A well-known saying goes, "If you want to change the world, go home and love your family." That doesn't mean people should ignore the needs outside their own homes; instead, they should pay attention to the needs within.
It can be tempting, when our priority is service, to focus only on the things that look like service: the projects, the planning, the work that yields a visible benefit to those who need it. But to do that work effectively, we need to keep our own house in order. In Rotary, that means conducting ourselves in accordance with the principles of Rotary, treating others with respect, and following The Four-Way Test. It means maximizing our impact by planning carefully and stewarding our resources wisely. And it means looking after the long-term health of our organization by ensuring that our membership is strong, engaged, and healthy.
Our membership has hovered around the same 1.2 million mark for 20 years. We aren't growing, and our membership is getting older. We have too many clubs that don't have the knowledge or motivation to have an impact: clubs that don't know what we're doing on a global level, clubs that don't know about our programs or our Foundation, that don't even know how to get involved. And with a membership that is still mostly male, we clearly aren't doing enough to become the organization of choice for women who are seeking to serve.
We are a membership organization first. If we want to achieve the goals we've set for ourselves, we need to put membership first. All of us have a responsibility to take membership seriously, not only by inviting prospective members, but also by making sure new members are welcomed into clubs that offer them something of value. If you see someone walk into a meeting and hesitate, be sure that person has a place to sit and is part of the conversation. If you're enthusiastic about a Rotary program, make sure your club knows about it and knows how to get involved. If you see a need in your community, talk about it at this week's meeting. If we want to be part of an organization that's strong, that's active, that's having an impact – start at home, and Be the Inspiration in Rotary.
One year ago, your Rotary International Board of Directors adopted a new vision statement, reflecting our aspirations for our organization and its future. It reads, “Together, we see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.”
That simple sentence distills so much of what is essential about Rotary. We unite, because we know that we are far stronger together than we could ever be alone. We take action, because we are not dreamers, but doers. We work to create lasting change that will endure long after our involvement has ended – across the globe and in our communities. And perhaps most important of all, we work to create change in ourselves – not just building a better world around us, but becoming better people ourselves.
A quotation attributed to French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry goes: “If you want to build a boat, don’t begin by collecting wood, cutting boards, or assigning tasks. Begin by awakening in the souls of your workers a longing for the vast and boundless sea.” Each of us came to Rotary because we had a longing – to have an impact, to make a difference, to be part of something larger than ourselves. That desire, that vision for a better world and our role in building it, is what drives us in Rotary. It’s what made us become members, it’s what motivates us to serve, and it’s what led me to choose our theme for this Rotary year: Be the Inspiration.
I want to see Rotary Be the Inspiration for our communities by doing work with a transformational impact. It’s time to start moving forward, by removing the barriers that are holding us back. Let’s make it easier to make adjustments in our clubs or start new clubs that suit different needs. Let’s work to strengthen Rotaract and smooth the transition from Rotaract clubs into Rotary. Let’s give all Rotarians the flexibility to serve in the ways that work best for them, so that every Rotarian finds enduring value in Rotary membership.
Truly sustainable service, the kind of service we strive for in Rotary, means looking at everything we do as part of a larger global ecology. This year, I ask all of you to Be the Inspiration for sustainable service by addressing the impact of environmental issues on our work. The environment plays a key role in all six of our areas of focus, and that role is only becoming greater as the impact of climate change unfolds. It’s time to move past seeing the environment as somehow separate from those six areas. Clean air, water, and land are essential for healthy communities – and essential for the better, healthier future we strive for.
Be the Inspiration – and together we can, and we will, inspire the world.