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Rotary International

Rotary International

Rotary International Logo

TypeService club
HeadquartersEvanston, Illinois
Location United States
Membership1.2 million
Official languagesEnglish
PresidentWilfrid J. Wilkinson
Key peoplePaul P. Harris (Founder)

Rotary International is an organization of service clubs known as Rotary Clubs located all over the world. There are more than 32,000 clubs in more than 200 countries, and there are over 1.2 million members world-wide.[1] The members of Rotary Clubs are known as Rotarians. The stated purpose of the organization is to bring together business and professional leaders to provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world. Members usually meet weekly for breakfast, lunch or dinner, which is a social event as well as an opportunity to organize work on their service goals.

Rotary's best-known motto is "Service above Self", and its secondary motto is "They profit most who serve best".[2]



The declared objectives of Rotary are to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:

  1. The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
  2. High ethical standards in business and professions, the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations, and the dignifying of each Rotarian's occupation as an opportunity to serve society;
  3. The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian's personal, business, and community life;
  4. The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.

These objectives are further set against the "Rotarian four-way test", used to see if a planned action is compatible with the Rotarian spirit. The test was developed by Rotarian and entrepreneur Herbert J. Taylor during the Great Depression as a set of guidelines for restoring faltering businesses and was adopted as the standard of ethics by Rotary in 1942. It is still seen as a standard for ethics in business management[3]:

  • Is it the truth?
  • Is it fair to all concerned?
  • Will it build good will and better friendships?
  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned?


Early years

The first Rotary Club was founded in 1905 in Chicago by attorney Paul P. Harris: on February 23, 1905, Harris held the first meeting with three friends, Silvester Schiele, coal merchant, Gustave E. Loehr, mines engineer and Hiram E. Shorey, tailor. The members chose the name Rotary because they rotated club meetings to each member's office each week.

The National Association of Rotary Clubs was formed in 1910. That same year, Rotary chartered a branch in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, marking the first establishment of an American-style service club outside the United States.[4] This was followed in 1911 by the founding of the first outside North America in Dublin, Ireland. Other early international branches were Cuba in 1916 and India in 1920. The name was changed to Rotary International in 1922 because branches had been formed in six continents.[5] By 1925, Rotary had grown to 200 clubs with more than 20,000 members.

World War II and Nazi Germany

Many clubs were disbanded throughout the world during World War II, and Rotary members took an active part in providing emergency relief to victims of the war. Rotary also contributed to the creation of UNESCO and the United Nations.[6]

In Germany, the Nazis saw international organisations as suspect and considered Rotary a branch of international freemasonry and therefore incompatible with the “ethnic German movement”. Many German Rotary clubs ceased operation because of government opposition and some members became actively engaged in the anti-Nazi resistance movement.[7] Other Rotary clubs, however, excluded Jewish members and otherwise appeased Nazi demands. In Munich, Nobel Prize-winning author Thomas Mann was removed from the membership as a political enemy of the Nazis.[citation needed] Over four years, negotiations took place between the central headquarters in Chicago and the Nazi Party. Rotary's cause was advocated before the NSDAP party court: a Dr. Grill, Governor for the Rotary 73d district, arguing that the German Rotary was compliant with the goals of the Nazi government.[8] These negotiations failed, and in 1937 the Nazi Party declared membership of both Rotary and the Nazi Party to be incompatible. In 1938, clubs dissolved themselves and charters were withdrawn. Some clubs maintained an activity as "Friday Clubs".[9]

From 1945

Rotarian clubs in Eastern Europe were also disbanded from 1947 to 1989, under the communist regimes.

In 1985, Rotary launched its PolioPlus program to immunize all of the world's children against polio. In 2005 Rotary claimed to have contributed half a billion dollars to the cause, resulting in the immunization of nearly two billion children worldwide[10].

In 1988 Hamas labeled Rotary International (and Lions Clubs International) Zionist organizations and, according to the 1988 Covenant of Hamas, is bent on its ultimate obliteration[11].

In 1989, women were allowed to join Rotary International. Rotary started opening new clubs in former communist countries and the first Russian club was chartered in 1990.

As of 2006, Rotary has more than 1.2 million members in over 32,000 clubs among 200 countries and geographical areas, making it the most widespread by branches and second largest service club by membership, behind Lions Club International. The number of Rotarians has slightly declined in recent years: Between 2002 and 2006, they went from 1,245,000 to 1,223,000 members. North America accounts for 450,000 members, Asia for 300,000, Europe for 250,000, Latin America for 100,000, Oceania for 100,000 and Africa for 30,000[12].

Other Rotary sponsored organizations include: Rotaract — a service club for young men and women aged 18 to 30 with around 185,000 members in 8,000 clubs in 155 countries; Interact — a service club consisting of more than 239,000 young people aged 14–18 with over 10,700 clubs in 108 countries; and Rotary Community Corps (RCC) — a volunteer organization with an estimated 103,000 non-Rotarian men and women in over 4,400 communities in 68 countries.

Organization and administration

In order to carry out its service programs, Rotary is structured in club, district and international levels. Rotarians are members of their clubs. The clubs are chartered by the global organization Rotary International (RI) headquartered in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago. For administration purposes, the more than 32,000 clubs worldwide are grouped into 529 districts, and the districts into 34 zones.

Club level

Each club elects its own president and officers among its active members for a one year term. The clubs enjoy considerable autonomy within the framework of the standard constitution and the constitution and bylaws of Rotary International. The governing body of the club is the board of directors, which consists of president-elect, vice president, club secretary and treasurer, chaired by club president. The immediate past president is a de facto member of the board. The club president appoints the chairmen of the four main task groups for club service, vocational service, community service and international service.

District level

A district governor, who is an officer of Rotary International and represents the RI board of directors in the field, leads Rotary districts. The governor is nominated by the clubs of the district and elected by all the clubs meeting in the annual RI Convention held in a different country each year. To assist him with his duties, the district governor appoints assistant governors from among the Rotarians of the district.

Zone level

Approximately 15 Rotary districts form a zone. A zone director, who serves as a member of the RI board of directors, heads two zones. The zone director is nominated by the clubs in the zone and elected by the convention for the terms of two consecutive years.

Rotary International


Rotary International is governed by a board of directors composed of 17 zone directors, a president-elect and an international president. The nomination and the election of the president are based on zones. The international president, the highest officer of the organization, is elected for a term of one year. The board meets quarterly to establish policies.

The chief administrative officer of RI is the general secretary, who heads a staff of about 600 persons working at the headquarters and in seven international offices around the world.


According to its constitutions ("Charters"), Rotary defines itself as a non-partisan, non-sectarian organization. It is open to business and professional leaders of all ages and economic status. Its membership tends towards the middle-aged and wealthy.

Active membership

Active membership is by invitation from a current Rotarian, to professionals working in diverse areas of endeavour. Each club can have up to ten per cent of its membership representing each business or profession in the area it serves. The goal of the clubs is to promote service to the community they work in, as well as to the wider world. Many projects are organized for the local community by a single club, but some are organized globally.

Honorary membership

Honorary membership is given by election of a Rotary Club to people who have distinguished themselves by meritorious service in the furtherance of Rotary ideals. Honorary membership is conferred only in exceptional cases. Honorary members are exempt from the payment of admission fees and dues. They have no voting privileges and are not eligible to hold any office in their club. Honorary membership is time limited and terminates automatically at the end of the term, usually one year. It may be extended for an additional period or may also be revoked at any time.

Female membership

From 1905 until the 1980s, women were not allowed membership in Rotary clubs, although Rotarian spouses, including Paul Harris's wife, were often members of the similar "Inner Wheel" club. Women did play some roles and Paul Harris' wife made numerous speeches. In 1963, it was noted that the Rotary practice of involving wives in club activities had helped to break down female seclusion in some countries[16]. Clubs such as Rotary had long been predated by women's voluntary organizations, which started in the United States as early as 1790[17].

Interestingly, the Irish clubs had discussed admitting women in 1912 but the proposal floundered over class issues.

Gender equity in Rotary International was first publicly raised by the Duarte Rotary Club affair. In 1976, the Duarte California club allowed three women to join. Rotary International expressed alarm but requests to terminate the women's memberships were rejected by the club. As a result, Rotary International revoked the club's charter in 1978. The Duarte club filed suit in the California courts, claiming that Rotary Clubs are business establishments subject to regulation under California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on race, gender, religion or ethnic origin. Rotary International then appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The RI attorney argued that "... [the decision] threatens to force us to take in everyone, like a motel". The Duarte Club was not alone in opposing RI leadership; the Seattle-International District club unanimously voted to admit women in 1986.[18] The United States Supreme Court, on May 4, 1987, confirmed the Californian decision and, since that time, women have been allowed to join Rotary.[19] The Elks, the final holdout among service clubs in prohibiting female membership, voted in 1995 to allow women[20]. By 2007, there was a female trustee of Rotary's charitable wing The Rotary Foundation while female district governors and club presidents were common. Women accounted for 15% of international membership (22% in North America).

The change of the second Rotarian motto in 2004, from "He profits most who serves best" to "They profit most who serve best", 99 years after its foundation, illustrates the move to general acceptance of women members in Rotary.

Minority membership

Rotary and other service clubs in the last decade of the 20th century became open to homosexual membership.[21] Other minorities, in the face of general changes in demographics and declining membership, are also encouraged to join. There have been efforts to reach out to minority communities, such as Oakland, California's $10,000 scholarships for students in inner-city schools[22].

There have been some individual exceptions; as early as 1963 a Hindu Bengali, Nitish Chandra Laharry, served as Rotary International's first Asian president[23]. The past tendency to favor the "old boys club" has also passed; so it is no longer just legislation or membership pressures driving these trends: A study has shown that only 2% of middle aged men interested in joining a club were interested in joining exclusive male-only clubs.[24]



The most notable current global project, PolioPlus, is contributing to the global eradication of polio. Since beginning the project in 1985, Rotarians have contributed over US$600 million and tens of thousands of volunteer-hours, leading to the inoculation of more than two billion of the world's children. Inspired by Rotary's commitment, the World Health Organization (WHO) passed a resolution in 1988 to eradicate polio by 2000. Now in partnership with WHO, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rotary is recognized by the United Nations as the key private partner in the eradication effort.

There has been some limited criticism concerning the Rotary International program for polio eradication, which is supported with the help of World Health Organization. There are some reservations regarding the adaptation capabilities of the virus and some of the oral vaccines, which have been reported to cause infection resurgences[25]. As stated by Vaccine Alliance, however, in spite of the limited risk of polio vaccination, it would neither be prudent nor practicable to cease the vaccination program until there is strong evidence the "all wild poliovirus transmission [has been] stopped". In a recent speech at the Rotary International Convention, held at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Bruce Cohick stated that polio in all its known wild forms will be eliminated by late 2008, provided efforts in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India all proceed with their current momentum.[26]

Exchanges and scholarships

Some of Rotary's most visible programs include Rotary Youth Exchange, a student exchange program for students in secondary education, and Rotary's oldest program, Ambassadorial Scholarships. Today, there are six different types of Rotary Scholarships. More than 37,000 men and women from 100 nations have studied abroad under the auspices of Ambassadorial Scholarship, and today it is the world's largest privately funded international scholarships program. In 2002–03 grants totaling approximately US$26 million were used to award some 1,200 scholarships to recipients from 69 countries who studied in 64 nations. The Exchange Students of Rotary Club Munich International publish their experiences on a regular basis on Rotary Youth Exchange with Germany.

Rotary Fellowships, paid by the foundation launched in honor of Paul Harris in 1947, specialize in providing graduate fellowships around the world, usually in countries other than their own in order to provide international exposure and experience to the recipient[27]

Rotary Centers for International Studies

Starting in 2002, The Rotary Foundation partnered with eight universities around the world to create the Rotary Centers for International Studies in peace and conflict resolution. The universities include International Christian University (Japan), University of Queensland (Australia), Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) (France), University of Bradford (United Kingdom), Universidad del Salvador (Argentina), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (U.S.), Duke University (U.S.), and University of California, Berkeley (U.S.) Rotary World Peace Fellows complete two year masters level programs in conflict resolution, peace studies, and international relations. The first class graduated in 2004 [3]. In 2004, Fellows established the Rotary World Peace Fellows Association [4] to promote interaction among Fellows, Rotarians, and the public on issues related to peace studies.

Individual club efforts

While there are numerous Rotary-wide efforts, Rotary clubs are also encouraged to take part in local ventures; these range from efforts which combine contributions to the community with efforts to attract new members, such as the scholarships outlined above, to donations to local libraries[28]. In a more unusual twist, Rosalie Maguire, a Batavia, New York, Rotarian, taking a cue from Calendar Girls convinced fellow members (a woman for each month and a male cover) to pose for a "nude" calendar sold as part of a $250,000 fundraiser for a local hospital[29]. In the past, members were assessed mock "fines" for minor infractions as a way of raising funds: these fines could in 1951 range from 10 cents to $1,000[30]

Rotarian Presence on Internet

Rotary has begun the build of "virtual" Rotary e-Clubs on Internet [31]. Rotary shows on Internet its own selection of "famous Rotarians"[32]. Rotary is active through the site "Digaria"[33].


Official and regional Rotary magazines

Rotary International's unique communications media are the official monthly magazine named The Rotarian published in English language by the headquarters, and 30 other regional Rotary World Magazine Press periodicals that are independently produced in more than 20 different major languages and distributed in 132 countries.

The first official magazine The National Rotarian, predecessor to The Rotarian, was started in January 1911. The first regional magazine was issued 1915 in Great Britain and Ireland.

The official and regional magazines are circulated to Rotarian and non-Rotarian subscribers in around 769,000 copies combined.[34]

Club bulletin

Rotary clubs issue weekly a bulletin full of Rotary news from recent meetings. Aside from meeting information and the name list of club directors and officers, the club bulletin contains club president's message, a summary of guest speaker's presentation, club projects and service activities, upcoming events, announcements and reminders for the members. It is circulated to the club members in printed form, however more and more clubs go paperless by publishing the club bulletin electronically.

District governor's newsletter

District governors publish monthly a newsletter reporting service activities conducted by the clubs within the district and various district level meetings. The newsletter contains also district governor's message and lists also the membership and attendance figures of all district clubs. It is circulated to every Rotarian in the district.  

Popular culture

Rotary International was portrayed in Steven Spielberg's film Catch Me If You Can. Frank Abagnale Jr.'s (played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film) father, Frank William Abagnale (played by Christopher Walken) was a life time Rotarian in the film because he was a hero in World War II. The Italian song "Rotary Club of Malindi", which had a relative success on the world-music scene, speaks of an organization for "white people in depression". In the television show Desperate Housewives, Gabrielle attends Victor Lang's Rotary Club meeting in his ex-wife's couture dress. Stephen King’s novel, “The Library Policeman”, centers on Sam Peebles, a small town insurance agent who is called upon on short notice to give a speech to his Rotary Club on “The Importance of the Independently Owned Business in Small-town Life”. In season four episode five of the Larry David show "Curb Your Enthusiasm", titled "The 5 Wood", David is trying to gain entrance into a club whose members were generally non-Jewish Republicans. In the interview David makes up many lies about himself, one of which being that he is a member of the Rotary Club.


  1. ^ Presentation of the Rotary on their website
  2. ^ Modified by the 2004 "RI Council on Legislation", from the original "He profits most who serves the best" — see Rotary International manual, Part 5 (Rotary Marks), online at Rotary Marks accessed 2 June 2006
  3. ^ Russell, Jeff. "Can You Survive Rotary's Four-Way Test?" Journal of Management in Engineering, May/Jun2000, Vol. 16 Issue 3, p13
  4. ^ Wikle, Thomas A. "International Expansion of the American-Style Service Club", Journal of American Culture Summer 1999, Vol. 22, Issue 2, p45
  5. ^ Wikle, 1999 p. 47.
  6. ^ Rotary Goes Global accessed 18 July 2007.
  7. ^ History of the Munich Rotary Club
  8. ^ Fabrice d'Almeida, La vie mondaine sous le nazisme ("High-class life under Nazism"), Paris, Perrin, 2006, p.420
  9. ^ History of the Rotary Club of Munich
  10. ^ Today and tomorrow, an history of Rotary
  11. ^ 1988 covenant of the Hamas
  12. ^ Current membership 2006PDF (30.2 KiB)
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i Famous Active Rotarians. Rotary Global History Fellowship. Retrieved on 2007-11-03.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Famous Honorary Rotarians. Rotary Global History Fellowship. Retrieved on 2007-11-03.
  16. ^ Bird, John "The Wonderful, Wide, Backslapping World Of Rotary." Saturday Evening Post 2/9/1963, Vol. 236 Issue 5, p58–62
  17. ^ Wikle 1999, p 50.
  18. ^ Rotary International California District website [1] accessed 17 June 2006
  19. ^ "ABCs of Rotary" website [2] accessed 17 June 2006
  20. ^ Fost, Dan. "Farewell to the Lodge." American Demographics January 1996, Vol. 18, Issue 1. p40–46
  21. ^ Quittner, Jeremy. "Join the Club." Advocate, 4/16/2002, Issue 861
  22. ^ Fost 1996. pp40–46.
  23. ^ Bird, 1963. p59
  24. ^ Fost 1996. pp40–46.
  25. ^ Vaccine Alliance website December 2002 report
  26. ^ Rotary International Polio Facts 2006 Accessed 24 January 2007. This document appears to be updated quarterly.
  27. ^ Bird, 1963. p62.
  28. ^ "noted & quoted" Computers in Libraries Jul/Aug2004 Vol. 24, Issue 7
  29. ^ "The Strip Club." People 12/13/2004, Vol. 62, Issue 24. Models, aged 33 to 67, posed with strategically placed props.
  30. ^ Ellison, Jerome. "The Truth About the Service Clubs." Saturday Evening Post 10/13/1951, Vol. 224 Issue 15, p. 38–178, 6p.
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ History of the Rotary World Magazine Press

Coordinates: 42.045826° N 87.682397° W

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Rotary_International". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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