Rotary clubs are part of Rotary International, a service club organization founded in 1905 in Chicago by an attorney, Paul P. Harris. In its present day form, over 32,000 Rotary clubs exist, in more than 200 countries and geographical areas. The Rotary motto is “service above self,” which relates to service in the community, workplace and the world. Rotary clubs are comprised of business and professional leaders who serve the community in which the club is located.
Individuals are invited to be members of Rotary, or Rotarians, as members are referred to. The criterion for Rotary club membership includes a reputation of good personal character, as well as business, professional or community reputation. Rotary club candidates must also fit into one of three categories. These categories include those who have participated in the Rotary Foundation, those who serve or have served as a community leader, and those who hold, or has held, and executive position in any worthy and recognized business or profession.
Rotary club membership is open to people of all cultures, creeds and races. The organization is not politically or religiously oriented. Until 1989, the membership was entirely male. As of 2007, there are more than 145,000 female members.
Each Rotary club has four responsibilities to the international group. One is to maintain or increase the local group’s membership. The second responsibility is to participate in service projects that serve the local community and those that serve the global community as well. Rotary clubs also support the Rotary Foundation financially and by member participation. The final responsibility is to develop leaders to serve the organization beyond the club level.
Individual Rotary clubs meet once weekly. Membership responsibilities include regular attendance, participation in service, and the promotion of new members. Rotary club members benefit from networking, leadership and service opportunities. One of the long-term interests of Rotary International include efforts to end polio worldwide. Present day concerns of Rotary include the welfare of children, improving illiteracy, protecting the environment and reducing world hunger.
Ethics have a large role in the club’s foundation. Each Rotary member is asked to apply a “Four Way Test” to his or her personal and business interactions. The Four Way Test asks a Rotarian to be truthful, fair, build goodwill and beneficial to all concerned.
The Rotary name is derived from the original practice of rotating the meeting location among the members’ offices. During World War II, some Rotary clubs were forced to disband, while others provided various forms of emergency relief to war victims. During this time, Rotary supported a conference to promote cultural exchange and international education. Chapters of the club were founded or re-started in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and other related political events.