Until a few months ago, everything in the world of Rotary was ticking along in the regular way with clubs meeting together over a chicken dinner and members putting the world to rights.
Oh, what a difference a few months make! There are no Rotary club meetings in their usual venue because of the dreaded Covid-19, social distancing and lockdown.
Fellowship has always been an integral part of all Rotarians ethos and this emergency has heaped pressure on us to think and act outside of the box whether we want to or not to retain this fellowship.
Rotarians worldwide discovered they can use technology to keep in touch with surprising ease and yes, pleasure.
Social media is awash with proclamations of discovery.
Finding video conferencing led by Zoom and other platforms has come into play, and the use of email, WhatsApp groups and YouTube / Facebook live broadcasting is tempting us with new horizons during the crisis.
Opening previously unforeseen opportunities. One meeting online, for example, will enable members to sample new technology and begin a journey of discovery.
Looking back to the early days of the Rotary eClub in East Anglia – now the eClub of Innovation – and remembering being asked three questions after I made presentations to land based clubs.
They went like this:
- How do you have fellowship?
- How do you do projects?
- Which ‘real’ Rotary club do you belong to?
Back then, the only limit was our imagination. Now we have scores of tales in our storybook.
Like the time a member joined our meeting from his hospital bed or the time we were joined from 46,000 feet in the bar of an Airbus 380 over Iraq by a member returning to work in Qatar. Anywhere there is a signal, members can attend online to enjoy our meetings.
Our members can access our Zoom video platform anytime to connect and collaborate around the world on projects.
They can share documents and work on them together in real time, thousands of miles apart.
Members regularly hold small impromptu meetings either for fun or talk and share more serious issues.
Recently, our club hosted the Rotary International President, Mark Maloney, for an online meeting and engaged with 100 participants. Ideas are limitless.
Increasingly, Rotarians are adopting technology, and this could revitalise Rotary and bring a new wave of ways of engagement that is attractive and enjoyable.
Post crisis, I think we will see many clubs continue to use the technology and become a hybrid of their former selves.
The club silos that restricted collaborating with each other will fade as we realise that we can connect easily with other clubs and Rotarians.
I describe ‘eRotary’ as like the introduction of the microwave.
It’s like this:
- ‘There were those that got it and hailed that it would replace the cooker in every kitchen.
- ‘There were those that said it would never take off!
- The other group simply just did not understand it and were flummoxed by it all.
My take is that it will be like the evolution of the microwave in that you see it in many people’s kitchens today as an integral part of family life. We see this evolving now in Rotary.
Our eClub of Innovation was chartered in May 2014 with a global membership of 33 aged between 20 and 80-years-old, and mixed gender.
It was a journey of discovery as we found ourselves on untrodden ground.
We sought guidance from other eClubs, most were helpful, giving us ideas on how best to move forward.
Initially, it was the blind leading the blind, but we developed our own identity and realised that as an eClub we could do things differently unless there was a compelling reason to follow tradition.
Now, we have a clearer idea of where we are heading. We have a living document called ‘Our Evolving Plan’ which helps us every year to focus on how we develop, and members can contribute to this document.
We use more than just Zoom to run our club; we use several online tools, and through experience we developed a way of working and deciding on how we shape our club.
We have an online space called Workplace Intranet where members can share ideas, chat and plan actions, anytime, anywhere. This allows us to keep in touch with each other anytime, anywhere when we want.
Our ethos is all about connecting, communicating and collaborating globally to achieve the Rotary values of friendship and service.
This has proved invaluable and helpful bringing the Rotary world and beyond into our living rooms, studies, kitchens or wherever we choose to connect.
Is this crisis changing Rotary for the better? We now know that whatever is thrown at us we can stay connected for the good we create. Just try it, and it might change your life for the better.
We are the eClub of Innovation.