About Rotary International

Rotary's Mission Statement


The mission of Rotary International is to support its member clubs in fulfilling the Object of Rotary by:

  • Fostering unity among member clubs;
  • Strengthening and expanding Rotary around the world;

  • Communicating worldwide the work of Rotary; and
  • Providing a system of international administration

A Brief History of Rotary


The world's first service club, the Rotary Club of Chicago, Illinois, USA, was formed on 23 February 1905, by Paul P. Harris, an attorney who wished to recapture in a professional club the same friendly spirit he enjoyed in the small towns of his youth.  The name "Rotary" came from the early practice of rotating the meetings among members offices.


Rotary's popularity spread throughout the United States in the decade that followed; clubs were chartered from San Francisco to New York.  By 1912 clubs had been formed on six continents and the organisation adopted the name Rotary International a year later.


As Rotary grew, its mission expanded beyond serving the professional and social interests of club members.  Rotarians began pooling their resources and contributing their talents to help serve communities in need.  The organisation's dedication to this ideal is best expressed in its principal motto: Service Above Self.  Rotary also later developed a code of ethics, called The 4-Way Test, that has been translated into hundreds of languages.


During and after World War II, Rotarians became increasingly involved in promoting international understanding.  In 1945, 49 Rotary members served in 29 delegations to the United Nations Charter Conference.  Rotary still actively participates in UN conferences by sending observers to major meetings and promoting the United Nations in Rotary publications.  Rotary International's relationship with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) dates back to 1943 London Rotary conference that promoted international, cultural and educational exchanges.  Attended by ministers of education and observers from around the world and chaired by a past president of RI, the conference was an impetus for the establishment of UNESCO in 1946.


An endowment fund set up by Rotarians in 1917 "for doing good in the world," became a not-for-profit corporation known as The Rotary Foundation in 1928.  Upon the death of Paul Harris in 1947, an outpouring of Rotarian donations made in his honour, totalling US$2 million, launched the Foundation's first program - graduate fellowships, now called Ambassadorial Scholarships.  Today contributions to The Rotary Foundation total more than US$80 million annually and support a wide range of humanitarian grants and educational programs that enable Rotarians to bring hope and promote international understanding throughout the world.


In 1985, Rotary made a historic commitment to immunize the world's children against polio.  Working in partnership with non-governments organisations and national governments throughout the world through its PolioPlus program, Rotary is the largest private-sector contributor to the global polio eradication program.  Rotarians have mobalised hundreds of thousands of PolioPlus volunteers and have immunized more than 1 billion children worldwide.  By the 2005 target date of certification of a polio free world Rotary had contributed half a billion dollars to the cause.



As it approached the dawn of the 21st Century, Rotary worked to meet the changing needs of society, expanding its service efforts to address such pressing issues as environmental degradation, illiteracy, world hunger and children at risk.  The organisation admitted women for the first time in 1989 and claims more than 145,000 women in its ranks today.  Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Rotary Clubs were formed or re-established throughout Central and Eastern Europe.  Today, 1.2 million Rotarians belong to 34,000 Rotary Clubs in 166 countries