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Paul Kiser - Rotary District 5190 Public Relations Chair - RC of Reno Sunrise, NV

by Paul Kiser

When considering the care and feeding of any beast one must first decide what kind of beast you have, and that is not an easy task when examining the beast known as Rotary International (RI).  I’ve been thinking about this because in two weeks RI will hold the 2010 session of the Council on Legislation (CoL).  This meeting is charged with approving new policies and policy changes that will determine what RI will be, or not be, for the next three years.

If you don’t understand what I’m talking about…you are not alone and some background might be helpful.

Rotary International is a separate and distinct organization. We, as Rotarians, do not belong to Rotary International.  The individual Rotary Club is a member of Rotary International, but the club members are not. It’s a fine line, but a very important one.  Our clubs have a voice in RI, but individual members do not.

RI is governed by the Manual of Procedure (MoP), the Rotary Code of Policies, and the RI Constitution.  The Council on Legislation decides changes, deletions, and additions to the governing documents.  This happens once every three years…yes, I said once every three years.  After the Council on Legislation meets during the last week of this month (April 2010) it will not reconvene until 2013.

The Rotary Theme Logo for 2009-10

Individual members cannot propose changes to the Council on Legislation (because they are not members of RI), so for a Rotarian to propose a change to RI policies and procedures she or he must get his or her Club to do it. Once a Club has decided to propose a change to the Council on Legislation they must:

  1. Propose the change almost two years prior to the Council of Legislation (2008 deadline for 2010 CoL)
  2. Have that proposal approved by the majority of clubs in the District
  3. Gain the approval of the Council Services (Administrative Staff at RI) that the proposed legislation is legitimate

The Council on Legislation only sees the proposed legislation that survives all of these hurdles and many proposed changes die in RI’s Council Services review process.

It is noteworthy that all things RI are handled by two groups of people. District Governors (past and present) consist of one group.  They serve in various capacities in governing RI, including serving as District Representative to the Council on Legislation.

The second group is almost invisible to the rank and file of Rotary.  That group is the administrative staff at RI.  The RI staff is governed by the MoP, Code of Policies, and the RI Constitution; however, they also serve as the gatekeeper, and in the case of the Council on Legislation, the Council Services division has significant power to allow or deny legislation to be presented to the CoL.

Change in RI is controlled by who is allowed to make the decisions and by the drawn-out approval process.  Part of the challenges we face in making Rotary relevant for 2010 and beyond is the fact that our organization is not structured to allow changes to be done quickly, or in some cases, at all.  Our RI beast is governed by policies and procedures that, for the most part:

  1. can only be changed once every three years
  2. proposed changes must be submitted in two years in advance
  3. proposed changes must be filtered through the District Governors who may not support the change

Whether intentional or not, this process is designed to be resistant to change.  When it comes to adapting to a new environment the RI beast is a dinosaur in a world that changes in the time it takes to post a Tweet.  As we attempt to make Rotary relevant to the professionals in today’s world we must find a more representative and responsive method for making meaningful changes.

Rotary International’s President Elect, Ray Klinginsmith, tells us it is time we found some new traditions and this year’s RI Theme is “The Future of Rotary is in Your Hands.”  The sentiments seems to reflect that it is time for Rotarians to step up and Re-Imagine our organization…but we now need to clear out those roadblocks that seek to keep Rotary from becoming all it can be.

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