The first Rotary Club was formed in Chicago in 1905 by Paul Harris. Wishing to capture in a professional club the same friendly spirit he remembered from the small towns of his youth, he and three business acquaintances started meeting together on a regular basis – and created what became the world’s largest voluntary public service organisation. One of his principle objectives was to have a system whereby members could go to any club meeting in the world without asking.
The name ‘Rotary’ derives from the practice of these pioneers rotating their meetings between members’ premises.
There are now almost 34,000 clubs in over 200 countries, with a membership of over 1.2 million men and women.
Rotary was established in the British Isles in 1914 and in Britain and Ireland there are now over 1800 clubs with over 55,000 members: ‘Rotary International, Britain and Ireland (RIBI)’ provides an umbrella organisation for the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland.
All Clubs subscribe to the registered charity, ‘Rotary Foundation’, within Rotary International (RI), which distributes grants world-wide and enables individual clubs to enhance their own charitable activities.
Rotary’s international network allows clubs to link directly with other clubs across the world, not just for fellowship but also for special projects.
By 1921 were Rotary Clubs had been established in every continent and the focus shifted from being a means of networking among business associates, to one of ‘public service’ – one of the first projects was the delivery of food to needy families and the provision of ‘comfort stations’ in Chicago!
From that beginning Rotary now operates its charitable and service functions across the world. Because of these activities, Rotary is the only non-governmental organisaion to be present at the United Nations
Rotary’s ‘Service’ activities can be grouped into:
- Economic and Community Development
- Peace and Conflict prevention and resolution
- Disease prevention and treatment
- Water and sanitation
- Maternal and child health
- Basic education and literacy
Each of these runs and / or supports a number of very beneficial activities ranging from Peace Scholars to Polio eradication.