A recent piece by fellow blogger, Ken Jaskot at “Rethinking Rotary” on Rotary, Capitalism and ‘creeping Socialism’ raises the fundamental question of whether or not our leadership is out-of-sync with the average club Rotarian and whether or not in America this is the principal cause of our membership decline in that country.

Jaskot appears caught in a bi-polar world between capitalism and socialism reminiscent of the late 20th Century. He sees the philosophy of Capitalism as the foundation upon which Rotary is built and postulates that the philosophy of “Socialism” is incompatible with American “individualism”, hence any drift towards that pole is unattractive to future candidates in the USA.

Comments from other Rotarians are about evenly divided, with many expressing the belief that Rotary can and does thrive under both philosophies and political systems. Others, however, support Jaskot’s hypothesis that “it’s time to ….. offer the capitalists something to chew on.”

Mingled among both Jaskot’s piece and the comments is considerable criticism of the socialistic leanings of our leaders but even more pointedly, the increasing influence of The Rotary Foundation.

If Jaskot’s piece has a weakness, it is that he has not fleshed out enough the role of The Rotary Foundation (TRF) as a driving force in creating the changing face of Rotary.

Given that this is the Centenary year for TRF, it is important that we reflect more seriously, on this issue.

As we all know fellowship, personal profit and community service were the original prime movers of Rotary. It took twelve years before, then President Arch Klumph, proposed what became 11 years later, The Rotary Foundation. It took nearly another 30 years before it really began to grow with the death of Paul Harris in 1947 and the creation of the Paul Harris Fellowship in 1957.

TRF’s influence began to pick up steam in 1965 when the first significant Grants program was begun, nearly a half Century after its founding. However, in my opinion, it was not until 1985, with the decision to eradicate polio worldwide and the launching of the PolioPlus program to finance it, did we truly set in motion the Foundation as we have it today.

Take a look at the excellent History of The Rotary Foundation Timeline and focus in on the 1985-87 period where we learned we had taken on something bigger than we had ever dreamed. We learned we needed partners, partners with deep pockets so we created “PolioPlus Partners a Rotary Foundation program by which Rotary clubs, districts, and individual Rotarians could voluntarily assist in reaching Rotary’s goal of a polio-free world. They support the immunization activities of Rotary and its worldwide partners, World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” Eventually, contributions from National governments and The Bill Gates Foundation with their matching grants programs were added. As a result, we are “ThisClose” but we aren’t there yet.  Hence, this joint effort continues today.

2013-15-trf-300x465It is the lessons we learned from this herculean task that caused Rotary’s leadership to reconceptualize our strategic directions with its Six Focus Areas and new simplified Global and District grants model.

This presents the classic dilemma for all leaders. There is always a risk of getting too far out in front of your members or if a company your workers.  Obviously, this is part of Jaskot’s motivation as he decries the loss of Group Study Exchange (GSE) and Matching Grants programs.

There is no denying the underlying problem that many, many Rotarians are only peripherally, concerned with either the GSE or grants of any type. There is also a wide divergence of club practices with respect to the importance of making contributions to The Rotary Foundation from benign neglect to mandatory requirement for membership. At the club level, we have cheque-book Rotarians and those who give unstintingly of their time for all sorts of local level club activities including fundraising. Let’s admit it, recruitment of new members often falls to a few very talented individuals who have the skills, knowledge, and contacts to build a club.

Few Rotarians have the time or interest at the club level to ponder the big questions. That is why we elect a Board of Directors and appoint TRF trustees and hire an Executive Director and staff team. At some point, we as club Rotarians have to trust to our leader’s wisdom and experience.

As for The Rotary Foundation and the future, the philosophy of Capitalism is still at the very core of Rotary’s many campaigns for funds and the philosophy of social justice is at the very heart of why our motto is “Service Above Self” as we continue to try “to do good in the World”.