Rotary – Change, collaboration, and communication

DG Chris Firth

District Governor Chris Firth gave the following presentation to the club membership on Wednesday 7 October 2020 talking about the need to change, collaborate and communicate better.

“I think it says something about the strength of the District that many clubs are showing resilience and even growing in both membership and outreach during these strange times”.

opportunities to change, collaborate and communicate

Let’s go back to January this year when the Rotary Theme for 2020-21 of Rotary open for Opportunities is now seen to be prescient and made for this year.

I thought I would start my talk with something to remind us of what underpins our Rotary Activity:

The Four Way Test

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

How does this 88 year old maxim help us in what we do and does it stand the test of time?  I believe it does both those things.

President Holger has asked all of us in Rotary to be revolutionaries and disruptive and just do it. What an opportunity for all of us.

So my themes for the second part of the year build on this

 Change, Collaboration, and Communication


We are in the middle of the biggest change in lifestyle and ways of living and doing things in my lifetime. It’s ironic that a crisis of this nature has produced a change in the last seven months that normally would have taken years to implement both within Rotary and in the wider world.  We still live in a world of uncertainty. However, that is no reason for not doing something about how we run, enjoy, and communicate our Rotary.

So, the first priority this year is to revive clubs post COVID. Our numbers in District now are about 1660, some 70 less than this time last year.  Because of the high average membership age over the district,  the future of Rotary in the district is at risk.  We’re asking clubs to take a look at

‘What you will be like in 5 years’ time?’ and ‘If you do nothing will you be still in existence?

What this means for clubs.

The future of our clubs is likely to be meetings and events in a mixture of virtual, formal, and informal settings. The days of ‘meet and eat’ and ‘chain and cheque’ Rotary are numbered. I believe we are very unlikely to go back to that in the future.  We are encouraging a change of format if we are to attract a new generation of more active and engaged members. This is our biggest challenge. However, but we are fortunate as many clubs are already taking the lead and we will support you when you do that. 

There are now so many ways of being a Rotarian and at the recent District Forum, we saw how to implement some of these options and opportunities. I’m particularly taken by Corporate membership; Passport Clubs; Community Corps; Satellites. I am encouraging clubs to explore these options.  Clubs are responding positively. You have an active Satellite club Thursday Welcome that is in its first year and I’m sure will become a major community force in a deprived part of Swindon. Working together you will achieve those aims.

Getting out into the Community

The challenge of COVID has resulted in more community-focused initiatives. This is because of the massive impact on people exposed to job loss, isolation, and mental stress. Others are helping at Foodbanks and others supporting local charities by the donation of their meal money.  Many clubs doing good in adversity.  This has raised the profile of volunteering locally; again an area where you as a club are strong.

Rotary working with National carers
A disabled child in a wheelchair relaxing outside together with a care worker

The National Partnership between Rotary and Carers UK is one national strategy. There are over 7 million people in this country who are unpaid carers and this is growing.   This is only one aspect of local. The next stage in this partnership is to translate high-level aspirations to the local level. We are setting up a network of district ambassadors to build on those links and to create local opportunities. Any advice on how we might develop this is welcome.


We do things best when we work together and share our resources for mutual benefit. I believe that this is a major way forward. Sharing of skills and other resources will give us synergy and help achieve more. Afterall what you think is normal in your club may be extraordinary in another and could be just the idea they need.   This means the clubs in Swindon working under the banner of Rotary in Swindon can make an impact and increase our reach.  It does not impact autonomy but strengthens our ability to engage more effectively with the outside world. More importantly, it will give a unified view of Rotary to people in Swindon. 

people of action

This leads to the wider theme of People of Action: one of my priorities for this year. The district team would like to encourage clubs to work in partnership with other clubs, with local charities, public sector, and business organisations increasing our presence, image and engagement. 

As a club, you have demonstrated this with community links to the local Bangladeshi community, and with South Swindon Parish Council. Building on these links will lead to new opportunities. This may mean putting less into some traditional club donation destinations as new priorities emerge. This will give us real synergy in the community and increase the ability of Clubs to help alleviate urban deprivation, rural poverty, and improve community development. It would be good to see a sea of hi-viz Rotary vests through Swindon demonstrating that we are People of Action

collaboration in the community

Developing this theme in Area meetings will help you in doing this.  The first step is to create an overarching Rotary in Swindon website and build on that.

Rotary working as a campaigning organisation

This means that Rotary is a campaigning organisation as our experience over the last 35 years with End Polio Now demonstrates.  What does this mean in practice?  Well, for example, the Brighter Futures Cancer Treatment Centre campaign.

A new campaign that the District is involved in is raising awareness of Modern Slavery which is so common in much of the district albeit hidden away often in plain sight. In this part of the world, modern slavery is rife in the horticultural industry.  A member of the Rotary Action Group Against Slavery will be riding from Lands End to John O’Groats in the Spring and we will be supporting him with both companionship and in holding an Anti-Modern Slavery event in Bristol.  The cycle ride will go through the heart of the district and I hope you will support us. Jim Currie is playing a key part in the working group setting this up and is planning to take part in some of the cycling. Perhaps you’d like to join him.

working to combat slavery

My third element is

Improving communications

If this is the year of recovery and innovation providing a platform for the future building of Rotary then how do we achieve it?

This is why we are making some positive changes to improve the relationship between club, member and district.  It’s true say that the relationship has not been that close and we plan to make it more positive.

To start with the website is being reviewed and refreshed as far as we can to make it is interesting and to engage more readers both internal and external. Please give us your suggestions on how to improve it. It may be that we need a total redesign outside the template but we will see.

Communication is key in this world.

Secondly, we’re trying to reach clubs and individuals with specific workshops and events.  So far, we’ve held District Forums on pushing the boundaries of Rotary; three tri-district workshops and we are planning more on Press Releases  Crowdfunding, and Social Media. We’re planning a workshop on ‘how to do’ …. Facebook.  I’m working with Charlotte on a  District Forum on improving Diversity in clubs, not for its own sake but to represent our community more effectively in our membership,. This club is a trailblazer in District 1100 and congratulations on that.

Rotary Volunteer poster

To do this we need volunteers at the District level to help run and support events. You will have seen the advertisement for new district leaders but it doesn’t stop there. If anyone is interested in helping then talk to me or Stewart Ross, District secretary.

I hope that that I’ve shown you how the district team is working fully with you in adapting and changing to meet the needs of the changing world and will help in whatever way we can.

Measuring Club Success

So at the end of the year how will you know as a club how much you have achieved in this coming year?

This is where the Rotary Citation comes in.  This is the record of your achievement throughout the year.  It does seem quite daunting with 25 available goals out of which you can choose which you wish to target and set your own goals. At the end of the year you will be able to say “job done: and pass on a vibrant club to your successor.

Some seasonal activities are coming up:

World Polio day 24 October

Children in Need 13 November (40 years celebration this year)

Shoeboxes For more details contact Derek Aston (

Toy boxes for Kids learn how you can help from Kids Out for children in refuges.

One last thing: District Conference March 19-21 2021 Torquay will be lots of fun, great speakers, and wonderful fellowship.  More details have been sent out to you and updates are coming. I know many of you are concerned about the impact of COVID.  We have done everything we can to ensure that cancellation charges are minimised, personal safety and social distancing is the highest priority to enable the conference can happen.

President Ray, fellow Rotarians, and friends. Thank you for listening to me today and I look forward to visiting you face to face sometime in the year ahead.

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