By Jennifer Lee Atkin, Rotary International News -- April 28, 2010

After more than an hour of debate, district representatives at the 2010 Council on Legislation voted Monday to make e-clubs a permanent part of Rotary International.

The measure, approved by a vote of 430 to 85, received loud applause.


"This will allow Rotarians with physical disabilities or [scheduling] restraints to meet regularly and conduct service projects through the Internet," said RI Director Antonio Hallage as he presented the proposal to the Council. Representatives from Rotary's 531 districts are convening in downtown Chicago this week to consider more than 200 proposals, some that would make changes to RI constitutional documents.

Submitted by seven Rotary e-clubs along with the RI Board of Directors, the measure makes permanent the six-year-old e-club pilot project, which is set to end on 30 June.

Enactment 10-06 defines e-clubs as Rotary clubs that meet electronically. A separate amendment, approved by a vote of 311 to 197, allows for two e-clubs per district. E-club members have the same responsibilities as other Rotarians to conduct service projects and promote The Rotary Foundation.

Some of the pilot e-clubs meet solely through online forums, while others combine electronic with in-person meetings. Each e-club makes that determination for itself.

Noting that the average age of an e-club member is 47, supporters of the enactment noted that the clubs are an effective way to recruit younger Rotarians. "If our organization is to grow globally, we must embrace new ways to invite young members," said Lucinda General, the representative from District 5510 (Arizona, USA).

The 14 e-clubs boast 360 members in 30 countries and geographical areas, and 586 service projects. E-clubs conduct meetings in Chinese, English, Finnish, Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish. Collectively, they have contributed almost US$150,000 to the Foundation.

"I was worried that the e-club measure wouldn't pass," said Gerald Sieberhagen, of District 9270 (South Africa). "Anyone who had taken the time to visit an e-club site before this meeting would have seen the huge value e-clubs offer to the organization. There's a huge opportunity for more e-clubs to be chartered."

Some representatives expressed concern that e-clubs would introduce unintended side effects if they were made permanent. "As the number of e-clubs increases, there may be a situation in which there is division between the e-clubs and the ordinary clubs. I don't think that this is something we would want," said Chohei Hashimoto, of District 2650 (Japan).

Others noted that too many questions remained unanswered about e-clubs. "Which PETS [presidents-elect training seminar] does the president of the e-club attend, assuming he or she is not physically in the district? How does the district governor do his/her official visit?" asked Chris Offer, the representative from District 5040 (British Columbia, Canada). "Do we have to develop specific online training for one club in the district? There are probably more questions than answers today."

Douglas W. Vincent, of District 7080 (Ontario, Canada), said e-clubs presented an opportunity too valuable not to embrace. "This is not taking anything away from Rotary; it's adding to Rotary."