2020-21 President Rotary International

Fourteen years ago, Rotary held its first International Assembly here in San Diego. And I was sitting right where you are — as a district governor-elect. I was nervous then about the responsibilities ahead of me and the challenges of leadership.

Now, here we are in 2020, at the final International Assembly to be held here in San Diego — and I am still somewhat nervous. The responsibilities are larger for me this time. But so are the possibilities. I am so excited to share with you all the opportunities that lie in front of us.

At home, you are part of a team that works together year to year, making sure that your district’s most important work does not end with a new year of leadership, but continues with greater emphasis. I am also part of a team.

I will be proud to continue President Mark Maloney’s strong commitment to growing Rotary. However, I will not be asking you to grow by specific numbers, for a very simple reason — every time that we have asked to grow by specific numbers, we have failed. Instead of focusing on numbers, I want you to think about how we can grow Rotary organically and sustainably. How can we keep our current members and win new members who fit our clubs?

Then, how can we make our organization stronger to face the challenges before us? We must rise to this incredible moment — when we are recognized worldwide for our efforts to end polio — and fix our roof while the sun is shining.

In many ways, Rotary is in wonderful shape. We are financially strong. Still. The Rotary Foundation is recognized as one of the world’s best charities. Our global grants continue to grow, and we become a more internationally focused organization every year.

We are also evolving in interesting ways. There are now more Asian Rotarians than North American. But there are risks if current trends continue. Especially in areas where we see an aging population, Rotary is declining and over-aged.

“How can we make our organization stronger to face the challenges before us?”

We cannot stand still and be satisfied with everything we have done. The digital revolution has affected us much harder than we anticipated. Others have faced this challenge before us and fared poorly.

I had the opportunity to speak recently to Rotarians in Rochester, New York. A former executive at Kodak was in attendance. He told me that they all knew that photography would make the transition to digital eventually. They just never expected it to happen so fast. They went from being the worldwide leader in their field to a company in bankruptcy in just a handful of years.

Time will not slow down for us.

Holger Knaack