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The Keys to Engagement: Understanding and Delivering Personal Value Keeps Rotary Fulfilling

We know that people engage with Rotary to make connections, find opportunities for personal growth, and develop leadership skills, all while making a difference in the world.

A 2020 survey reconfirmed that our members, more specifically, value community service, friendship, and professional development. Knowing this helps us meet their needs and give them reasons to stay involved.

Our focus, then, should be offering more of these meaningful experiences. How do we do this? Two main ways are by fostering mentoring relationships and by supporting activities that let people use their skills in new ways or build new skills through membership and service.

Mentoring for growth

A 2002 study by Melenie J. Lankau and Terri A. Scandura found that mentoring relationships in the workplace contribute to people’s individual growth, help them reach goals, provide role models, and offer them social and psychological support. All of these can lead employees to stay in their jobs longer.

We see this in Rotary as well. Flavia Maria Nakayima Miiro, an epidemiologist who has been involved in Rotary since a friend invited her to join the Rotaract Club of Makerere in 1995, says she has benefited from Rotary in many aspects of leadership development, particularly in mentoring relationships.

She experienced this as a Rotaractor, while she was pursuing a social sciences degree at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

“We would get Rotarians to speak to us about the career paths they have taken and how impactful Rotary has been in their lives. The interaction I had with different Rotarians, seeing the respect they had in society and seeing how Rotary could open doors, was enough to convince me,” says Miiro, who joined the Rotary Club of Kampala in 2005 and is now a member of The Rotary Foundation Cadre of Technical Advisers who focuses on disease prevention and maternal and child health. “Then, when I became more established career-wise, I mentored Rotaractors at the university to give them career guidance.”

Miiro understands that either being or having a mentor can lead to meaningful personal and professional experiences — two things that appeal to both new and longtime participants.

“As a former Rotaractor, I know many Rotaractors in Uganda have joined Rotary because of those relationships. We have talks and mentorships with [Rotary members], but we also look at professional opportunities when that relationship is built, so that in Africa, where employment challenges exist, people get opportunities,” Miiro says.

Mentors can also encourage people “to step out of their own mental frames and into another’s,” according to the same 2002 study by Lankau and Scandura. Miiro’s Rotary membership continues to be influenced by such mentors.

“One member who made a lasting impression on me was a Ugandan Rotarian who used to say, ‘If I’m not there, then who is there?’ That saying comes to me whenever I feel like making an excuse. And then there was the late Sam Frobisher Owori, who was a member of my Rotary club. Sadly, he passed away a year before he was supposed to take office as Rotary president. He would attend meetings and projects diligently, impressing me with his humility and leadership. People like that have had an impact on me.”

Using and building skills in service

Having or being a mentor can play an important role in another key component of engagement: how people use their skills and learn new ones.

Lankau and Scandura’s research shows that mentoring relationships help people develop interpersonal skills and provide other learning experiences that increase engagement. The researchers also note that relationships are a major factor in personal learning, which includes communicating effectively, listening attentively, and solving problems.

All those skills are part of Rotary’s people of action mindset. They make us into leaders who can get things done and positively influence others.

Miiro has experienced this since her time in Rotaract, when her club volunteered at monthly health camps that offered immunizations and dental care in a community near Kampala. Children under age 10 received toothpaste and toothbrushes each year. Miiro recalls teaching a six-year-old boy how to brush his teeth.

“Before our health camps, teeth brushing was never something for children. They would just rinse their mouth,” she says. “By providing the toothbrush and dental health education, the community as a whole learned about dental care and, in time, the number of people presenting with cavities was reduced.”

As a researcher and expert in public health and analysis, Miiro is familiar with needs assessments that identify gaps in service, but they often come from the assessor’s point of view. She finds Rotary’s community assessments, which propose solutions based on what residents say they need, more effective.

“Rotary’s emphasis is on assessing the problem through the eyes of the people in that community, and whatever solution you come up with is from the community’s point of view,” she says. “You have their participation, and they tell you what they want to see.”

Setting people up for long-term involvement

Being in mentoring relationships and finding other opportunities to build her skills have kept Miiro interested in Rotary for more than two decades. Even now, while living in the U.S. and working toward a PhD in epidemiology at the University of Arizona, she attends her home club’s meetings virtually, and she has also gotten involved with two local Rotary clubs.

Miiro’s experience shows that meaningful engagement on both a personal and a professional level is a valuable feature of Rotary. Lankau and Scandura tell us that “mentors provide a unique resource for the types of personal learning required ... in today’s complex and rapidly changing environment.”

By providing those kinds of relationships, and opportunities to build and use skills, we make it more likely that Rotary participants will stay involved for years to come.


Review the Membership Assessment Tools guide to determine whether your club is offering experiences that engage members.

Use the Introducing New Members to Rotary guide to foster interaction between new and established members and inspire newer participants to become active members.

Take the Mentoring Basics class in the Learning Center or recommend it to others.

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