12 months ago I never thought I'd title a blog entry like that. Then again, 12 months ago I didn't really know anything about Rotary - a lot has changed this year.
The picture is of me with Rotary International President D.K. Lee. DK (He's always introduced by his initials, his full name is Dong-Kurn) is a Rotarian from Korea. His day job is chairman of a company called BuBang Techron, though I have to wonder how he gets time to work there and make time to travel the world serving Rotary
I've just returned from the "Rotary Presidential Membership Conference". Membership is a big issue in Rotary at the moment and to address the problem the DK Lee is traveling the world to attend special conferences to address the problem. Membership levels in Rotary are important because without members Rotary can't continue to do all the good things it does in the future. More members also means more opportunities to do good things. Simple stuff really. So why did I, new Rotarian in a new club go? To get answers.
As a new Rotarian in a new club, I thought Rotary in the UK was growing. Surely 30 new members in the last year was a common occurance in every town and city in the UK? No, I've mentioned that I asked for some real statistics and when they arrived they were surprising. In the UK 10 years ago there were 60,000 Rotarians. Today there are 55,000. My next thought was "how many should there be?". I got two answers, one I worked out myself and one worked out by my friend Clive. Clive looked at the population of the medway towns, compared it with the membership of the clubs in the area, did some thinking, and came up with the idea that there could be around 3 to 5 million Rotarians in the UK. I was a little more pessimistic. One of the 'qualities' a Rotarian has is to be a 'leader in the community', leader in the sense many will be senior managers in business. Now that's not the most accurate of defnitions but it was enough for me to extrapolate from. Let's say, I will only count people who run a business as potential Rotarians. There are 4 million small and medium businesses in the UK, so let's make that 4 million potential Rotarians. Let's say half of those don't have the attitude or ability to put "service above self" in rotary words, or put back into their community. For example, in the early years of my business I didn't have the free time. So, 2 million people in the UK, by my rough reckoning and not counting a huge proportion of people who are actually members, could be in Rotary. There are only 55,000 now, so why am I so special to get an invite to join?
The answer is someone made the effort to form a club in my local area and I was lucky enough to be invited. Lucky too, in that they formed a club that decided to meet at I time I could manage (breakfast). I couldn't join 5 of the nearby 6 clubs simply due to the time they meet, let alone never being invited. My question developed into "Why is there only one person in our district (covering 82 clubs) working on creating new clubs? Why is club formation not a task encouraged of individual clubs?".
I was told that the PMC (Presidential Membership Conference) is a place where that would be answered along with many other things. So I decided to go. I was also asked if I would mind being interviewed 'on stage'. Now, I didn't know how many people were going to be there (around 250 as it turned out) but that didn't worry me. As you have probably guessed by now, I don't mind giving my opinion. Fortunately the interviewer emailed questions to those of us being interviewed in advance so we knew what was coming. I can't say I ever enjoy presenting, more that I'm willing to challenge myself and learn from it. This challenge was not in the questions or the audience, it was the first time I've used a hand held microphone. Anyway, John the interviewer delivered a perfect question (just as he said he would before hand) - "Steve, you've got an idea that we could double the size of Rotary in the UK in a very short time, tell us more about that"... so I explained breifly my introduction to Rotary, my surprise at the declining numbers and my question to everyone there as to why only one person in a district forms new clubs, and not every club working on forming new clubs.
It appeared to be well recieved. Several people stopping me during the rest of the afternoon and complimenting me. When I questioned them as to what they heard me say, it appears they understood my question and didn't have any reason why a new club couldn't be formed by a club, that is, if the club (or rather, just 2 members of the club) would make an effort and make that their personal service project for the next 2 to 12 months. One specifically commented without prompting that I did well with the handheld microphone, keeping it close enough to my mouth to be heard, not too close to be too loud and distorted and especially since we were all sitting on stools limiting our movement on stage. Apparently I didn't speak too fast either which is my normal failing when presenting things.
Hopefully delegates found my opinion useful, for me though I have learnt lots of different things:
- I got two ideas for a service project that may be effective for our club to copy. There's nothing wrong with copying good idea's around Rotary.
- I got an idea for a way of improving the 'Outdoor Skills Day for young people' our club is organising.
- I was speaking with Clive about something my brother had said to me and he thinks there may be a way we can capitalise on it... if we do, it could be huge... so we both said we'll investigate the opportunity further.
- I spoke with DK Lee and asked him about how he was so succesful in growing membership in Korea (that's within the standard text you read about him in all the Rotary publications). He said "If you start a new club, you need to find the right first president". He started 32 clubs in one year I gather. Sure, there's always more to something than one line could convey, but if/when I'm able to sponsor the formation of a new club, I'll keep that in mind.
In summary, I've learnt a lot from the membership conference, and it's not every day you get to say you've spoken with the president.
PS - I know the title is misleading, but Rotary International's head office is in the USA and he had come from America, via several other countries, before returning to his home in Korea for Christmas ;-)