By Bill Rintz, Rotary alumni relations specialist
A visit to Japan last month took me on a week-long, whirlwind tour. My visits to multiple Rotary districts gave me the chance to meet members of the Rotary family, including classically-trained musicians, development workers, school teachers, architects, university professors, business leaders, and young professionals. Despite their varied backgrounds, those I met have something in common: they proudly call themselves Rotary alumni.
Who are alumni?
Alumni include former recipients of Rotary scholarships, Rotary Peace Fellowships, and past participants of Group Study Exchange, Youth Exchange, Rotaract, and other programs. Japan’s Rotary Yoneyama Memorial Foundation awards over 700 scholarships annually, adding considerably to the Rotary alumni family. Through these programs, Rotary has helped foster in alumni a desire to give back to their communities. Within Japan, there is a strong network of alumni associations which help them do just that while maintaining their connection to Rotary and each other.
Alumni associations around Japan
A lesson I quickly learned, however, was that no two alumni associations are exactly alike!
My first stop was in Kobe, where the Japan Rotary Alumni Association held their 7th annual meeting. This group brings together former scholars and other Foundation alumni from around Japan. A lively reception and performances by some seriously talented music scholars made it easy to feel the common bond the alumni enjoy. Foundation alumni associations like these often hold orientations for new scholars and reunions for returnees, and passionately support the programs that impacted their own lives.
Relatively newer associations, like those I met in Osaka and Kyoto, have members from a variety of Rotary programs, though their energy and enthusiasm are equally infectious. In Kyoto, I was given the opportunity to talk about The Rotary Foundation on the local radio. The radio host, an Ambassadorial Scholar alumnus, told me about his desire to give back to Rotary, and how he and his alumni association advocated for Rotary’s mission locally.
Yoneyama alumni associations also operate in nearly every district in Japan, sometimes using their connections abroad to help Rotary find partners for international projects. Thanks to a partnership with an alumni association in Sri Lanka, Rotary District 2620’s Yoneyama Alumni Association is currently organizing a medical equipment donation project.
Support alumni near you
During a group trip in Kobe to view the spectacular Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, I thought about the value of alumni to Rotary. I felt I had stumbled across the perfect metaphor. Rotary alumni act as a bridge: a bridge between countries; a bridge between Rotary and the public; a bridge for current program participants to continue their involvement in Rotary.
In order to play this role, they first need Rotarians’ help. Alumni associations might operate quite differently around the world, but they can best thrive when they have support from Rotarians who see alumni as equal partners. Alumni already feel a sense of gratitude and want to give back. How can they do so in your district? Ask them!
Do you have questions about engaging with alumni in your district? Want to create an alumni association? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.