INVIDIVUAL VS COLLECTIVE -The problem with the way ROTARY projects are organized

Around the world, Rotary is at work.  Money is raised and projects undertaken from a few dollars for a new wheelchair, to placing $100,000s into clean water, improving health, education and teaching people ways to be self-sufficient.702876-BPA0104[1]

This is all broken down in the Rotary world into projects; hopefully sustainable projects that are carried out at the initiation of a Rotarian, and a handful of others he persuades of its value.  There is, of course, the BIG project to eliminate polio going on since the early 1980s and almost – they say – done.  It will continue, I think, for some time  yet.


Polio Plus is the one project that proves that the Rotary world can work together on something big. I don’t know of any other Rotary projects that come anywhere near the scale of this one, and it has many elements  of the positive.  First of all it is being successful.  But is also represents a long-term, coordinated effort across the Rotary world to not only raise the money but to mount the campaigns to give the children the vaccine.

Most Rotary projects are just the opposite.  They are relatively small.  They are a little larger if matching funds are sought through the Rotary Foundation, and better controlled if TRF is involved.  But, the work on the project comes down, often, to one person.  The funds may be raised by the club through its normal fund-raising projects which are usually joint efforts involving many Rotarians, but sometimes even these fund-raisers are carried out by a small number of club members.

But the carrying out of a project usually gets down to a unit of one.  1330331-Smiling-knight-with-sword[1]TRF forces this to some degree by requiring that only one person can work on the documenting of the project on the Global Grant site.  But, this is not the only reason for an individualistic approach to project work.

First, projects usually start up from the initiative of a person who sees the need and brings it forward, and then is told or hinted at, that if it is to go forward they have to run with it.  Everybody is busy.

If the project is in a faraway country, where contact is needed face to face with the Host club members who will take it on, the travel allowance is only available for one person to visit.  Others can go – but you have to foot your own bill.

There will be a committee struck for the project, required by TRF, but it still comes down to one person.  The other members of the committee usually know, with exceptions, that they are only there if there is a massive breakdown and the original champion can’t continue.  Many times projects simply die on the vine when this happens.

While we can organize on a global basis to defeat Polio, we can’t seem to put together any collectives of people who will really understand and collectively carry out a project.  This, of course, is an overstatement as I am sure I can be proven wrong in the case of many projects.

The way we  do projects in Rotary stimulates the “power of one” approach.  The problem with this individualistic approach is that only those with the attributes of taking initiatives and being good promoters with some charisma to  go with it, get to be involved in project work, and this is a small demographic within Rotary.  If we devised ways of insisting on a collective approach we are more likely to pre-think the project more carefully, understand what it involves and know in advance the skills that will be needed for the project to be successful – skills of coordination, grant-writing, financing725924-027cSS[1]

548880-tn_occupation147[1]sustainability, etc.  Instead of one person attempting to do it, and be it all, many people are involved, and in the process many Rotarians are getting satisfaction as part of a team that is getting a project done.
702075-1004occupations006[1]On the negative side, it is perhaps a disappointment to the person who likes to have the accolades for having done it all. But, perhaps this can be sacrificed to have better projects with more experience and skills involved in undertaking them.  A move from “I” did it, to “we” did it.544245-tn_Music-09-12-04_006[1]

But, I think this is something that Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation needs to think about.  How could they incentivize clubs and districts to have true collectives of Rotarians carrying out projects where many skills are brought to bear, and no one person is totally burned out by being the only one doing the work, and the only one with the stress and worry about the project on her or his shoulders.

This needs more than pronouncements on high.  It requires a look at the Global Grant system for example, to build in encouragement for a group of Rotarians to be really involved.  It may need a look at the travel grant process to encourage a team to visit a project, each with different issues to look at.    It is really too much to expect a project Lead to think of everything.  And in the case of those who are not very good in some aspects, it is wrong to force fit them to do things that they will do poorly.  The system could use a re-think.





Micro-credit – Turns the world around – but does it have problems?

I was thinking about micro-credit and how the promotors of basic micro-credit programs have what they think is a persuasive argument. “We get 95% (or more) of our loans completely paid off. Isn’t this reason enough for funders to be satisfied with their investment?” But when you think a moment about this argument, then intuitively you realize that one of the key reasons for such high levels of reported success is that the program is not really targeted at the poor. It targets people who are “safe”, being at a higher level of “poor”, and who have a greater sense of responsibility and want to make a success of whatever business or venture they are getting funding for.

The meat man
THE BUTCHER – micro-loan recipient

But there are a huge number of people in the world, particularly in the Lean Economies who are extremely poor, lack skills and education, have problems with health, both physical and mental, resulting in a demographic that need additional support along with micro-credit loans. Do micro-credit providers add this component, or do they simply avoid support to problem people?

For promotional purposes, though, the purveyors of these schemes will find it easier to promote their fund-raising efforts if they can point to the very high repayment rates they get on the loans. It will be much more difficult for them to chase down funding if they have to report much lower numbers re: loan repayments. A whole new strategy is needed to explain a micro-credit program which is multi-dimensional with as much emphasis on teaching life skills, on training, on counseling than on loan repayment. Subsidizing micro-credit for the very poor could be a strategy. Is this being added to the mix for multi-problem and very poor potential recipients? I would hope that support for this demographic wouls be embraced and a strategy of fund development that takes this into account, be developed.

The attached link goes into great depth on some of the problems with micro-credit and its prospects. Before blindly embracing the claims of organizations regarding their excellent loan repayment records, donors should get a better understanding of the bigger picture.

Google World Bank article
Does Microfinance Still Hold Promise for Reaching the Poor?

Sustainability; Rotary Style

Rotary is one of the biggest providers of humanitarian support competing or collaborating with World Vision, Care Canada, Samaritan’s Purse, Oxfam, the Red Cross and the list goes on.   Rotary’s  long term world-wide program supporting the elimination of POLIO is coming to an end.  But there is much to do in support of overcoming poverty, teaching skills, maternal health, education and the list goes on.aids-victim-with-child.jpg

Many Rotary clubs have projects they carry out in developing countries on their own.  Someone in the club spots a need and the other club members help to raise funds, or agree to volunteer.  Many Rotarians with skills go to the Lean Economies as engineers, carpenters, teachers, and water specialists to lend a helping hand and some resources.  I have been told that as much or more than half of the funds raised by Rotarians for international projects go there, without the involvement of the Rotary Foundation.

But, having the Rotary Foundation involved can have substantial benefits through the way that funds can be leveraged.  In our Rotary District, a $5000 allocation from a club can lead to a minimum of a $30,000 project thanks to the power of leveraging.  This can be very attractive but comes with its own issues.

The Rotary Foundation has a set of principles and rules that clubs wanting to access funds for projects must adhere to. These are strictly adhered to and include a needs assessment, detailed write-up of the project, a carefully crafted budget, oversight by Rotarians at both ends of the project and a comprehensive report at the end.  It is all worth it when the project is successful and leaves behind it a legacy of ongoing effort which comes about because of the rules around “sustainability.”

Here is what Rotary says about Sustainability

Sustainability means different things to different organizations. For Rotary, sustainability means providing long-term solutions to community problems that community members themselves can support after grant funding ends. How can you make your project sustainable?

Be sure to: • Start with the community. Host sponsors should work with members of the benefiting community to identify a need and develop a solution that builds on community strengths and aligns with local values and culture.

• Encourage local ownership. It’s a true sign of a project’s success when community members embrace the project as their own. Empowering community members to assess their needs and plan projects that address them leads to the most effective projects and the most sustainable outcomes. Identify key community members who can help pioneer lasting improvements.

• Provide training. A project’s success depends on people. By providing training, education, and community outreach, you strengthen beneficiaries’ ability to meet project objectives. Confirm that a plan is in place to transfer knowledge to new beneficiaries. Collaborate with local organizations to provide this training.

• Buy local. Purchase equipment and technology from local sources whenever possible. Make sure that spare parts are available locally, too. Build capacity so that community members can operate, maintain, and repair equipment on their own. Compensate your project’s vendors appropriately so they have an incentive to continue providing supplies.

•Find local funding. Getting funding from local governments, hospitals, companies, and other organizations integrates your project into the local community and supports your project’s long-term success.

• Measure your success. First, gather data before you begin the project to determine where you are starting from. Include clear and measurable outcomes in your project plan, and decide how you’ll collect data throughout your project and afterward. Maintaining a strong relationship with the community can help you collect data and also address any issues that the data bring to light. Weaving basket2

These are the principles that now guide Rotarians who wish matching funds from the Rotary Foundation.  But these principles miss the mark to some degree and as a result projects using  lucrative leveraged funding never reach the most vulnerable.

A good example:  A project was carried out in southwestern Uganda for eight years with the purpose of assisting AIDS orphans many of whom live in child-headed homes.  During the course of the project, more than 700 orphans were assisted.  They received the basic s of life where necessary – food, clothing, bedding, utensils.  Some people in the local communities most of whom live in poverty were rallied to be care-givers to the orphan children.  They were trained and mandated to take a family and oversee it, checking in to make sure the family had the necessities, that there was no illness, or other troubles.  They sometimes helped with the meals, and taught some children how to keep their tiny homes in good condition and repair.schoolchildrn

The children were also backed up by Rotarians who each took groups of children to provide guidance to them.  They became surrogate parents in some cases.  They watched out for the very troubled children and helped in very practical ways such as helping the children learn about how to grow food on their property.  All children were also expected to go to school.  School fees were also paid so that going to school was part of the program.

Some of the older children were sent as apprentices to learn motor repair, sewing, hairdressing and other skills.  .

Unfortunately the program failed to meet the SUSTAINABILITY criteria of the Rotary Foundation and it has been discontinued.

It was set in a desperately poor area of Uganda where AIDS was and still is rampant.  There was no chance that the community would be able to raise all but the most minimal of funds to sustain the physical needs of the children and their school fees.  It faltered on the first criteria – “long-term solutions to community problems that community members themselves can support after the grant funding ends.”

The Sustainability criteria are a very good fit when there are physical elements to the projects.  For example building wells and water harvesting systems, and training the people in the community to carry on after start-up, meets sustainability criteria.  This can be seen to be true for training mid-wives, repair and maintenance of wheelchairs, and training in the area of agriculture where a legacy of training can leave even young farmers with the ability to continue on.

What the SUSTAINABILTY criteria does not take into account is helping in areas of abject poverty, disease, poor education, and crime.Cooking matooke2

In my opinion, Rotary needs to rethink its formulas for support of projects to ensure that its drift towards supporting the better off poor, an easier objective, doesn’t blind Rotary to the needs of the very, very poor.



Do AIDS orphans in Uganda have a chance? A few do.

The CURLY GALBRAITH GLOBAL MEMORIAL is a program of support for AIDS orphans in Uganda to complete studies at University, College or Trade school. To date, there are 18 students in the program, while another 22 have graduated. All graduates are employed or have created jobs for themselves. The Guardian Newspaper in Uganda reports that “Uganda has the world’s largest percentage of young people under 30 – 78% – according to the UN Population Fund” without employment.George William Ssentongo in his classroomx

This Rotary program started in mid-year, 2011, with the objective of providing support to 40 students, which would mean raising US$120,000 as the cost for each student is approximately $1000 per year, which covers their tuition and room and board. Most advanced education programs are three years,

thus it is estimated that the cost per student is $3000 to complete a full program. We have exceeded our initial objective of reaching 40 students. Many students are graduates of an earlier program, now defunct, which supported more than 700 AIDS orphans living in child-headed homes.

The program is administered in Calgary by a small committee of members of the Rotary Club of Calgary Downtown. They source funds, receive requests from Uganda to fund certain students, keep track of the funds, and receive reports on success.

Ssemkula Henry

In Uganda the program is overseen by a committee comprised of members of three Rotary Clubs – Kyotera, Kalisizo and Masaka. They choose candidates based on their need, success in their public schooling and motivation to succeed. The numbers of parentless families is very high. Schools in rural areas of Uganda report that up to a third of their population is comprised of orphans. There are substantial numbers where the children survive in child-headed homes. Many of those who enter the scholarship program are heads of homes where there are several other children.


The program continues, even though it as now exceeded the initial goal of providing enough funding to support 40 Ugandan AIDS orphans in achieving their dream of an advanced education. The program will continue as long as we can find clubs and individuals willing to provide financial support. We are very fortunate that the family of Curly Galbraith, a past VP of Rotary International, who the program is named to honour, provided substantial dollars to get the program underway. The Rotary Club of Calgary has been a donor each year, and donations have come from 6 other Rotary Clubs in amounts from $500 to $10,000. Some interested individuals have also regularly donated.

This is a program without administrative cost. All fund received go directly to assist the students. At the Calgary end, Carl Smith, a Rotarian and retired banker administers the program. At the Uganda end, the oversight of the three clubs is supported by Rotarian Joe Mutajululwa, who provides administration of the program without charging a fee.

The need is without end, but is crucial to the young people who have gone through it. There have been no students who have permanently dropped out. One student stepped back from his scholarship for a year to handle family matters, but returned and completed his degree. We have moved from being largely a University program to placing an emphasis on Trade School training where practical skills can take students immediately into the workforce. The local Rotarians act as mentors to the students during their study years and afterwards, in assisting them to get employment or to set up their own shop or business.

We would like to do more. Funding is sent annually and the support for any one student is guaranteed as his or her funds are retained in the Calgary bank account for his or her entire program, until needed each year. Since the funds are sent in US$, an amount is also set aside by the committee to ensure that currency fluctuations are taken into account.

Some Rotarians remember Curly Galbraith who died in 2010. He was an exceptional Rotarian with a tremendous interest in child and youth programs. He played a key role in the formation of the Stay-in-School program which has now taken root across the country. We see this as the type of program Curly would have wanted and supported. We thank Doris Galbraith for taking the initiative which led to the development of this program.

Anyone interested in supporting the program:
Cheques are made out to
Rotary Club of Calgary,
Community Service Fund (CGGM)
#305, 105-12th Avenue SE
Calgary, AB T2G 1A1:
Tax Receipts are available for Canadian donations

Can we make a difference? World-wide poverty, ignorance and unemployment.

I have visited India, Central America and Africa and spent time visiting projects – mostly Rotary Club projects.  Have also had a hand in raising funds and helping to administer some very interesting projects.  Water is a big issue wherever  you go.  Both retrieving it, and cleaning it up.  Also, making a living is another big problem and the work being done to support the poorest of the poor through micro-credit schemes needs to be expanded.

By various estimates there are likely at least 20 million orphans in Africa.  There are orphans in many other places in the world.  I’ve seen some very effective, efficient and humane efforts at resolving this problem.  The best are those which keep these children in their family home with community and other support provided to them.  Of importance, giving them the opportunity of going to school, and ensuring that adults are brought back into their lives.   see