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.
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. 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, financing
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.
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.
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.