If Paul Harris started Rotary today

Evan Burrell and Room 711

Evan Burrell, left, with other members of the Joint Committee on Alumni Relations during a visit to Room 711, a recreation of the room where Rotary began.

By Evan Burrell, a member of the Rotary Club of Turramurra, New South Wales, Australia

I wonder, as we approach yet another Rotary anniversary, what Paul Harris would think of the Rotary of today? Would he smile, or grimace? He probably didn’t imagine how far his little idea would go when he sat down for that first meeting on 23 February a full 111 years ago.

As a fun exercise, I tried to imagine what it might be like if Paul Harris started Rotary today. To do this, I first imagined what a Gen Y Paul might be like.

I decided he’d be a social entrepreneur and blogger. His personal style is a touch metro, add some emo, and just a squeeze of hipster. He lives a healthy lifestyle, eats organic and gluten free. He is warm and welcoming, with a hearty laugh, and certainly doesn’t need a copy of “How to Win Friends & Influence People.” He has 500 plus connections on LinkedIn.

What does his Rotary club look like?

The club is very inclusive with its membership. They work hard to attract individuals of all genders, races, beliefs, and backgrounds. They are very particular about not incorporating any practices that would be offensive to any particular group. They don’t take political stands, but they are eager, collectively, to dive into action to better their community.

The club uses Facebook, LinkedIn, and social media a lot to connect, not only socially but for service projects. They use Kickstarter and GoFundMe to finance projects, and have developed some Rotary-specific tools (like our Rotary Ideas) to also achieve this goal.

Club meetings

The club meets in person and online on a semi rotational basis, usually once or twice a month depending on the needs to be addressed. The club is more about how members can contribute their talents and take part in projects getting their “hands dirty,” than how many times they show up for a meeting.

Members communicate almost daily through Facebook or Snapchat. Word about what they are doing seeps out through their social media network of friends, co-workers, and colleagues, spreading the excitement and attracting interest.

Their physical meeting locations vary, sometimes at a tavern, sometimes a coffee house. They are kept affordable so members can focus their resources and time on service. Meetings tend to be relaxed, and some people connect remotely via web technologies.

Social hour

The club hosts regular social events to build stronger relationships between members. Members frequently invite friends with little pressure on the individual to join. Even service projects involve a good number of people who are not members, but share a common interest.

Although I’ve just been imagining, there are certainly clubs that do some of these things. Do you like my vision of what Paul Harris’ club would look like today? What is yours?

Join a discussion on membership best practices

150209_burrellAbout the author: Evan Burrell is a member of the Rotary Club of Turramurra, New South Wales, Australia, and a former member of Rotaract. He has been involved with Rotary since he was 18. He currently manages social media for Rotary Down Under, the Rotary regional magazine of Australia. Follow Evan on Facebook.

19 thoughts on “If Paul Harris started Rotary today

  1. Paul Harris was 35 when he started Rotary as a professional networking group (with no intention of the group doing anything else) The whole purpose of Rotary was for weekly face-to-face fellowship.


  2. Thank you for this timely post.
    You mentioned a key factor to Rotary and Rotarians moving forward.
    You say – “They don’t take political stands, but they are eager, collectively, to dive into action to better their community.”

    How, when and why would Rotarians set limits on the types of actions to better their community?
    Rotary area of focus on preventing conflicts and building peace says to “Take Action — to pursue projects that address the underlying causes of conflict, including poverty, inequality, ethnic tensions, lack of access to education, and unequal distribution of resources.”

    Go Rotary and Rotarians.


  3. Pingback: If Paul Harris started Rotary today – Rotary Club of Ginninderra

  4. Rotary Greetings,
    Excellent way of Presentation.
    Almost include all aspects of Rotary.
    Excellent use of social media for communication, social services & fund raising.


  5. Surely another mindboggling experience for him some shocks and he would of course be buoyed for the fruitfulness of his ideas and what cyberworld had done to spread the gospel of friendship and oinfg good .TRF s achievements will maarvel him &milestone in eradication of polio will impress him so much.PPP will lift him and possibly wake him up how resourceful added value of intercorpotrate suport &camaderie.He will be so shocked nations are hateful and even atacking cities that are commodious .He would possibly travel to top leaders to sheath sword and avert terrorism He will convene meetings to review MOP and lots of other things like low RIC attention 1%!
    gbemi tijani pp phf pr chair charter treasurer,trainer ,27022016


  6. If Paul Harris started Rotary today, he would have to review MOP including all the rules and procedures first and an entirely new version would be adopted for what Evan has described.
    The idea is great and most new generations would love it though. Another way of thinking is how do we maintain the disciplines of Rotary to keep up with its decent imagine for the years ahead.


    • Thanks Burrell for your posing & posting necessary positive updates in Rotary globally .Otherwise we might be complacent and led into thinking that all s well .Or again that al is perfect as it s.No but we are part of those few altruistic guys & babes trying to show concern about inequities and not upbraiding anyone per se …We can also look inwards holistically and see how we maximise time & resources already in the kitty and achieve more in terms of membership retention recruitment & welfare impact & possibly as the digital youths will want enhance member s networking advantage to boost their Rotarian very basic qualifications -their work & friendship -the lubrication needed to sail through love letters .280216


    • Hi Maryln Axler -history is the raw data for everything ..Prolific .Award winning American scifi novelist reechoed this few years back in an interview with Talking Writing.—with .Connie Wilis


  7. Great thoughts, PP Evan. Always useful for us boomers to get a fresh perspective—and having you on our board at Turramurra is such a bonus! As to getting a touch metro, emo and hipster, we’re just going to have to work on that 🙂 Rob Byrne, President, RC Turramurra.


  8. Nice article – certainly got ME thinking! I suspect that he would probably grimace, and I can’t help but wonder that if he started Rotary as you’ve mentioned above, it would still be just him and a few friends 111 years later! It was the idea of a circle of people doing business with each other that ignited Rotary inititially. For that reason, District 5030 is looking to bring back vocations into Rotary, and my club, the BBRC, is starting to think about what that would mean, and how we can help each other as business professionals. Maybe then we can become relevant to Gen-Yers…


  9. Pingback: If Paul Harris started Rotary today | The Rotary Club of Carteret

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.