Building connections with young professionals

Bobby Keith, a member of the Rotary Club of Birmingham, Alabama, chats with David Knight, a member of the Rotaract Club of Birmingham, during a recent meeting.

Bobby Keith, a member of the Rotary Club of Birmingham, Alabama, chats with Rotaractor David Knight during a recent meeting.

By Jeris Gaston, Rotaract Club of Birmingham, Alabama, USA

At the recent Rotary International Convention in São Paulo, Brazil, there were several breakout sessions geared toward the next generation of Rotarians. The one that stood out the most for me was “thirtysomething: How Clubs/Districts Can Provide Rotary Experiences for Young Professionals,” moderated by John Smola, a past president of my club, and Christa Papavasiliou, of the Rotaract Club of Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

A panel discussed the challenges and opportunities of allowing younger Rotarians into clubs worldwide. Throughout the question-and-answer segment that followed, there was quite a discussion about how to engage young professionals. Many great ideas were suggested, such as creating community-based Rotaract clubs or local satellite e-clubs to recruit members, as well as not being afraid to let younger members bring new ideas and energy to the club. Throughout this discussion, I couldn’t help but think of a program my own club started five years ago that allowed us to partner with our sponsor club, the Rotary Club of Birmingham, and bridge the gap between the young professionals in our club and Rotary.

My club has the privilege of being one of the largest community-based Rotaract clubs in the world. With almost 300 members, we have our own challenges but also amazing opportunities to lead our members to one day become Rotarians. The program we started in partnership with our sponsor club is called “Professional Partners.” It began purely as a membership development initiative, allowing our members to make connections with Rotarians who are also established leaders in our city. What has evolved is a program that not only establishes a direct personal connection between our members and Rotarians, but also develops leaders and fosters a strong sense of what it means to be a Rotarian.

The program starts each fall and lasts nine months. Each member of our Rotaract club who applies and is selected for the program is paired with a Rotarian from our sponsor club. There are minimum meeting requirements, but each pair is allowed to cater these meetings to their schedules and convenience. While flexible, the program is built around our club’s motto of Learn-Socialize-Serve, with events focused on each of these areas.

We typically try to pair unrelated industries, so that lawyers, accountants, and business-minded individuals are meeting with someone not in their field to further discussions. Also, each mentor and mentee is encouraged to bring the other to their respective meetings. At the end of the term, we have an informal gathering of all the participants to share ideas and network further. Each year, without fail, we get positive feedback from both sides, but overwhelmingly the Rotarians mention that they gained far more from the program than they had expected.

It doesn’t take a 300-member club to start a program like Professional Partners, and it seems to me this could be duplicated in clubs all around the globe. In many districts, the number of Rotaractors who become Rotarians remains small. While clubs encourage Rotaractors to join through their words, they may not encourage them through their actions. With all of that untapped potential, it is crucial, I believe, for clubs to follow the Rotary Club of Birmingham’s lead and embrace programs like Professional Partners. What if every Rotary club developed twenty Rotaractors each year through a similar program? It might not be the ultimate solution, but it is one way to strengthen connections with thirtysomethings in the community and invest in the future of your club.

August is Membership and New Club Development Month. Throughout the month, we will be running a series of blog posts on membership. We are also collecting stories from members about why they joined — and are proud to stay in — Rotary. Tell us your story on Facebook.

5 thoughts on “Building connections with young professionals

  1. Hi Friends: I’m Prasad Punnoose from Angamaly Heritage Rotary in Dist 3201 India. I’ve been in Uganda for the past six weeks working among the local poor and among the refugees from Congo, Sudan etc. teaching, training and doing poverty relief work out in the field as part of a Christian team of two from India who recently had a burden and call to do a ministry here. Our aim has been to equip our target population at the bottom of the society here to reach masses at least in the East African nations from where our trainees have been. Our contact came through the local YWAM friends who invited and provided us the base for operation.

    What I came across here touched my heart in the Rotary World Community Service spirit. And I’m moved to continue this work; we got only a temporary visa, plus we have exhausted our funds meeting the entire expenses of this mission including the accommodation and food and meds for ourselves and for over 60 trainees, out of our own resources. So we have to come back, more equipped and prepared for a longer haul making this an ongoing service to the spirit, soul and body, to be of any impact in the target population.

    Specifically we feel the need for: 1. prevention and treatment of diseases and basic health education among the unreached poor in the remote places; 2. literacy and basic education – here Uganda there is a saying, “if you want to keep anything secret write it down”- ; 3. empowering the women as we see that as the best way to lay foundation for a stable society – in my view the fabric of family is totally broken in our target population. The orphaned young are totally exploited and broken by the “foster husbands” and even “spiritual husbands” to describe it in one sentence – ; 4. water and sanitation issues – as I told my friends in Rotary 3201, most places I’ve been to are without usable water and toilet facilities to mention two, and therefore, not for the faint hearted to go to for service; 5. community development starting with roads electricity, proper dwelling places and very importantly providing basic living skills among the target population to begin to be lifted to be part of the society ( most of them are not even street smart in my observation); 6. last, but not the least, a dire need for changing the situation of absence of peace in the lives of the thousands Ive come across here briefly ( actually millions ) being without own country, shelter from the elements of nature and ownkind, health, food, clothing, education, means for income, sense of dignity in life etc. and conflict with others and self and the Almighty. Most cases we came across are cast out of social net due to broken and shattered spirit. Without addressing this issue all our efforts are in vain. A word of compliment here to the police for being very insightful and cooperative with us and encouraging us in handling some such cases. I mention these because they are in line with TRF focus areas and the UN millennium challenge. If any one on earth can do it, it has to be Rotary with its vast resources. I have been in touch with Dist 3201 and the Rotaries here in Uganda both of whom have expressed desire and interest to do what they can. On my part I am willing to continue to be involved in a very down to earth and grassroots level without much fanfare and making it a public spectacle which these souls resent; many places I heard people say “this white Maan is taking our pictures” eventhough I have been very discreet. I’m writing this in the hope that this will reach many who will do something meaningful in spirit of Rotary for the spirit, soul and body of these people in need here. Prasad Punnoose, Pennsylvania house, Ashram Rd, Kalady, Kerala 683574. India. 91 484 854 4526; +25 670 291 9005. Photos: 1. teaching, 2. With children, 3. With Club President Mebra of Mikindye Rotary, 4. With children to whom we gave milk packets…


  2. Working with rotary as from the age of younger age has improved my skills and ldeas realizing other need full areas to lmprove community live. My best place to serve lives


  3. The future of Rotary palpably depend on how today’s 30plus guys and gals in Rotary families namely Interactors and Rotaract clubs are managed and warily oriented what Rotary is all about without neglecting that Each generation of Rotary ought to be or should be a GIVT TO THE WORLD GBEMI TIJANI MDT RC OLIYOE DSTSTE F9125

    Sent from my iPad


  4. Pingback: Building connections with young professionals | The Rotary Club of Carteret

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