On 23rd February 1905, lawyer Paul Harris called three friends to a meeting in Room 711 of the Unity Building on 127 North Dearborn Street in downtown Chicago, Illinois (USA). What Paul had in mind was the formation of a club that would ignite fellowship among members of the business community in this large city. It was an idea that grew from his desire to find within Chicago the kind of friendly spirit that he knew in the small town where he had grown up.
The four businessmen didn’t decide then and there to call themselves a Rotary Club, but their get-together was in fact the initial meeting of the world’s first one. As they continued to meet, adding others to the group, they rotated the venue of their meetings among the member’s places of business, hence the name Rotary.
Since 1905, the ideals of Paul Harris and his friends have been accepted by people of practically all nationalities and political and religious beliefs. Today there are approximately 1.2 million Rotarians in more than 32,000 clubs, located in more than 200 countries and geographical areas around the world. Until the 1980s it was an organisation for men only, but since then women have been welcomed, and in Kenya they have entered not only in large numbers but have risen to positions of high leadership.
Rotary has continuously evolved, becoming an organisation that brings together businesspeople and professionals worldwide. They provide humanitarian service, and encourage high ethical standards in all vocations. Today, the prime focus of Rotary is derived from its six pillars: peace and conflict prevention/resolution; disease prevention and treatment; water and sanitation. maternal and child health; basic education and literacy; and economic and community development. Increasingly their projects have focused on sustainability, in alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Goals, and diversity and inclusivity are also priorities.
Throughout Rotary’s history, basic principles have been developed to guide Rotarians in achieving their ideal of “service above self” while upholding high ethical standards. The Object of Rotary was first formulated in 1910, and adapted through the years as Rotary’s mission expanded. It provides a succinct definition of the organisation’s purpose as well as individual club members’ responsibilities. The Object of Rotary is to encourage and foster:
● The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service.
● 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.
● The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian’s personal, business and community life.
● The advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.
Also observed by Rotarians worldwide in their business and professional lives is the Four-Way Test, which was created by Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor in 1932 in reflection of how he ran his own business. It has since been translated into more than 100 languages. It states that of the things Rotarians think, say or do, they ask:
● Is it the truth?
● Is it fair to all concerned?
● Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
● Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Grounded in the object of Rotary, the Avenues of Service are the foundation on which club activities are based, each with their own committee:
● Club Service: Focuses on strengthening fellowship and ensuring the effective functioning of the club.
● Vocation Service: Encourages Rotarians to serve others through their vocations and to practise high ethical standards.
● Community Service: Covers the projects and activities the club undertakes to improve life in its community.
● International Service: Encompasses actions taken to expand Rotary’s humanitarian reach around the globe, and to promote world understanding and peace.
● Youth Service: Recognizes the importance of empowering youth and young professionals through leadership development programs such as Rotaract, Interact, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, and Rotary Youth Exchange.
Here in Kenya, the Rotary Club of Nairobi (RCN) was established in 1930. The driving force behind it was Rotarian John Innes from Leeds, who had been inspired when Rotary’s Founder Father, Paul Harris, visited his club in England and encouraged him to take advantage of his next business trip to East Africa by initiating a first Rotary Club there. Since then this pioneering club has nurtured the founding of many other Rotary clubs around Kenya and beyond, while engaging in so many life-transforming community projects.
To promote the United Nations 4th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG #4), Basic Education and Literacy, the Rotary Club of Thika Road – one of over 40 Rotary Clubs in Nairobi alone and 143 in Kenya – recently handed over a fully functional computer laboratory at Garden Estate Primary School, which has a student population of 700 pupils serving the residents of the Marurui, Thome and Ruaraka.
Meanwhile the Langata Rotary Club partnered with Computers for Schools Kenya and Semiconductor Technologies Limited to set up a digital lab for pupils at Kamburaini Primary School in Kieni, Nyeri County. The lab, fitted with 19 computers, a printer and WiFi, provides the close to 250 learners from the school the opportunity to acquire digital literacy skills.
Another Club is supporting Njathaini Primary School in Roysambu, Nairobi County, with focus on Disease Prevention and Treatment (SDG #3), Basic Education and Literacy (SDG #4) and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (SDG #6) – with an ablution block currently under construction, awaiting the fitting of a specialised bio digester.
October 24th is a day set aside to highlight the global efforts towards a polio-free world and honour the commitments of those on the frontlines in the fight to eradicate polio. On this day last year Ruth Munyi, a member of the Thika Road Rotary Club, interviewed Rotary International President Jennifer Jones on NTV, where among the key points discussed was polio eradication. As the organisation that first envisioned a polio-free world more than three decades ago, Rotary International and its partners (that include the Gates Foundation) have been at the centre of the fight to eradicate polio globally. Today, about 20 million people globally who would otherwise have been paralyzed are walking, and more than 1.5 million people are alive who would not have been.
As Rotary continues along its path, it brings out the best in the human spirit. It teaches people ethics, humanity, cultural awareness, people and leadership skills, and motivates and empowers them to serve: key ingredients of social responsibility.