This does not seem like a time for great optimism, but it has to be. Long before Rotary was founded, the world dealt with great crises that tested humankind’s ability to progress and endure. In the age of Rotary, the world has faced many more catastrophes; however, we have survived, and every step of the way, Rotary has helped the world heal.
Every great challenge is an opportunity for renewal and growth. I revealed the theme of Rotary Opens Opportunities at the International Assembly in San Diego just as the COVID-19 crisis was beginning, but these are words that I have believed for many years.
Rotary is not just a club that you join; it is an invitation to endless opportunities. We believe in creating opportunities for others and for ourselves. We believe that our acts of service, large and small, generate opportunities for people who need our help, and that Rotary opens opportunities for us to live a richer, more meaningful life, with friends around the world, based on our core values.
Governments and institutions are gaining a greater appreciation for the types of public health partnerships that are critical to our work. People stuck at home, eager for greater connections and hungry to help their communities, are now embracing the values we have promoted since our beginning.
All of this is positive news, but just because there are greater opportunities than ever for Rotary to thrive does not guarantee that we will succeed. The world is changing rapidly — and was doing so even before this crisis. People were starting to move away from regular lunch meetings and toward online gatherings. Friendships were being cultivated and revived in social media relationships even before most of our meetings moved to Zoom and Skype. Younger generations have a strong desire to serve — but have questioned whether they could play a meaningful role in organizations like Rotary or whether they might make a bigger impact forming different types of connections. Now is the time to put everything on the table, test new approaches, and prepare Rotary for the future.
The COVID-19 crisis has forced all of us to adapt. This is good, and our new Action Plan specifically calls on us to improve our ability to adapt. But adaptation is not enough. We need to change, and change dramatically, if we are to face the challenges of this new age and provide the Rotary the world so desperately needs.
This is our great challenge, not just in the next year but into the foreseeable future. It is up to us to remake Rotary for these new times — to wholeheartedly embrace the ideas, energy, and commitment of young people eager to find an outlet for idealism. We must become an organization fully enmeshed in the digital age, not one that simply looks for online ways to keep doing what we have always done.
The world needs Rotary now more than ever. It is up to us to make sure that Rotary Opens Opportunities for generations to come.