What is Rotary?

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Rotary International is an organization of service clubs (known as Rotary Clubs) located all over the world. The first Rotary Club was founded in Chicago on February 23, 1905, by Paul P. Harris, and today Rotary International is recognized as the world's first volunteer service organization.  (See History of Rotary International and Interesting Bits of Rotary History.)  

The stated purpose of the organization is to bring together business and professional leaders to provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world.  It is a secular organization open to all persons regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or political preference.  There are more than 34,000 Rotary Clubs and over 1.2 million members in over 160 countries worldwide. The members of Rotary Clubs are known as Rotarians, who usually meet weekly for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, which is a social event as well as an opportunity to organize work on their service goals.

Rotary's main objective is Service - in the community, in the workplace, and around the globe. Its primary motto is "Service above Self", and its secondary motto is "One profits most who serves best".  

The Object of Rotary:

The Object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:

FIRST: The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;

SECOND: High ethical standards in business and professions, the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations, and the dignifying of each Rotarian's occupation as an opportunity to serve society;

THIRD: The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian's personal, business, and community life:

FOURTH: The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.

Avenues of Service:

For years, Rotary’s commitment to Service Above Self has been channeled through "Avenues of Service", which form the foundation of club activity.  The Avenues of Service include:

  • Club Service focuses on strengthening fellowship and ensuring the effective functioning of the club.
  • Vocational Service encourages Rotarians to practice and promote high ethical standards, recognize the worthiness of all useful occupations, and serve others through their vocations. (See An Introduction to Vocational Service and Rotary Code of Conduct.) 
  • Community Service covers the projects and activities clubs undertake to improve life in their community. (See Community Service.) 
  • International Service encompasses actions taken to expand Rotary’s humanitarian reach around the globe and to promote world understanding and peace.
  • Youth Service includes actions clubs take to help youth and young adults and recognize them for their service through scholarships and various Rotary programs including RYLARotaract and Interact, and Rotary Youth Exchange.

The Four-Way Test:

The Four-Way Test, which has been translated into more than 100 languages, is a standard of ethics that was adopted by Rotary in 1942.  It asks the following questions:

Of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?


The mission of Rotary International is to provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through its fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders.

The Rotary Foundation:

The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International is a not-for-profit corporation that promotes world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty. It is supported solely by voluntary contributions from Rotarians and others who share its vision of a better world. Since 1947, the Foundation has awarded more than US$1.1 billion in humanitarian and educational grants, which are initiated and administered by local Rotary clubs and districts.

Since 1985, when Rotary began its effort to eradicate polio, Rotarians worldwide have contributed more than $1 billion toward eradication of the disease. In 1988, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined Rotary as spearheading partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. More recently, the Gates Foundation has become a major supporter. In 2007, the Gates Foundation gave Rotary a $100 million challenge grant for polio eradication, increasing it to $355 million in 2009. Rotary agreed to raise $200 million in matching funds by 30 June 2012, and when it succeeded in doing so, the Gates Foundation contributed another $50 million to the effort.  

Since 1988, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99 percent, from about 350,000 cases annually to around 650 cases reported in 2011. The wild poliovirus is now endemic in only four countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. However, on 13 January 2012 
India marked a full calendar year without a case, paving the way for its removal from the endemic list.