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 Rotarywas — 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.










Ian H.S. Riseley
President, Rotary International, 2017-18