Thoughts of Rotary Leaders: Shekhar Mehta
Director, Rotary International 2011–2013
When Paul Harris started Rotary in 1905 little did he realise that one day the membership would grow upto 1.2 million across the world. Looking back he would be an extremely happy man. So are all the Rotarians about the tremendous growth that we achieved in our organisation.
But this euphoria of growth was until 1996 when we touched 1.2 million mark. It has now been more than 16 years that we are hovering at 1.2 million Rotarians. So why are we not growing? What are the challenges faced by the Rotary world in its stagnated membership base?
The reasons are manifold and action needs to be taken for each of them today rather than later.
• The membership growth seems to have come to a saturation in many countries where the people in general no longer find Rotary very attractive. We need to revitalise our brand to attract more people and in fact more younger people.
The story of Rotary needs to be told in a better way. No other organsiations in the world can boast of the success that we are about to achieve by eradicating polio from the face of earth. In the history of mankind this will be done for the second time only. This one single story is good enough for membership to grow. But we have not been able to take benefit of this achievement. Our public relation needs to be far more aggressive.
• We are unable to tell the story of Rotary to the world also because we do not ourselves know the whole story. The Board of Directors has no clue of the total value of the work of Rotary’s projects around the globe. If we do not know our story well how do we expect the world to tell our story? And unless the story is told well how will people get attracted to Rotary?
• The emulation of success story — India has been an amazing story of membership growth. Agreed their retention has not been a story to write him about but had it not been for India and other such fast growth countries our membership would have gone down even below one million mark. The success story of such countries should be understood and used suitably in other countries where membership is falling.
14 Membership Matters
• With so many new entertainment avenues available to people at their finger tips through computers, smart phones, social media and the like, people quench their appetite for social interaction on the internet itself. They hardly miss the pleasure of meeting face to face at a place like Rotary meetings. Rotary probably needs to be more on the internet, more e-clubs and very soon e-districts too.
• While year after year there has been a focus on membership, I would say it has been more of lip service than an aggressive approach. We need to stretch targets for membership, ones that will whet the appetite for challenge in every Rotarian. The Calgary challenge or the Global Quest are events that should not be looked down upon. Failure of retention cannot be an excuse for not increasing rapidly. We should focus equally on retention.
• Aggressive focus on membership growth, recognitions and citations etc all should be geared towards membership growth. It is strange that while we have recognition pins for anyone who contributes to the Foundation, we have no recognition pins for the person who proposes a member. I am happy that the Board of Directors have recently corrected that. Let each Rotarian feel pride in bringing new person as Rotarian and let this pride be recognised and rewarded.
Lastly it is important that membership growth becomes everyone’s business. All of us who are members of Rotary are very happy that someone proposed us as a member of Rotary. Have we in turn made somebody happy by proposing him or her to the amazing world of Service Above Self? If not, today is the day. Membership growth is possible. All that it needs is our aggressive focus.