Posted by Louisa Horne
Beacon, my trusty Ro-terrier, and I have enjoyed our four-year journey of district leadership and we can highly recommend the experience to anyone looking to help “move the needle” on service!  It is fun – and it can be done while working full-time and balancing family and other activities.  It takes a collaborative approach and a great team!   
It was clear from the beginning  of the journey that change was happening in Rotary and so the timing was good – I am a shift-oriented person – a disruptor perhaps – and so the opportunity to help lead a team in a changing organization with lots of moving needles, was exciting. The very best thing about the experience has been witnessing the creativity that is happening across the district – clubs trying new things. That was a core goal – to support an environment in which clubs and Rotarians would do new things – or do old things in new ways – and know there is help available from the leadership team and that Rotary welcomes innovation.  Just try stuff! 
Here are a few areas where we tried to help L.E.A.D. in alignment with Rotary’s priorities – that is, Lead with impact, enhance Engagement, encourage Agility and support Diversity, inclusion and reach:
  • Purposeful change experiments: meetings, the title, the speech – and family-work-Rotary balance!  Your Board confirmed that the role of the district is to do one thing – help clubs thrive – and so everything we do needs to fit with that.  So, we focused on providing whatever clubs requested to help them to thrive and have impact.  Rather than schedule an automatic visit, we sought requests for help in any area and the team would respond with the best expertise we had.  The request could be for a traditional visit – or for someone to help write a proposal, or develop a partnership, or help with strategic planning, or hands-on help with technology – or whatever the club wanted to increase their impact.  This meant we needed to be a team – one person could not respond to all requests and so we developed a great team – and I am proud that we welcomed new voices to the Board table including our first “twenty-something” – a former Rotaractor. I also tried a different title to highlight the team approach – and we created a video speech that introduced the whole team and offered more education about Rotary’s structure through various voices. The experiments with the title and video were to demonstrate that we can try new ways to do things… and the sky did not fall! Yay!  What can you try?
  •  Proactive use of technology: This was something we wanted to do from the beginning and the pandemic gave it a boost. Engagement is an ongoing focus of attention and now, at this time of disruption, it is even more challenging. So your district purchased five licences for Zoom to support connection – and we offered multiple training sessions to help people become more comfortable with the tools.  During this time of physical distancing, we have been hosting a weekly “talk show” to bring RI leaders from around the world to our district. Technology allows us to do this – we would not be able to host top RI leaders in our district any other way and it has been fun to talk to them each week – and give all Rotarians an opportunity to connect.  I hope we will continue to leverage technology – perhaps through “hybrid” approaches to club activities.  How can you enhance your service, enabled by technology?
  • Partnerships: Rotary needs to broaden its reach and while it is always exciting to welcome a new member at any time, we recognized that broader partnerships may be helpful in growing our impact and visibility. We chose to start with Community Foundations and the PEI group was open to collaboration. This was exciting and the Vital Signs report that Rotary sponsored and the four community engagement sessions that I facilitated for the project, helped to spread more awareness of Rotary and set the stage for a different kind of relationship. It is wonderful to see collaboration of clubs with the PEICF recently with projects to support other charities on the Island with tulip sales, and with provision of tablets to seniors. We continue to explore opportunities in Nova Scotia with the CF and other groups such as Engage Nova Scotia – and we need to be nimble and able to respond quickly when opportunities arise for collaboration. What groups can you partner with to extend the reach of Rotary?
  • Public Image: Other than “more members”, the next most common need identified by clubs is better public awareness. We have a great “image” and reputation – but still people don’t know what we do. We have traditionally not been great at telling our stories. Beacon and his 46 puppies were an idea to help with that and the hope was that a few clubs might use the opportunity to try some new things – that seems to have happened and it’s been fun to see the adventures of some of the puppies.  The point was simply to think about how to tell stories in new ways, whether with a puppy or not! We also encouraged clubs to have a fresh, contemporary look – the pandemic gave us another opportunity – to redirect funds for travel to something else of use and so we have purchased 45 new pop-up banners for all clubs, with current branding and a new look. The hope is that they will support our “re-introduction” back to our communities and replace some of the dusty blue felt that does not present a very contemporary or fresh look. It is also wonderful to see our first actual committee of about 6 people who are passionate about Public Image in place now – that team will help you move needles! A main role of the District is to help develop leaders and this team is a great example of that happening – we have a newsletter team and we created the first ever visual Annual Report.  How can you tell your stories in new and creative ways?
  • Polio:  An ongoing effort that unites Rotarians around the world continues and we aligned with a Zone and RI initiative to encourage clubs and individuals to continue to support this important effort.  Hillsborough and Kentville won contests for club dinners!  Hopefully we will be able to deliver soon!

So what did I actually do, you may wonder? I did actually visit over a dozen clubs in person for discussions of membership, strategic planning or other topics – and have virtually participated in quite a few more club gatherings during the spring. I was happy to attend a joint club gathering in Sydney at which representatives from all local clubs, and Rotaract, attended – and the Vital Signs project allowed me to spend a week in PEI in the fall and I was happy to attend 5 club meetings then. I was looking forward to spending two weeks in Newfoundland and Labrador this spring and am sad to miss that. I will always be happy to participate in any club meetings – virtually, or in person when I can, if you invite me!

I spent the first official day in this role in a pile of garbage. Literally. I actually enjoy my yearly role as “Garbage Goddess” for Harbourside’s Ribfest which happens over the Canada Day weekend – except sadly, not this year. Then it was off to Newfoundland for a great week on the west coast visiting Stephenville and participating in a parade and community meeting, and visiting Corner Brook and Humber Rotarians – and then back to NS for another fabulous Ribfest in Sydney.  Beacon and I helped with more garbage there!  Another highlight was a weekend in France… St. Pierre and Miquelon, that is.  It was exciting that for the first time, the Zone supported a facilitator, Lise Dutrisac, to join AG Jennifer, Jillian Gibson on behalf of our Foundation Committee, and me to offer a day of training in French for the dynamic club there…. well, actually, they offered the training and Beacon and I took photos!

A highlight of the rest of 2019 was spending a week in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in December. We were busy every day - attending several social events, participating in various service activities, and of course, flying to three coastal communities with Santa to deliver treats to children. What an experience of many needles being moved! It was also an incredible gift to see how the Rotary Club there fills such an integral role in the fabric of their community – and how quickly they respond to needs.   

What else? I spoke at the Premier’s Dinner event in Charlottetown and at their Charter Night Dinner, as well as participating in Amherst’s Charter night. I was happy to send Rotarian of the Year awards to various clubs – and to attend some fabulous social events – from Bollywood in Truro to an annual dinner with Halifax Northwest, to several community networking events in Sackville.  I have always loved the Youth Exchange program (it’s how I came to Rotary when my daughter was a YE student) and was excited to visit with this year’s crew at Camp Tidnish – and at their Halifax weekend event. I also had a tough decision to make about what to do on Polio Day – there were so many great activities across the district and I chose “Pegs for Polio”, which was a cribbage event with the Wolfville Club that was fun. I had another wonderful trip to the Valley to attend a celebratory event with the local Rotary Community Foundation team there. I also attended a few events with the Dalhousie Rotaract group.

I am also happy that conversations about new Passport Clubs and alternative membership models are happening in various places – and it was fun to  participate in introductory events in Halifax and Charlottetown – and to attend a “Discover Rotary” membership event in Charlottetown.  Let’s keep those conversations about alternative models doing!

The opportunities to serve don’t end – I am happy to be involved in two important strategic priorities for our district – anti-racism and a new way to approach engagement in post-COVID times.  Stay tuned for more info on those important topics.  I am also looking forward to serving three districts in our Zone as an Assistant Zone Coordinator for Membership.

Beacon and I look forward to continuing to tell stories – and will stay focused on facilitating conversations about how people can participate in Rotary, and how Rotary can be irresistible, as people take action to make a difference in our communities, around the world and in ourselves – moving needles!