My First RIBI Conference

Why did I go?

I enjoy my Rotary and pretty much always have done.  I enjoy the social side but more importantly the best part is making a difference to other peoples’ lives. Most of the time all you get back will be a smile or a simple thank you, and you know what?  That’s enough and I am proud to have made that difference.

On my own I couldn’t have done it, wouldn’t know where to have started and if I had tried to do it on my own I might not have achieved very much.

Being part of Rotary is being part of a team and a family.  When we all club together we can make a real difference to peoples’ lives either at home or anywhere else in the world.  Even an organisation the size of Rotary and with the global reach it has can’t solve all the world’s ills (if only) but we can and do make a significant difference.

So, why did I go to the RIBI national conference?  Well, having been to a number of conferences at the district level, which have been great, I wanted to see what other Rotarians and their clubs across the country were doing and to take the opportunity of meeting with them.  I wanted to learn more about Rotary, to get new ideas for possible projects, the learning opportunities for Rotarians; I achieved all of that.  To see what Rotary is doing outside of our club and the district is awe inspiring and makes me proud to be a Rotarian.

That’s why I went.

What did I hear and see?

I’ll start with the not so good.


I did learn that all in the garden is not rosy in RIBI – fact.  This is mainly due to the decline in Rotary membership in RIBI (and elsewhere in the world).  You might ask why this is, why are people leaving Rotary, what is turning them away?  Well the number of people leaving is a concern, but the biggest concern is that Rotary in RIBI is an aging organisation; the expression “male, pale and frail” was used by the RI President K.R. “Ravi” Ravindran.  It’s not so much people are leaving but they are dying!  Currently the average age in RIBI is 73 years – this is not sustainable for an organisation like Rotary.

RI President Ravi made the point that Rotary needs to be more inclusive (which we are in our club), i.e. to accept more women, people with other ethnic backgrounds – basically everyone is welcome.  He did have a dig at those clubs that are all male and those that refuse to change calling them Jurassic and telling them that they will be dead in 10 years (in some cases that will be literally).

Clubs need to be more innovative and flexible about how they work, operate and do all the good stuff that they and we do.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel though (it’s not the train coming towards us) and that is that there are a lot of young people around who want to be part of Rotary, who want to give back to society locally and around the world.  They may not know it yet, we just have to engage with them and tell them about us.  We have an opportunity to reduce the average age in Rotary and grow the family – we just need to talk to these people and tell them what Rotary will give them, not just what they can do for Rotary.  Rotary provides a whole world of opportunities and learning.

I got a lot of feedback from my presentation saying how much they liked what we are doing and that it is the way forward for Rotary.  

I spoke to RI President Ravi and he said what we are doing makes a lot of sense and encouraged us in our endeavours.  

We should be proud of what we have accomplished so far – we are definitely leading the way in Rotary.

Now for the good stuff.


There is a lot of fantastic work going on by many clubs both in service and in fund raising. They vary from the tried and tested to innovative and wacky.

I’m not going to go through everything I saw and heard but want to give you a flavour of what
people are doing.

The Rotary Club of Sidcup is working very successfully on a youth employment project. They started by approaching their local Job Centre to find out how they could help and began mentoring sessions for those unemployed over 13 weeks,
This did prove to be successful but it did highlight that many were unemployed as a consequence of poor preparations in schools.  They then introduced sessions in the schools, which was welcomed.

So far they have helped over 600 young unemployed people and over 1,000 in local schools.  This project has now been taken up by a number of other clubs, with others hopefully following.  It is available for all clubs to use.

This shows that there is a need out there to help young people whose lives are blighted by unemployment.  Rotary has the ability to put that right and the only thing it costs is time.

Ken Robershaw – a former policeman and past district governor has been working with The Theodora Children’s Charity, who provide specially trained entertainers to hospitals and hospices around the UK.  He called them “chuckle nurses”. 

He and a former RYLA attendee sailed the 2.350 miles of the Mississippi River in 58 days and in the process raised thousands of pounds towards his charity.  Even though it was somewhat extreme by day to day standards, it was worth it, he said.

Andy Dunlop – of the Rotary Club of Sleaford told of his wacky and now global way of raising funds by throwing and catching eggs.  The basic game comprises of a “Tosser” and a “Catcher”. The idea is to be able to throw and catch the eggs without breaking them – this is a team game. He then demonstrated to us the art of playing Russian roulette.  You have a large egg tray with just 6 eggs in it.  All but one are hard boiled and you and another person take it in turns to select an egg and smash it against your forehead.  The loser is the one who finds the fresh egg. Teams and participants are charged and can get sponsors.  Allan didn’t exactly say so but I think there might also have been some beer involved in this too.  Oh yes, the UK are the current world champions.

Jenny Agutter OBE and Sir Richard Stilgoe – spoke about their wonderful charities, the Shakespeare Schools Festival and the Orpheus Group respectively with both giving brilliant demonstrations of the skills and capabilities of children with disabilities.  Not a dry eye in the house.

The laughter came from Geoff Miller OBE, former England cricketer and selector, 10 O-Levels…..taken!  His tales of his cricketing life and experiences had the whole audience in raptures and you didn’t need to know anything about cricket to enjoy it.

The Young Citizens Awards – awards made by Rotary clubs recognising the achievements of young people through adversity and handicap – amazing. 

Finally, there was the Exhibition Hall where there were stands promoting a number of Rotary projects e.g. tools for self-reliance, shelter box, disaster aid, Rotary eye project to name but a few. My favourite was the “Literacy in a Box”; this is Rotary working with schools creating an awareness of these and working together to give Zambian children hope that through education they may have a better future.  A box with school materials for 25 children and delivered only costs £325.

What did I learn?

I learnt that;

  • Rotary has to continue to find and recruit new and younger Rotarians – RotaKids and Interact are an avenue – what about their parents?
  • There is nothing that Rotary can’t do if it puts its mind to it – and it usually does e.g. 
  • Polio eradication started with a Rotarian that had an idea, so did Shelter Boxes and there is so much more
  • Rotary is changing and evolving and has a great future ahead of it
  • By working together Rotary has, is and will continue to change people’s lives for the better

I learnt that I am still proud to be a Rotarian and part of the Rotary team and I’m excited about the future and what we as a club can contribute.  I am looking forward to the next RIBI conference in Manchester next year.