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Rotary International weaving ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’

by Layne Stracener | March 27, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Rotary International President Jennifer Jones speaks to club members Saturday, March 26, 2022, at Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City. Jones is the first woman to be elected president of Rotary International since the organization’s inception in 1905. (Elizabeth Underwood/News Tribune photo)

Rotary International President Jennifer Jones, the first female Rotary International president in the organization's 115-year history, spoke Saturday at a training conference for Rotary leaders at the Capitol Plaza Hotel and Convention Center.

The Show Me Rotary Leadership Institute, hosted by the Show Me Rotary Council, has provided training to future Missouri Rotary leaders for more than 40 years. Three Rotary districts from across the state worked cooperatively to provide this training.

Rotary is a global network of 1.4 million people whose mission is to "provide service to others, promote integrity and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace" through its fellowship of business, professional and community leaders, according to its website.

Jones gave a speech to future Rotary presidents at a dinner in the Capitol Plaza ballroom. Before the dinner, Jones spoke to and answered questions from past Rotary leaders at a reception, where Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin proclaimed March 26 as Jennifer Jones Day in Jefferson City.

"I think we each have a story with Rotary that there were things in our lives that are so special and important that we would have never experienced without Rotary, so I welcome that experience for all, and the fact that you can be here and share with us is very important and very special for the capital city of Missouri," Tergin said to Jones.

As president of Rotary International for 2022-23, Jones leads a worldwide organization comprising 1.38 million Rotarians in 46,900 clubs in more than 200 countries. She is a member of the Rotary Club of Windsor-Roseland, Ontario, Canada.

"Imagine Rotary" is the presidential theme for Rotary for 2022-23. The theme's logo is green, purple and white, which are the colors of the women's suffragette movement.

"For me, it's just a subtle nod," Jones said.

Jones asked the new crew of governors to dress in these colors for official events instead of using a theme jacket.

"The reason was that as we are weaving diversity, equity and inclusion into our organization in the most meaningful way," Jones said. "I thought if we all looked the same, it kind of went against a little bit of the intent of what we were doing. Instead, I thought if we had theme colors, everyone can choose to wear them in the way that is most authentic to them."

Diversity has been one of Rotary's core values for many decades, but during the past two years it has "taken a concerted effort within the organization to better weave diversity, equity and inclusion" into all that it does, Jones said.

"If you look around the Rotary world, we are a very diverse population of people from all over the place. I think that discussion that's most important for us to be having in our clubs right now is, are we a reflection of our communities?" Jones said. "How do we break down the barriers for those who want to participate but might not have been someone who traditionally might have joined one of our clubs?"

Rotary's internal campaign during the past few years has focused on being people of action, but it's much more than that, Jones said.

"We're not only people of action -- we're people of purpose and people of influence," she said. "And we need to make sure that we're bringing in people through some of the lens of those definitions, as opposed to how we've traditionally perhaps sought out things."

As Rotary leaders focus on inclusion, equity, and breaking down barriers, it's important to have a warm, welcoming experience for club members and make club members fall in love with their Rotary, Jones said.

"It really shouldn't be about checking off numbers of how many people we bring in," she said. "It should be a mindset of how we make them feel welcome, and how they feel that they have an equal contribution to the organization."

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