By Ignacio Gonzalez Mendez, a member of the Rotaract Club of Oriente de Talca, Chile
I must confess, I didn’t set out to find Rotary. Rotary found me. I became involved in Rotary through a series of fortunate events which has changed the way I look at everything.
When I was 13, I volunteered for the Red Cross and that experience led me years later to create a project to establish a first-aid station in my high school. At my graduation ceremony, I was surprised with an award from the local Rotary club for my volunteer work with the Red Cross. The award was in honor of one of my teachers, who passed away unexpectedly. Receiving the award and knowing that my teacher had appreciated my efforts gave me more inspiration to keep volunteering.
Some years later, while I was studying to complete a law degree, I saw a poster for Rotaract. I was excited to get involved with the organization that played a role in my passion to help others. Together with a couple of my friends, we founded the first Rotaract club in my Chilean town. And it was my honor to serve as the club’s charter president. When I was later elected as a District Rotaract representative, my goal was to increase Rotaract’s visibility in my district. That year, we generated a 60% percent increase in membership and succeeded in launching several new clubs.
In 2018, I was honored to serve on the Rotaract-Interact Committee of Rotary International. I wanted to be close to the members I represented, so I reached out to as many Rotaract members and Interact members as I could from around the world to hear their stories and learn about their concerns. Based on some of their feedback, the committee proposed to the RI Board several ideas to strengthen the ability of Rotaractors to participate fully in Rotary. The Board accepted our recommendations. The result was a proposal to the 2019 Council on Legislation to elevate the status of Rotaract to that of a membership type.
In the weeks leading up to the Council, I used social media to explain the benefits of Rotaract being elevated to membership status and why it was urgent that we enact it. When the Council voted to approve our proposal, I was invited to be on the Rotaract Committee and the Elevate Rotaract Task Force in 2019-20. We were responsible for advising the Board on how to implement the provisions of the enactment and establish a “new era of Rotaract.” It was exciting to serve with outstanding leaders worldwide, all dedicated to enhancing the experience of Rotaractors.
After the Board accepted our recommendations, our task force began to inform both members of Rotary and Rotaract of the changes. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit creating a challenge for us to raise awareness.
But through virtual platforms, I engaged with more than 400 clubs in 100 districts in 10 regions of the world, sharing strategies on how Rotaractors and Rotarians can work closely together that is mutually beneficial.
Last year, aided by two good friends, we created a mentoring program involving district governors-elect who were under the age of 45. I am a strong believer that any organization needs to listen to young leaders because they bring a fresh perspective.
As I was in the final stages of studying for the BAR exam, I accepted an invitation to serve as a Rotaract advisor on the planning committee for the 2023 Rotary International Convention in Melbourne, Australia. It’s a unique opportunity to share my experiences and help create an incredible event for the family of Rotary. I am delighted to serve as part of Rotary International President-elect Jennifer Jones’ team. She is my role model and the kind of Rotarian that I strive to be. She invited me to the 2021 International Assembly, where I shared my storywith other future leaders.
Receiving the Service Above Self Award last year was an incredible honor. I am so happy we are in a time when Rotaractors can be recognized for the contributions they are making in Rotary and in their communities. We are not the future of Rotary; we are the present. And it’s time to serve together.
Editor’s Note: Ignacio Gonzalez Mendez, a member of the Rotaract Club of Oriente de Talca, Chile, is one of two Rotaractors to receive the Service Above Self Award and will be among 133 recipients who will be honored at this year’s Rotary International Convention in Houston, Texas, USA. See also Maria Valentina Martinez Belo’s story.
Listen to select blog posts on our new Rotary Voices podcast