helping RI accomplish its purpose similar to my slide rule and HP48G; still useable but substantially less effective? For example:
- District Conferences and International Assemblies'? If their goal is to help develop Rotarians, are they accomplishing this purpose? In North America and other legacy regions, obviously not. What systemic issues need to change?
- Membership Month? Retaining and attracting members is a fulltime priority, yet this tradition clearly needs to change because it annually delivers the perception that developing membership is important only one month out of the year; that the other eleven monthly topics are equal in importance. What about changing this practice to where all monthly topics highlight how being associated with Rotary clubs differentiates Rotarians from all others who do good things?
- Public Imaging? How do RI and district public imaging approaches (Facebook, Twitter, Rotarian Magazines, Videos, Institutes, Seminars, etc.) differentiate Rotarians from the billions of other people who support local and international projects and programs?
- Cost of Membership. Clubs consistently hear suggestions about cutting the cost of membership, yet RI and districts increase dues every so often. Shouldn't RI, districts, and clubs justify these dues increases by creatively improving Rotary's value proposition to Rotary clubs; to Rotarians?
Where are Rotary's visionary leaders?