By John Hewko, Rotary International General Secretary
The desire to give back, become involved in your community, create connections, and use one’s skills to benefit others is a cornerstone of civil society. But how can young people find these opportunities while facing the challenges of a widening skills gap, lost personal connections through digital isolation, and an uncertain future?
Let me begin with a description of a young person who may sound familiar.
A young person alone in a big city. A young person looking for friendship, looking for connections with other professionals from diverse backgrounds.
A young person looking to make an impact but unsure where to begin. That man was Paul Harris, Rotary’s founder.
Back in 1905 when Paul started the organization we know today, he was only 36 years old.
He certainly had that spirit of youthful innovation that we must try to emulate. Because, to those early Rotary members in the first Rotary club in Chicago, Rotary was like an oasis in the desert.
And over a century later, our Rotaractors are part of a generation that grapples with its own challenges and deserts, in a world of increasing social and political upheavals.
Many graduated during a global economic depression, and perhaps had to struggle to get that first job or pay off student loans.
Many have witnessed rising social inequality and political polarization. Many are disenchanted with business practices that don’t meet our high ethical standards.
It is not time to lose hope – because we want Rotary to be your oasis in the desert. A place where new ideas can be explored, friendships are made, opportunities are realized, and your talents are used to improve lives.
The Chicago in which Rotary was born is not so different from the environment we exist in today. Paul Harris experienced first-hand the struggle between the forces for positive social change and the aggression of a fast-growing city. It was a place of stark contrasts, between astonishing wealth, abject poverty and high unemployment.
But innovators like Paul, looking at first for nothing more than friendship and business connections, began to turn the corner. What started as a fellowship of four people grew into a large and thriving service organization of 1.2 million members and nearly 200,000 Rotaractors who carried out 111 million volunteer hours of work last year in communities at home and around the world.
The myth that Rotary cannot be a place for young people to make their mark on the world is just that – a myth. Through Rotary, you are able to create lasting connections, discover new experiences, and make a positive impact.