Recently, Nick and I spent time in Guatemala, where we met wonderful fellow Rotary members and families who unofficially adopted me as “Tía Jennifer.” On the third day, after visiting Patzún in the mountainous western highlands, we set out for Lake Atitlán, which we needed to reach by nightfall. If we took a back road we could get there faster. Locals told us it had just been repaved and assured us, “You’ll have no problem.”
At first, it was a breeze. We wound through misty-green coffee and corn fields covering the hillside like a patchwork quilt. But at a river crossing, we found a bridge washed away. The only way to continue would be to ford the river in our small bus. There were a few tense moments, but we decided to give it a try and, thankfully, we made it across safely.
This adventure reminds me of two important truths in Rotary. One, we rely on local, on-the-ground expertise to do what we do best. And two, sometimes you have to take uncomfortable chances to reach important goals.
Every day, I am honored to learn from our Rotary family. Every lesson is an opportunity to grow, and each story adds a chapter to our collective Imagine Rotary year.
We’ve all taken our own path to become a member of Rotary. Some of you joined because your father was a Rotarian. Some of us signed up because an employer tapped us on the shoulder and asked us to attend a meeting. Others became members only after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it possible. Yet each of us entered through one mechanism — an invitation.
An invitation that unlocks our imaginations and allows us to know that everything and anything is possible. Each one of us has that same opportunity — the honor to extend an invitation.
It is awe-inspiring to imagine how we can look out across our communities and identify our future leaders. It’s often tempting to attract people who are exactly like us. It’s a special form of ingenuity to consider how people who are seemingly very different can, in fact, share our values and have some of those same talents, just waiting to be unleashed.
It’s time for Rotary to take our next step in advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) across our organization.
Embracing an experience where people feel included is more than just making our membership numbers more diverse. It’s about making our meetings and events places where we can speak openly and honestly with each other, where our members feel welcome and safe. This means removing barriers for entry and opening doors for inclusion. Our values remain our strength — and our commitment to excellence requires us to maintain high standards for our members as well.
I believe we are all committed and determined to advancing DEI across Rotary. This is rooted in the deepest traditions of our organization, and it will ensure that we remain vibrant and relevant for decades to come.
A few years ago, our Rotary Board set the ambitious goal of increasing the share of female members to 30 percent by 2023. We have less than a year to go, but I believe we can meet and exceed this target.
We need Rotary leaders to rise from every continent, culture, and creed. We need young members and young thinkers to take on larger roles and responsibilities. We need to listen to new Rotary members just as keenly, and with as much respect, as those with many years of membership.
During our recent convention in Houston, we heard from astronauts about their journeys into space. We reflected upon a time in the 1960s when U.S. President John F. Kennedy urged the world to dream, with his declaration that we would “go to the moon [and do] other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Fully committing Rotary to DEI and meeting our ambitious membership targets may seem as unlikely as a moon shot. But I know that when people of action are committed to a big goal, we make it worth every ounce of our energy.
Every month since I joined Rotary, I’ve looked forward to reading this magazine, especially the opening essay from our Rotary president. I’ll admit that as much as I appreciate a digital copy, I still revel in the tactile sensation of sitting down and leafing through the glossy pages. They are a treasure trove of photos and memorable stories about our great organization — the one we all know and love. I have learned so much over the years about service projects and lives that each of you have transformed.
As a communications professional, I have longed for the day that our stories were a regular part of mainstream media and that our flagship magazine might populate doctor’s offices, coffee shops, or anywhere else people sit, wait, and browse. It’s great that Rotary members are better informed about all we do, and wouldn’t it be that much better if more people knew our stories.
All this was top of mind as I thought about our plans for promoting Rotary worldwide in the upcoming year. Over the next 12 months, we are going to shine a light on projects that put Rotary service on display to the world, and we are going to do it strategically. Nick and I will focus on some of the highest impact, sustainable, and scalable Rotary projects from our areas of focus in what we call the Imagine Impact Tour.
We are inviting top-tier journalists, thought leaders, and influencers to use their channels to help us raise awareness by reaching people who want to serve but have not yet realized they can do it through Rotary.
But there was another important issue to consider — our carbon footprint. I take seriously Rotary’s emerging leadership position on environmental issues. The example set by our members during the pandemic is fundamental to how we carve out our future.
That means we will harness digital technology to tell these stories — we will be tweeting, posting, and “going live” to anyone who will listen. We must consider our environment, and part of that means not always traveling but continuing to connect in meaningful ways as we have for the past two years.
Of course, we are social people, and we still need to be together. We simply need to be more mindful of our decisions and think about how we get together just a little bit differently. For example, if we travel to visit a project, we will plan successive visits in neighboring areas.
So, what are your stories and who can help tell them? I hope you might consider your own Imagine Impact efforts — your story might be something you can promote just as easily on social media or during a Zoom call. Think about ways to showcase notable projects in your clubs and districts.
We all feel the impact that Rotary service and values have on us. Now it’s our opportunity to share that feeling with others.