by PDG Carl Treleaven

Over the past year as Chair/President of RAGCED, I’ve concluded we can dramatically increase our impact. I now believe that of all 25 Rotary Action Groups, RAGCED could and should have the broadest reach, and maybe even the greatest impact, of all. That’s not to say that RAGCED is more important than the other RAGs. All Rotary Action Groups do very valuable work for Rotary, but it seems to me there’s a possibility for RAGCED to have the greatest reach and impact.

My thinking is based upon four key ideas:

  1. Community economic development is an issue of interest and concern to virtually all 35,000+ Rotary clubs around the world.
  2. The types of projects and activities within CED are extremely broad and have the greatest potential to alleviate poverty.
  3. RAGCED can be helpful to all of the other Rotary Action Groups.
  4. More than any other body within Rotary, RAGCED can help the Rotary Foundation and Rotary Clubs address the challenge of doing sustainable work. Let’s consider each of these.

The Importance of Community Economic Development

As many readers know, RAGCED was originally organized to help Rotarians do microfinance projects. Microfinance remains important, but our action group has significantly broadened the scope of its work to include all aspects of economic development. It's interesting to note that microfinance projects now represent only a small fraction of all Rotary Foundation economic development projects.

Ever since Rotary began in 1905, Rotarians have been interested in the vitality of their local communities. Other than “cause-based” Rotary Clubs and E-Clubs, virtually every Rotary Club around the world is interested in building and strengthening its local community and economy. When you think about it in terms of Rotary Clubs, that means RAGCED has nearly 35,000 potential “customers”! We should be asking ourselves, what “products and services” might we offer various types of Rotary Clubs to help them build their local economies? There is certainly not a “one size fits all” solution, but we should be able to develop a range of ways to be helpful. If we can help the average Rotary Club strengthen its economy, a lot of people will benefit.

The Breadth of Potential Projects to Alleviate Poverty

How can RAGCED and Rotary promote community economic development? Ultimately, I believe we should focus on three things:

  • Help people develop skills so they can get a job or get a better job.
  • Help people start businesses.
  • Help existing businesses grow.

These three things can benefit local communities, including the Rotary Clubs in those communities. Vocational training, a strategy to help individuals get a job or qualify for a better job, has become the single biggest category of Rotary Foundation community economic development projects. Village savings projects and microfinance are tools to help people start and/or grow a business. Again, these are all tools and strategies to help encourage economic development and alleviate poverty in virtually any community with a Rotary Club. To the extent the work we do helps lift the poor out of poverty, they become capable of solving other problems that beset them, such as lack of clean water and sanitation, malaria prevention, and medical care. With higher incomes, they can best decide what problems need to be solved.

The Ability of RAGCED to Help Other RAGs

RAGCED can not only be helpful to almost any Rotary Club, but it can also benefit nearly all of the other twenty-four Rotary Action Groups. This is because there is an economic dimension to a large part of the work the other RAGs do. While in cases such as the Water and Sanitation RAG (WASHRAG) and the Environmental Sustainability RAG (ESRAG), that’s obvious, it’s true even for the RAG for Peace. In fact, RAGCED has entered into a partnership agreement with RAGFP to help foster peace amongst young people through microfinance. If you’re interested in learning more about this, please contact Biswajit Ghosh of RAGCED or Alison Sutherland of RAGFP.

The Ability of RAGCED to Address the Issue of Sustainability

Finally, RAGCED can help Rotarians address the incredibly important issue of sustainability. We Rotarians talk about sustainability a great deal, but what exactly does it mean? To have sustainability, any given project should be “self-funding” when the grant funds are fully expended. The only projects that don’t fit this criterion are disaster relief (which is intended to be short-term to help victims get back on their feet) and polio eradication. When funding is provided for a community economic development project, there should be one of three different “sustainable” outcomes:

  • The recipient of vocational training or a scholarship should have new skills that will lead to a better-paying job.
  • The business started with Rotary funding should be profitable and not require additional funds, except for expansion.
  • The existing business that receives Rotary funding should be generating more revenue and profit than before the funding was provided.

In each case, there’s true sustainability. That type of thinking is needed for many other Rotary projects; otherwise, when the Rotary funds are used up, the project will require additional funding just to remain operational. When that happens, Rotary is effectively providing “charity funding” which, almost by definition, is not sustainable. I appreciate that this sounds pretty harsh and not very generous. Unfortunately, if our goal is to provide charity, we are defeating our goal of sustainability, because charity almost by definition is not sustainable. Charities must constantly seek out more donations to maintain their operations. The only exception to this is if the charity is operating a business that generates revenue to replace charitable contributions.

How do we make sure that in our collective quest to do good in the world, we achieve sustainability? RAGCED can help Rotarians everywhere think through these issues.

Rotarians around the world seek to alleviate poverty. Ultimately, the very best way to do that is to help people get better jobs, help start profitable businesses, and help grow existing businesses. These are the most sustainable means available. RAGCED can help you and your Rotary Club with this.

With all of this in mind, as we approach a new Rotary year, I encourage you to think about the following:

  • How could my Rotary Club foster economic development in our community during the coming year?
  • Of all the possibilities, what might be the most impactful project the club might do to foster economic development?
  • How might the club draw upon the resources of RAGCED to help move us forward?

Please feel free to call upon RAGCED to help.