At the 2017-18 International Assembly, Rotary International President-elect Ian H.S. Riseley made the case on that protecting the environment and curbing climate change are essential to Rotary’s goal of sustainable service.

 

Riseley, a member of the Rotary Club of Sandringham, Victoria, Australia, unveiled the 2017-18 presidential theme, Rotary: Making a Difference, to incoming district governors at Rotary’s International Assembly in San Diego, California, USA.

 Environmental degradation and global climate change are serious threats to everyone, Riseley said. “They are having a disproportionate impact on those who are most vulnerable, those to whom Rotary has the greatest responsibility. Yet environmental issues rarely register on the Rotary agenda,” he said.        

 

Environmental degradation is one of the major threats listed by the UN’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change.

 

Riseley added, “The time is long past when environmental sustainability can be dismissed as not Rotary’s concern. It is, and must be, everyone’s concern.”

 

The president-elect challenged every Rotary club to make a difference by planting a tree for each of its members between the start of the Rotary year on 1 July and Earth Day on 22 April 2018. Trees remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the air, which slows global warming.

 

“It is my hope that the result of that effort will be far greater than the environmental benefit that those 1.2 million new trees will bring,” Riseley said. “I believe the greater result will be a Rotary that recognizes our responsibility not only to the people on our planet, but to the planet itself.”

 

Some years ago, a new acquaintance asked me what should have been a simple question:

 

“What is Rotary?” I opened my mouth to reply and then stopped short with the realization that I simply did not know where to begin. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t know what Rotary was. The problem was that Rotary was — and is — too large and complex to easily define. We are a member-based organization, a club-based organization, and a servicebased organization; we are local, regional, and international; we are community members, businesspeople and professionals, working and retired, active in nearly every country in the world. Every one of our 1.2 million members has a unique set of goals, experiences, and priorities; every one of us has a unique understanding of Rotary.

 

To me, Rotary is defined not by who we are, but by what we do — by the potential that Rotary gives us, and the ways we realize that potential in meaningful and lasting service. Rotary has been around for a long time: 112 years. In some ways, we’ve changed tremendously, as we’ve grown, matured, and adapted to the changing
needs of our members and communities. In our fundamentals, however, we remain the same: an organization of people with the desire — and through Rotary, the ability — to make a difference in our communities, and the world. We answer the question “What is Rotary?” with our actions, by making a difference through our service.

 

As an organization, we recognize how important it is that the world understand what Rotary is, and what we do. At the same time, we know that it is more important than ever to allow our clubs to define Rotary service for themselves. As Rotarians, we have more flexibility than ever to decide how we want our clubs to meet, work, and grow. We’re focused more than ever on making sure that Rotary reflects the people it serves, with more women and a more diverse membership. And we’re working hard to ensure that Rotary remains the world’s pre-eminent volunteer service organization, by emphasizing long-term planning, sustainable service, and continuity in leadership on every level.

 

In 2017-18, we will answer the question “What is Rotary?” with the theme Rotary: Making a Difference. However each of us chooses to serve, we do it because we know our service makes a difference in the lives of others. Whether we are building a new playground or a new school, improving medical care or sanitation, training conflict mediators or midwives, we know that the work we do will change people’s lives — in ways large and small — for the better. Whatever motivation each of us had for joining Rotary, it is the satisfaction we find in Rotary that causes us to remain, the satisfaction of knowing that week by week, year by year, we are part of Rotary: Making a Difference.