Criticism is something few take kindly to. As an editor, I’ve always welcomed feedback – positive or negative – because, quite frankly, it shows someone has read your publication by taking the trouble to write.
And if you really want to engage with your audience, shouldn’t you be listening?
So the letter published in this issue (page 24) from Colchester Rotarian, Tony Willson, throws up thought-provoking issues about where Rotary’s priorities lie.
Tony describes October’s issue of Rotary as “not happy reading”.
This was the issue where I reported on a Rotary project working with offenders at HM Prison Parc in Bridgend, addressed domestic violence from the perspective of a Swindon Rotarian, who is also the High Sheriff of Wiltshire, and looked at the Rotary-based Shelter Bus project for the homeless in Birmingham.
“While I accept all three subjects are important,” writes Tony, “I personally do not think that it is Rotary’s remit to tackle them as they are massive problems in themselves.”
It is an interesting point, I would be interested in your take on this too. Please write in. The obvious question is: what issues should be within Rotary’s remit?
Should we be ignoring the thorny subjects of law and order and homelessness, and instead focus on traditional areas of Rotary work – polio, responding to humanitarian disasters and engaging with community projects, both at home and abroad?
To my mind the answer is definitely no. We should be doing both. Rotary has to push the boundaries. Rotary has to reach out to those uncomfortable corners of our communities if we are to remain relevant. Moreso than ever.
In a speech given at the Rotary Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon just before Christmas, Rotary International President, Barry Rassin, highlighted the loss of 300,000 members worldwide over the last two years – though, in fairness, Rotary has balanced that with an equal gain in members in that time.
Barry lamented the lack of women in the organisation, and focussed on a need to recruit younger professionals by bridging the gap between Rotaract and Rotary.
Wise words, indeed, but what is Rotary offering to attract these young professionals?
Yes, there is the End Polio Now campaign but, while it has been extremely successful, it has not exactly been a fruitful membership driver over the past 30 years.
The polio campaign has given Rotary an identity, but it is not our raison d’être.
Yes, Rotary International has to finish the job, now and in the years following, since polio will always be on our watch.
So we have to look beyond polio.
We should not be frightened to tackle other equally important, trickier and non-traditional issues which lie closer to home.
That’s what will drive membership. If you don’t believe me, ask someone under 40 what issues matter to them. Seriously!
In this month’s Rotary we examine cyber bullying. In April we will deal with modern slavery, June’s issue of the magazine looks at cleaning our beaches of plastics, then in August we assess the moral maze of organ donation through the eyes of a 10-year-old.
They’re not fluffy, they’re not sexy, but these are all gritty issues which should sit high on our modern agenda.
If Rotary is to remain relevant, if Rotary is to rally to Barry Rassin’s call to attract more people to our organisation, dynamic individuals who want to get involved with projects, and who care about their communities, then we should not be afraid to re-sharpen our focus.