7 reasons why people join Rotary clubs

A fellow Rotary club member, Wairimu Njage, has been elected as the 2025-26 District Governor for Rotary in the Horn of Africa. She comes with a wealth of private sector leadership experience and is the second lady governor elected in district 9212. It is important to remember that as you ascend to the pinnacle of the organisation, many will consider you superhuman and even bulletproof.

As District Governor I loved my club visits in the beautify and magnificent country of Ethiopia. My first visit was off to a booming start. I was received at the airport on a Sunday morning by Country Chair Mulunesh Tenagashaw, who I entirely relied on for the success of my Ethiopia tours. Mulunesh is a higly respected mother figure who lives by the mantra ‘fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run’.

I hoped to get a quiet moment to gather my thoughts before the busy week ahead, so I was a little dismayed when she sped past the hotel and drove me to Past District Governor Teshome Kabede’s home to meet with Club Presidents and Assistant Governors. My consternation was plastered all over my face, so Mulunesh assured me that I would indeed get that rest – when I returned home to Nairobi the following week.

The very next morning I was up at 4.30am for a 6am flight up North to Gondar. On the way from the airport to meet the members of Rotary Club of Gondar Fasiledes, I saw a man in civilian clothes standing by the side of the road casually holding a rifle across his shoulders, the way Maasais carry their herding sticks. I hesitated for a moment then asked Mulunesh whether the man might be in the army despite his attire. She said no, and without blinking disclosed that everyone in Gondar has a gun.

I really wish she had made that minor detail known before we booked the trip, giving me ample time to find a convincing excuse to postpone. Regardless, we went ahead and met with the steadfast Rotarians and had a wonderful fellowship without incident. When we got to the hospital that they support together with the Leicester Rotary Club, we took a tour of the orthopaedic wing’s brand new operating rooms which were extraordinary in their spotless state. 

The head doctor took us to the recovery wards and I had the opportunity to quietly interact with a few patients. At one point I asked the doctor whether it was road accidents or domestic violence that topped the causes of their plight. She responded that, on the contrary, they mostly suffered from high velocity gun shot wounds. I quickly turned to Mulunesh and, trying to keep calm, asked if we could return to Addis Ababa immediately.

She told me that according to the agenda, the Rotarians had planned to drive me around to experience the city’s delights. I told her that I was indeed keen to see the city, and added what I desperately wanted to see was the Atse Tewodros Airport!

There are several reasons people join Rotary clubs and each of us have our own unique combinations. Research from Headquarters shows that those motivations transform over time, as long service members gain meaningful experiences and a higher degree of purpose.

As a leader it is crucial to understand what compels people to join so that you can meet their expectations. These insights will be useful for the entire group and its collective consciousness. Over the years I have made my own personal observations and here are seven reasons why people join a Rotary club.

The first reason has to be charity, the basic need to give to others and one of the two major pillars of the club. It is a human characteristic that has kept us stronger together, and indeed firmly on top of the food chain.

The second is camaraderie – another human need for fellowship with others of like mind. It builds confidence and research shows that it adds to your wellbeing.

The third is applying your vocation for the betterment of society. This is when progress in your career is largely driven by self-interest and now you look for ways to pay your penance. It explains why we have many lawyers, bankers and marketing executives in our ranks.

The fourth is leadership skills development. This is when you realise that you have several blind spots as a corporate leader, and thus chose to experiment with alternative ideas on an unsuspecting Rotary Club.

The fifth is exposure. This is when you turn 35 years of age and still think that your mother’s cooking is the best. Then you realise that a trip to the Rotary International Convention won’t hurt and will help to broaden your outlook and possibly your tastes.

The sixth is escape. This when your spouse dominates all your conversations at home and you discover that you can get a break at least once a week, where Rotarians are willing to listen to you all night long.

The seventh is self-actualization. When the career has peaked, the retirement bounty is certain, the home is owned, and you find yourself twiddling your thumbs. At 27 all my friends thought that some screws were loose when I told them that I had joined a Rotary Club. 20 years later they are joining in droves. Every time I turn around another childhood friend is joining one of our thriving clubs.

So, remember that as leaders it is vital to assess the motivations behind a candidates interest to join, and when you have clarity, immediately give them tasks to match their expectations, skills, and outlook. Do this and I can assure you that they will stay.

Here’s another reason why matching characteristics with tasks is critical. Heaven is when you have a French cook, a German mechanic, an American salary and an African wife. Hell is when you have a German cook, a French mechanic, an American wife, and an African salary.


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