It’s time to Think Differently

With less than five months to go until the district conference in Portsmouth, the finishing touches are being put to the three-day programme.

In fact, the quality and diverse speakers who have been persuaded to visit the south coast over the weekend of March 8th  to 10th is impressive,  representing a breadth of subjects.We’ve got the inspirational in the form of Paralympian Andy Lewis, the practical with an interactive workshop from the charity ShelterBox, the thought-provoking with a session about how to solve a problem like malaria, and the motivational with Phil Dyer and Irene Russell challenging all Rotarians to ‘Think Differently’.

I am especially looking forward to hearing Phil and Irene speak. Both live and work in the north-west and if you’ve had a chance to grab a copy of October’s issue of Rotary magazine, either in hard copy or online, then you’ll read a piece which I have written about them.

I first heard Phil and Irene present the Think Differently concept earlier this year. They are not re-inventing the wheel, but instead seeking to challenge the Rotary culture – how we do Rotary, why we do Rotary and what we need to do to ensure the longevity of our organisation.

For the stick-in-the-mud Rotarians who recite the turgid mantra of “that’s the way we’ve always done things”, the Think Differently presentation will seem like an hour-long deep root canal procedure at the dentist. But for those enlightened Rotarians who truly believe in the mantra of “service above self” and not “self above service”, this two-way workshop at the Portsmouth conference will serve as a bit of navel-gazing which members can discuss with their clubs.

In particular, Think Differently suggests that Rotary should become more project-driven, how clubs should work together on large scale projects and look deeper into volunteering. Above all, they are encouraging Rotarians to think about how Rotary is perceived in their town and the impact it is having.

Only this weekend, I visited a club which is out of our district and which is dying on its feet. They meet every week at 7.30am on a Wednesday morning. The club President explained to meet that they have agreed to alternate meetings between a breakfast gathering and an evening event because many potential members who had shown interest in the club were put off by the early start. This not too seismic change has resulted in some dissent at the club. Remember that turgid refrain? One member has demanded she will now only pay 50% of her fees because she will only attend half the meetings. Others have threatened to resign.

But what Irene and Phil are suggesting is that Rotary clubs need to critically assess the future of Rotary in their town. They need to determine whether they are positively enhancing the image of Rotary and future-proofing the organisation.

By adopting some of the cultural changes which Irene and Phil will be proposing at the district conference in Portsmouth next Spring, they believe Rotary will be revitalised and continue to thrive – and I am definitely in their camp.

It promises to be an interesting session and one which will be the focus of discussions at club meetings which follow.

Dave King is a member of Rotary Elthorne-Hillingdon, and editor of Rotary Magazine – the official magazine for Rotary in Great Britain & Ireland.