If one looks at the evolution of democratic institutions, three features, stand out. Men created them; those men were the educated elite of society, and as the elite, they didn’t trust the male rabble to whom they gave a vote. Whether the system is parliamentary or presidential both began with their upper chamber as an appointed elite, just in case the rabble did something contrary to the propertied classes interest.
What Rotary has now is characterised by the same features. Rotary was created and organised by elites, all of whom were male. As in Parliaments and Congress, it remains true, the vast majority of leaders are still male. We too have two governing chambers: the Board of Directors and the Council on Legislation. To claim a member of either chamber is elected is a farce.
Worst still, to claim that we the members have a say in choosing a District Governor or President isn’t even a farce, it is a lie.
Members do not vote directly for either position, the Club does. In my nine years as a Rotarian, my club has never given me or any other member attending a District or International Conference direction for whom to vote. Club’s pay no attention to who is nominated, because at both levels only one Candidate exists. Hence all votes are proforma.
At the Club level, few people become Rotarians to serve at any level other than the community/club level. They join because they like what the Rotary club does for the community. Most never concern themselves with anything over and above the club.
That fact permitted the elites, who had the time and money to concern themselves with the big picture, to create a faux-democratic system. In both instances, a nominating committee seeks out candidates, reviews those who qualify and apply, and then puts forward one person who having been announced widely is approved proforma at the District or International Conventions.
In the case of a representative to The Council on Legislation even the charade of a nomination committee is put aside. The District Board or Executive committee chooses the representative, most often a Past District Governor; often, many times over.
The single most important change to engage Rotarians is to give primacy to individuals as members. Even though individual dues go to the club, the club sends a portion to the District and Rotary International. As a result, individuals not clubs must have a vote at the District and International levels. Face it; individual Rotarians are disenfranchised at both the District and International level. All Rotarians must be enfranchised at all levels if Rotary is to survive over the next couple of generations.
An Electoral Committee should replace the Nomination Committee. Its duties would be to review and validate the candidates’ qualifications and to manage the election.
Candidates would be able to create a biography and a limited statement of what they would attempt to achieve during their term in office. The statement in written and video format would be available for viewing on My Rotary. Rotarians would have the ability to debate the pros and cons of each candidate for a limited number of days on My Rotary. A one-time video-streaming event of a presidential debate would take place with simultaneous AI translation and viewing through My Rotary. Voting would take place over a 24 hour period by electronic ballot. Each Rotarian would receive a unique identifier for signing on to an e-voting portal such as “Simply Voting” which would have to be accessed through My Rotary. A similar but smaller scale would occur at the District level for the District Governor.
Rotary has researched the kind of involvement in which Millennials would participate. They have created a marketing approach to appeal to them. What they do not appear to have addressed is how the structure of the organisation has to change. I do not think either the Millennials and even less the iGeneration after them will accept the system of elites with its closed system of governance. Nor will they accept the concept of a Rotarian as a non-entity.
Like it or not we are all complicit in this charade. It is time we created a Rotarian Bill of Rights which makes us full members, at all levels, of Rotary.