by John Borst, District 5550, Communications*

Certainly, one of the most unexpected and welcome decisions emanating from the 2016 Council on Legislation is the decision to offer simultaneous membership in Rotaract and Rotary.

A review of the proposed “enactments” shows that the suggestion came from the RI Board of Directors. The idea is first mentioned in PROPOSED ENACTMENT 16-36  “To allow for flexibility in membership and classification” where it is used as an example of an exception (page 102) Examples of such flexibility might include: “Allowing Rotaractors who meet the club’s criteria for membership to join a Rotary club while retaining their membership in Rotaract as well.”

The specific change is PROPOSED ENACTMENT 16-40 “To allow Rotaractors to be active members”.

The rationale for this change provided in the CoL documentation is

” The effect of this enactment is to establish a stronger relationship between Rotaractors and RI and strengthen both the Rotaract movement and RI.  Program participants will be able to have simultaneous affiliations with a Rotary club and a Rotaract club.  As members of the family of Rotary, Rotaractors are committed to the world community, share Rotary’s vision of furthering service, world understanding, and peace, and may more easily transition to RI membership.” (Page 115)

It is interesting that to enact this change the following sentence had to be deleted in a number of articles starting with Article 4.040 Dual Membership “No person shall simultaneously hold active membership in a club and membership in a Rotaract club.”

The question I ask myself at this juncture is this the beginning of the end of Rotaract? And is this the real intended end the Board of Directors had in mind?

Personally, I have never understood the purpose of Rotaract. I see it as an encumbrance from an era when stratifying on the basis of age was an accepted practice. After-all young people could not run a company or manage a successful business before reaching the mature old age of 35 could they. As for university students, they weren’t even considered worthy of the term adulthood.  Of course, there have been just too many examples from this post-industrial 21st  Century which have put a lie to such beliefs.

There is also the little problem that Rotary is struggling to find younger members especially in a post-modern society where even neoliberal capitalism accepts the need for “diversity” and “inclusiveness”.

No-Yes-Merged-logosHence it should come as no surprise that as Rotary changed to give clubs more flexibility over membership and meetings that the merging and mingling of Rotaractors and Rotarians would naturally follow.

Rotary’s path to change is not generally revolutionary but evolutionary. Instead of just out-right declaring Rotaractors Rotarians they could choose to be both. Hybridity would be encouraged but discrimination under the old hierarchy would be allowed to continue where members so wished.

This has been the classic response to change within Rotary. Yes CoL reluctantly accepted gender equality when pushed by the U.S. Supreme court to accept it, but there have been no repercussions for those 6000 plus clubs who have yet to embrace it.

As Rotary clubs become more flexible and the differences between Rotaract and Rotary disappear I suspect  Rotaractors will eventually ask, “Why should we belong to a second class “Rotary” club when we can belong to the real thing; in fact why don’t we just rebrand ourselves Rotarians”

The reason I likely feel this way is because I live in a town of about 8,000 with just one Rotary club. The nearest alternative club is 100 km. away. We have always welcomed members under 35; in fact we go out of our way to recruit them. Our club is approaching its 75th anniversary. It has a good mix of ages and is nearly equally split by gender. In my opinion that is the model I hope all clubs will achieve one day.

  • The above opinion is that of the author and does not represent the opinion of Rotary District 5550.