Rotary’s Need to Take a Trip ‘Back to the Future’: Part 2, Removing Barriers

by John Borst

Did you know that Rotary has had two presidents who have never been club president, district governor or a member of the board of directors before their year (s) as president?

102 years of Presidents 1910 to 2012 From Paul Harris to Sakuji Tanaka

The first was Paul Harris in 1910-11, & 1911-12, the first years Rotary had a president and the second was Leslie Pidgeon of the Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada Club, Rotary’s first International president.

I use these early examples not to suggest that we must return to that degree of flexibility but as a symbol that we have gone too far in creating barriers to rapid advancement for new members irrespective of their age when joining Rotary.

Neither the young nor the retired when joining can make it to the presidency within a ten year span of time.

Identifying Time Barriers

As it currently stands the route to the presidency works both formally and informally like this:

You must serve a year as a club president. It is expected that you will serve on the club board of directors in a variety of positions before assuming the route of vice-president, president-elect and finally president. A quick route through this process would be 5 years in a modest size club and is likely much longer in a large well established club.

To become a District Governor (DG) requires that you have completed a minimum of 7 years within Rotary and your term as Club president. Although I can find no requirement that a DG must have served for two years as an Assistant Governor (AG) it seems to be a requirement among some districts.

The route to becoming a Director is found in sub-sub-section 6.050.3 “A candidate for the office of director of RI shall have served a full term as a governor of RI prior to being proposed as such candidate … with at least three years of time having elapsed since service as a governor. Such candidate shall also have attended at least two institutes and one convention in the 36-month period prior to being proposed.”

There is no reference to what the past DG is expected to do during that 3 year minimum but I suspect serving at the Zone level as a coordinator and having spent one or two years on the Zone nominating committee, the qualifications of which are virtually identical are unofficial stripes to be achieved.

Interestingly to be nominated for President (6.050.2), in addition to all of the above you only have to officially have completed your two year term of office as a director. Unofficially, however, you are expected to set, most likely as chair, on RI presidential committees reportedly on average for 10 years. One recent president had a 20 year interval.

Accordingly, it appears the absolute minimum numbers of years to the presidency possible is 7, plus a year as DG, plus 3 as DG in waiting to be a Director, plus 2 as Director, plus 1 as RI President-Elect for a total of 14. The reality is that the number of years of service is more than double that for all presidents over more than the past decade. At least three have been Rotarians for more than 40 years when their term began.

Five steps to a 10 year scenario

1. Reduce the time of service from 7 to 5 years for District Governor, nomination.

2. Permit a Club president to be nominated as DG Nominee during their year in office.

3. Eliminate the three year wait period before a past DG can be nominated to the board of directors.

4. Permit a setting Director to be nominated As President-Elect before the end of their second year on the board.

5. Eliminate the District and Zone nomination process, replacing it with a system of direct elections and self nomination process with club endorsement.

These simple changes would make it mathematically possible to become president in 10 years. (5 yrs, one of which you are a club president, plus 1 year as DG, plus 1 yr to get elected to the Board of Directors, plus 2 years as a Director, plus  one year as RI President-Elect)

Why Now?

a) If Rotary is to make itself attractive to a new younger membership, its leader must be at least a generation closer to the demographic being recruited, if not two generations closer in some years;

b) The education, business experience and leadership training new members bring to Rotary upon arrival is very likely to be far more extensive than in past generations;

c) As it now stands, it is almost impossible for Rotary to make maximum use of the sills of retirees who join after their careers are complete. This is especially true of former CEO’s or CFO’s within companies or large governmental or other service agencies from whom Rotary has the most to gain.

d) Modern communication and new opportunities provide the means of accelerated learning for those wishing to serve Rotary in such governance capacity. In addition to the Zone Institutes, the Rotary Leadership Institute programs are now available. The Internet provides 24 hour access to the Manual of Procedure, Constitution, Minutes, and the history of Rotary plus numerous other resources. As well a variety of social media especially interactive forums provide opportunities for virtual live ongoing learning.

e) Like it or not we have entered a new age of engagement and transparency. Rotary’s current system of nominating committees is patriarchal, slow, remote, even secretive and too easily prone to charges of cronyism. Rotary can no longer afford this relic of another age. The technology exists for one-member, one-vote, self nomination with club (s) endorsement and a limited form of open campaigning akin to what already exists in certain circumstances.


This editorial has argued for a ‘Back to the Future’ approach to an era when Rotary presidents were on average 30 years younger than they are today. It has ended with a call for an even more controversial change, a more democratic nomination and election process. This too is a step “back to the future” because “In the early years, senior officials advanced in much the same way as political candidates. (and) Early Rotary conventions resembled the political rallies of today…” (A Century of Service: The Story of Rotary International page 219). The current nomination process was codified by 1970. The need to maintain an organization built on peace and fellowship and the ideal of service to others is of course as valid as ever, however, the need to find a more open and transparent system of choosing our future leaders compels us to consider new ways more in keeping with our changing times.

Also see: Rotary’s Need to Take a Trip ‘Back to the Future’: Part 1, The Problem

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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