Rotary should accept the Stenhammar challenge

by John Borst

May 31, 2011

Accepting Bill and Melinda Gates PolioPlus challenge was a no-brainer compared to the challenge put before Rotary by Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar during the 2011 New Orleans convention. After all challenging Rotarians to raise money, even $200,000,000 is just more of the same. But challenging them to put aside over 100 years of history and practice, now there indeed is a challenge. And that in varying degrees is exactly what Stenhammar has done.

One can only imagine the level of frustration, fed by years of trying to convince Rotary’s elite to seriously consider his ideas for change, which must have lead Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar to lay out his agenda before a convention plenary session.

Stenhammar is no maverick upstart. On the contrary his years of faithful and trusted service to Rotary places him among the elite of the elite. Having served as both an R.I. President (2005 – 06) and chair of its Board of TRF trustees (2010 – 11) demands that we at least engage in a debate over his ideas.

Briefly those ideas include:

  • Lengthening the term of a TRF trustee from 4 to 6 years;
  • Electing the TRF Board of Trustees chair for a 4 year term rather than annually;
  • Merge Rotary’s strategic plan and its Future Vision Plan more thoroughly;
  • Elect Rotary presidents to four year terms instead of one year terms;
  • Enable someone under 70 years of age to become an R.I. President hence make the position paid.
  • Develop a permanent theme.

Radical, yes; yet Rotary speaks constantly  to the need to embrace change if it is to grow and thrive, rather than just survive the 21st Century. So why is it that the powers that be already appear to be burying Stenhammar’s obviously unexpected speech since it cannot be found among those published to date.

We only need to look at our own current political leaders, Barack Obama of the USA, Stephen Harper of Canada and David Cameron of the UK. Each was in his forties when first sworn in as leaders of his country. Cameron still is only 45 while both Obama and Harper are now in their fifties.

Is this a goal Rotary should try to replicate? Obviously, Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar would say yes.

Some at social media sites already appear to imply Stenhammar is motivated more by power and fame rather than the good of Rotary. On the contrary he has risked his considerable reputation to put these ideas on the table in the fashion he did. That doesn’t speak to personal aggrandisement but to taking Rotary’s motto “Service above Self” and living it fully.

It is time for Rotary’s political leaders to instruct its secretariat to release Stenhammar’s speech so we can all debate accurately and fully the ideas he has had the courage to put before us.

About John Borst

John Borst’s career in education spans the years 1960 to 1996. During those 36 years, he spent an equal amount of time working int he English language, Public and Catholic school boards. Borst taught in both elementary and high school environments. Positions of responsibilities held included department head in Geography, curriculum coordinator of Social and Environmental Studies, Principal, Education Officer with the Ministry of Education, Superintendent of Schools, and Superintendent of Student Services. Borst retired in 1996 as Director of Education for the legacy Dryden Board of Education. During this time, Borst has lived in the Ontario communities of Brampton, Toronto, Newmarket, Thunder Bay, Aurora and Dryden. Currently, Borst splits his time between Dryden and Toronto. Since retirement, Borst has served as a Supervisory Officer with a remote School Authority; been a freelance writer of articles on education in particular for Education Today, the magazine of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA); founded and edited from 2006 - 2010 the Education blog Tomorrow’s Trust: A Review of Catholic Education; and from 2003-2010 was a trustee of the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
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4 Responses to Rotary should accept the Stenhammar challenge

  1. Dave Theunissen says:

    When you see radical changes suggested at RI level isn’t about time we analize the situation at Club level. In today’s world of technology and the changes in families’ living we find both partners working and when it comes to weekends both are consumed in childrens’ activities or relaxing/ RV’ing. During the week most business/professional persons work through mealtime or have business meetings and there goes Rotary. Recruiting new members has a great deal of competition and a person with a family finds the costs of Rotary (dues are no longer only for club administation, but the high increase of administering the District as well as RI which I believe has got out of hand). Why is it necessary for the President of a 25 member club need training over a weekend when it could be done through manuals, after all some Presidents run organizations with many emloyees and it doesn’t require a brain surgeon to run a Rotary or Directors meeting. All this added work required of a good person soon drives that person away from serving a Club and Community. Let’s make it simple like it was and let’s have more time for fellowship rather than worrying about RI protocal. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

  2. Ed Thompson says:

    It is always good to throw out alternatives to status quo. However, I am not one that agrees with paid positions in voluntary organizations. Once that begins there is no end. Yes, pay the costs associated with the position but not for the position.

    I acknowledge that to be R.I. President takes a lot of effort and acknowledge that only those financially well healed can ever run for the position. However, when each member knows this is done voluntarily, I think it enhances and inspires rotarians in general. Yes there are many qualified rotarians that financially are eliminated from the competition due to personal financial obligations. Inspite of this, I do think our R.I. Presidents selection (as we have done it over the years) has resulted in appointing very high quality, devoted and very capable individuals. In fact a very high percentage of Rotarians I have met in my travels all had these very admirable traits.

    So no paid positions for rotarian members. Non rotarians who are being paid by a club, or district is fine. However, once they become a rotarian only costs they incur should be paid – no honorarium etc.

    Ed Thompson

  3. John Adams says:

    I attended Stenhammer’s speech and would like to read it. Does anyone know where I could find it? I believe, from my point of view, that Stehammer’s premise is incorrect. Stenhammer’s justification for the changes he proposed is to promote “institutional memory” and preserve “institutional [leadership] identity”. I don’t believe institutional memory and preservation of our identity an issue. I think Rotary (RI and hopefully its member clubs) see a need to become more adaptive and diverse as we go forward in these times.

    Though I generally disagree with Stenhammer, I am glad he made the remarks at the convention. I smile and shake my head at the visceral “reaction”, over reaction, many Rotarians have taken to remarks of the outgoing TRF Chair. I have heard some Rotarians make comments to the effect the speech should have been censored – Wow.

    If anyone knows where a text of the speech can be found, please let me know by post.


    John Adams

    • noronwe says:


      As a result of this post I have had communication with someone at RI headquarters informing me that the speech will be available on the video at $25.00 USD. I replied that I didn’t want it that way, that I wanted them to transcribe it to print and make it available to us that way. Isn’t that why executives had secretaries in the “old” days. I presume they still exist.

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