Millennials: The New Service-Minded Superheroes

By Evan Burrell

Odds are you had a favourite superhero as a child. Maybe it was Superman or Wonder Woman or even Spiderman, weaving webs and leaping tall buildings in a single bound to help those in need.

Now that we’re older, we know all too well that superheroes are hard to find unless you go to the local Cineplex. But there is another place you can find modern-day superheroes: Your local Rotary Club!

Maybe you have seen the Rotary wheel on a rusty old signpost at the side of the road as you have driven past. Maybe your Grandpa was involved in Rotary. Or perhaps you’ve seen smiling Rotarians doing worthwhile things in your local community.

Rotarian Marie-Irene Richmond-Ahoua, Cote d’Ivoire PolioPlus Committee chair, inoculates a child with polio vaccine during a welcome ceremony kicking off a National Immunization Day in the village of Messikro, Cote d’Ivoire, 28 April 2013. Find the story in “The Rotarian,” October 2013, pages 45-51.

Photo by Alyce Henson © Rotary International. All Rights Reserved.

A mother waits with her babies for medical attention and vaccinations at a Rotary-sponsored health clinic in Loga, Niger, 30 March 2006. Find the story in “The Rotarian,” September 2006, pages 47-55.

Photo by Alyce Henson © Rotary International. All Rights Reserved.

What you may not know is that Rotarians are part of the world’s largest and oldest service organization in the world. For 113 years, Rotary International has been attracting good people and equipping them with the skills to be even better. Rotary superheroes aren’t bulletproof, nor can they leap buildings in a single bound. But they are real people helping others in their local and international communities. And these modern-day superheros don’t have to hide behind a secret identity!

At one point in time, people may have seen the organization as mostly old, mostly male, and mostly white. Admittedly, I have been to the “Rotary Club of Jurassic Park” once or twice before. But Rotary is closing the door on these old-fashioned views and embracing the changing culture of the modern world.

Case in point: Rotary is currently resurging with the interest of Millennials like me who want to be part of an organization that is doing things differently when it comes to helping others. With the influx of Millennials, Rotary clubs have become more inclusive with its membership and how they engage with each other and the community.

This diversity gives us the advantage of being able to see challenges in unique ways. Rotary’s members come not only from different generations but from different fields and roles. When we face an issue, we bring a wide range of experiences to ensure that we get the best answer. We apply leadership, expertise, and just a few superpowers to find unique solutions to social issues and create lasting change. We have focused our efforts in promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education, and growing local economies.

Much like our comic book counterparts, Rotary members are just regular people who go about our daily lives until “the call comes in.” One of those calls came in more than 30 years ago when the paralysing and potentially fatal Polio disease threatened countless numbers of the world’s children. Super Rotarians decided something had to be done!

Tayyaba Gul (right), of the Rotary Club of Islamabad (Metropolitan), Pakistan, leads a team of Rotary-funded Lady Health Workers in Nowshera. The team helps to address cultural gaps that can hinder vaccinations. They use cellphones to report data, allowing reports to go directly to Pakistan’s National Emergency Operations Center. Rotary International is working closely with the government of Pakistan and its GPEI partners to intensify polio-eradication efforts there by addressing cultural barriers and increasing immunization posts at border crossings and transit hubs to reach a mobile society. 18 April 2016. Find the story in “The Rotarian,” October 2016, pages 32-4.

Photo by Khaula Jamil © Khaula Jamil All Rights Reserved.

In 1985, Rotary launched its PolioPlus program, the first initiative to tackle global polio eradication through the mass vaccination of children. Since that time, Rotary has contributed $1.7 billion dollars and countless volunteer hours to the polio cause. In addition, Rotary’s advocacy efforts have played a role in decisions by donor governments to contribute more than $7.2 billion to the effort.

Rotary’s long fight against polio has helped reduce polio cases worldwide by 99.9 percent since the 1980s, when the world saw about 1,000 confirmed cases of polio per day. That is true superhero status!

Millennials have been attracted by the same things that have attracted every other generation to join Rotary: We want a sense of purpose. We want to belong to something greater than ourselves. We want to be heroes! This is why we make a difference in communities around the world, and this is why we have helped immunize more than 2.5 billion children against polio!

But in Rotary, it’s not just about saving the world; it’s also about fun. Rotary has helped get me out of my own bubble and meet people from all walks of life. I’m constantly learning from these shared experiences by networking with others within the club, the larger organization, and the local and international community, be it face-to-face or via social media connections. We are a diverse group with one specific commonality: Rotarians are people of action who want to make a tangible difference.

There has been much discussion in the Rotary community about social innovation – the process of harnessing social media to both draw in ideas from a wide range of people and share one’s own message. I am personally promoting the concept of Rotarians as today’s much-needed heroes on social media. I’m presenting a lighter, more fun, more in touch, and humorous side to Rotary, and I see it grabbing the attention of members and non-members alike.

Social media has made Rotary more relatable in the modern world, especially to Millennial members who may feel disconnected with some of the old formalities of a 100-year-old organization, but who are avid users of social media. My own club, for example, is using Facebook and LinkedIn to connect with local and international non-profit organizations to find environmental, humanitarian, and economically viable projects for member participation. We are using GoFundMe to source finance projects and social media to gain exposure for our causes.

Millennials are the lifeblood of Rotary, bringing fresh ideas and insights and keeping our clubs alive and relevant. In turn, young professionals are seeking a sense of purpose and belonging that Rotary provides. It’s a perfect match.

I’ve been inspired by the superheroes I’ve encountered in Rotary, the passion they pour into their roles, and the results they achieve. These heroes live, eat, and breathe the positive culture of the organization, and are rewarded by the huge amount of goodwill and support that Rotary receives.

Superheroes don’t just exist in comic books or on the big screen. And luckily, we don’t need to put on a cape to be effective. Each of us has the power to do some good in the world and make a difference in the lives of others. That is why I’m proud to be a Rotary Hero.

Rotary’s Four-Way Test

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?

In 2000, Evan Burrell completed his professional training at the Ryde School of Horticulture in Sydney, working as a horticultural landscape designer for 10 years including time at the world famous Taronga Zoo.

In 2012, Burrell decided to develop his skills in the areas of strategy planning, digital communication and community management. This led to a position as Digital Media Coordinator in 2014 for the regional magazine Rotary Down Under (RDU).

Burrell has expanded his skills to educating local professionals and businesses across Australia, focusing on the practical use of social media development. Burrell is an accomplished public speaker, emcee, trainer, social media advocate and hardworking Rotary volunteer.

Evan Burrell
Digital Media Coordinator
Rotary Down Under