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The first Rotary Club was formed by Chicago businessman Paul Harris in 1905, initially as a way for businessmen to get together and benefit from the network. The organization soon became a service club, dedicated to doing good works around the world; it is the world’s oldest and largest such club, reconfigured in 1922 as Rotary International. More than a million Rotarians meet around the world in 32,000 individual clubs. The organization admitted women in 1989.
The motto that guides Rotary is “Service Above Self.” Rotary’s ethical code is expressed in its “4-Way Test: Is It Truth? Is It Fair To All Concerned? Will It Build Goodwill and Better Friendships? Will It Be Beneficial to All Concerned?”
Rotary International has played a major role, often working with the United Nations, in service works all over the world, particularly those involving children’s health. One of Rotary International’s stated purposes, announced in 1985, was to immunize every child in the world against polio; a Rotary drive led to the mass immunization of over 100 million children in India in a single day; the largest such effort in human history.
Nearly every town in the United States has a Rotary Club, (and so does the next town, and
the one after that); though the organization is international, the “local Rotary” is a strong part
of American culture. Theoretically, a local Rotary Club will often restrict membership to one
representative of every business in the area. The typical club meets for lunch weekly at a
local restaurant, conducts its business, welcomes a speaker, and serves as a network for
members. Since Rotary is huge, its service projects can vary widely. A club in a small town
might sponsor a barbecue to benefit a local youth center, purchase trash containers to promote
an anti-litter campaign, judge a youth essay-writing contest, or directly subsidize a local
charitable organization. The district, made up of dozens of Rotaries in a particular area, may
conduct fund drives to bring poor children from other countries to American hospitals for
specialized treatment, or work with schools to promote literacy drives. The thousands of clubs
in the U.S. and around the world combine for major fund raising campaigns to support the
efforts of the International organization.
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