Creating greater good in partnership with innovative change makers

By Ellina Kushnir, Rotary Service and Engagement staff

Noran Sanford, a licensed social worker, a man of faith, and a vested community member, is empowering a rural U.S. community to utilize overlooked resources and pioneer change from within. In 2000, Noran moved back to his hometown in rural North Carolina, USA, where he was stunned to find his childhood community continuing to face growing challenges.

North Carolina’s Scotland, Hoke, and Robeson counties compete for the state’s highest rates of unemployment, food insecurity, crime, and poverty. Yet, Noran knew that even the most challenged community houses a wealth of untapped resources and assets.

In partnership with universities, faith centers, state agencies, correctional facilities, businesses and corporations, community leaders, and vested organizations including the local Rotary club, Noran has created a model to transform closed prisons into skills training facilities and employment incubators specifically for troubled youth and returning military veterans.

Through his organization GrowingChange, Noran began connecting young people deep in the court system to the disenfranchisement of the communities they come from: by evoking the sense of shared struggle, paroled youth and community members rally around new opportunities. In his initial five-year clinical pilot, Noran saw a 92% success rate in helping youth who were headed to prison reverse their future.

Now young people serving probation terms are leading their community to reinvent a local symbol of the broken justice system, such as a decommissioned ‘work farm’ prison in Noran’s rural North Carolina. Today, religious leaders work side-by-side with homeless youth, university professors work with high school dropouts, returning veterans with troubled youth and state leaders with their rural constituents to directly address their own biases, change their behaviors, and develop a deeper sense of civic imagination and societal efficacy.

It is precisely Noran’s work with the returning veteran community that connected him with local Rotarian Paul Tate from the Rotary Club of Laurinburg. Paul first met Noran at their community church. As a retired U.S. veteran with extensive experience in international diplomacy, Paul became a strong supporter of Noran’s community empowerment approach. Today, Paul sits on GrowingChange’s Board of Directors and uses his professional skills to shape the organization’s strategy for engaging the local veteran community. Noran plans to soon offer veterans internship opportunities, and eventually create a hub for acquiring skills within the agriculture sector while simultaneously establishing an incubator for the creation of new jobs and fostering local entrepreneurs.

Inspired by Noran’s goal to break down social barriers, Paul worked with his club’s leaders to invite a group of former gang leaders to discuss the reasons youth join gangs, becoming disenfranchised members of their very own community. Had it not been for Noran and Paul, these two groups of community members would have likely never intersected. Intrigued by GrowingChange’s model, the Laurinburg club is exploring additional ways this site can be used to empower the community alongside instrumental local change leaders. GrowingChange is preparing to launch their initial capital campaign to transform their first site in Wagram, North Carolina. The model will then be given to other communities who are struggling to reuse old prisons, more than 25 in North Carolina alone.

Noran humbly credits the many different partners that have contributed to the success of his work. In 2016, Noran was selected as an Ashoka Fellow, joining a global network of social entrepreneur peers. Through a rigorous application and screening process, Ashoka finds, selects, and supports innovators like Noran and connects them to the resources and people that help their ideas thrive. Ashoka’s network currently consists of 3,300 Fellows in more than 80 countries. Very much like Rotarians, Ashoka Fellows are community leaders with a vested interest to work in partnership with the community to identify and leverage existing assets to address local challenges.

Inspired by Noran’s story and the partnerships he’s forging with Rotarians and other community leaders? Your club can also explore opportunities to partner with innovative social entrepreneurs in your local community. Ashoka Fellows can help you develop creative, innovative approaches to solving needs in the communities where you live and work. Search Ashoka’s network of Fellows and contact for an introduction to a local change maker.

Growing local solutions to fight hunger and malnutrition

By Past District Governor Una Hobday, Chair of the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group

In 2015, 2.6 million children under the age of five died from malnutrition linked causes. The first 1000 days from conception are critical in a child’s development.  If children do not receive adequate quantities of key micronutrients, they can be irreparably impaired for life. These statistics always leave me shocked, which is why I’m serving as chair of the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group. Together with our RAG members and partnering clubs and organizations, we are working to change this fact.

One solution to malnutrition is as simple as growing the right food plants in the right places. In 2011, the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group was recognized to support clubs with their efforts to help grow the most nutritious and viable food plants in their local environments.

The action group focuses on addressing malnutrition, hunger and food security through the use of readily available local food plants. This self-sustaining solution empowers people to understand local food plant resources and allows them to feed themselves and their families.

The main obstacle people face in taking advantage of local food plants is a lack of knowledge about their importance and true nutritional value. The Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group helps clubs and districts identify the most appropriate local food plant options with the most nutritional value by creating resources and advising on related projects.  These resources help people, particularly women, understand the connection between plant selection and nutrition, and empowers them to grow a range of plants with differing seasonal requirements and maturities.

All projects (whether they be housing, water, schools, maternal health, etc.), could be further enhanced by adding a food plant solution component to them. Most people in dire situations require a sustainable way to grow and access nutritious food. The results are impressive: our partner in Vietnam has seen malnutrition reduced by as much as 95% through the implementation of a school garden

In 2015, approximately 2,600,000 children under the age of five died from malnutrition-related causes. Hunger and malnutrition is preventable. Through extensive partnerships, the Food Plant Solutions RAG can make a difference.

You and I can make a difference. Learn how you can start a program in your region and visit our website for more information. Let’s take action against hunger today, and commit to eradicating malnutrition within our lifetime.

Browse Rotary Showcase for inspirational Rotary projects addressing hunger and malnutrition. Join the discussion group on hunger in Rotary’s online community.


Making an impact in Honduras through economic and community development

By Charlene Bearden,  District 5360 District Executive Secretary

494_654781924_4I had the opportunity to go to Honduras with Steve Rickard from the Rotary Club of Calgary West, Wally Gardiner from the Rotary Club of High River, and Jim Louttit from the Rotary Club of Toronto-Sunrise, all of whom are instrumental in the Honduras Economic Community Development (HECD), a microfinance project implemented by the Rotary Action Group for Microfinance and Community Development (RAGM) in collaboration with the District 5360 Microcredit Task Force.

The groups worked with the Rotary Club of Real de Minas Tegucigalpa, Opportunity International Canada (OIC) and their operating partner in Honduras, Instituto para el Desarrollo Hondureño (IDH), to provide microfinance services in the region.

During my visit to Honduras, I got to see the great impact the project has had on the community and the people. A small loan makes such a big difference, both for the original loan recipient and by sparking ideas and initiatives amongst family and friends. As a result, spin off economies develop and often the people close to the loan recipient sign up for loans themselves.

There are more than 8,000 beneficiaries from the HECD program! One of the projects we visited was a shoemaking business where I met Milton, who was able to acquire raw materials and shoe molds through the loan program.  Another beneficiary, German, was able to repair his moto-taxi. Martha, who makes the best tortillas, was able to increase raw material supplies so she could expand into wholesale selling.

I also met Marvin, who spends hours in the open sun baking bricks with his brother. A loan allowed them to erect a lean-to so they could continue working during the rainy season. The loan was used to stockpile raw materials and increase production. Marvin has contracts to supply his bricks wholesale and is now making environmental clay ovens for export; the clay ovens produce better heat, burn less wood and burn cleaner than similar stoves.

To actually witness the impact my district is making is something I will always carry with me. I’m inspired by all Rotarians who do humanitarian work at home and throughout the world, by every project you take on and by every person you touch.

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The Rotarian Action Group for Microfinance and Community Development (RAGM) is a group of Rotarians whose purpose is to provide global leadership to assist clubs and districts in effective Microfinance and Community Development programs. Contact the group for assistance with your economic and community development projects.



Sustainable Development Goal in action: New Economic and Community Development Trend with Rotarians

By Bonaventure Fandohan, Area of Focus Manager for Economic and Community Development

Over the past 25 years, the number of workers living in extreme poverty has declined dramatically despite the lasting impact of the 2008 economic crisis and global recession. In developing countries, the middle class now makes up more than 34 percent of total employment – a number that has almost tripled between 1991 and 2015.  However, as the global economy continues to recover, we are seeing slower growth, widening inequalities, and not enough jobs to keep up with a growing labor force.[1]

wcms_396387The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to end poverty, encourage growth, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.[2] These 17 Goals, which built on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), encourage us to focus our efforts on promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth and achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all. This eighth SDG goal is actively being realized by The Rotary Foundation’s support of Rotarian-led projects to create measurable and enduring economic improvement in lives and communities; for example, Rotarians are helping bring vocational and entrepreneurship trainings to their communities to build capacity for local economic advancement.

Recently, Rotarians around the world have increased global grant applications focused on creating more local work opportunities.  In South Korea, the Rotary Club of Youngilman, District 3630, worked with Rotarians from District 3470, Taiwan, to create a mushroom farm and training center for mushroom growers to supporting 20 people with disabilities in the city of Pohang-si. In the same country, the Rotary Club of Cheonan Sky Club collaborated with District 3830, Philippines, to design a program empowering 30 migrant women in the city of Cheonan.

In Brazil, Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Rio de Janeiro partnered with Rotarians from District 1820, Germany, on a grant promoting inclusion of socially vulnerable women. That project, called Mulher Empreendedora, was designed to provide vocational training to 120 women in five communities on topics including fostering entrepreneurship, economic, social and cultural development, citizenship, health and welfare in Rio de Janeiro.

In Texas, USA, the Rotary Club of Sugar Land, District 5890, and the Rotary Club of Torreón, District 4110, Mexico, assisted 210 inmates from the Darrington Correctional Facility by sponsoring innovative educational opportunities through the development of vocational skills before their release into their communities. The Rotarians partnered with Alvin Community College to develop a market-based training that would help inmates in the program get hands-on experience in business, networking, and leadership.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the club Lubumbashi-Etoile, District 9150, and the Rotary Club of Heerleen, District 1550, Netherlands, partnered to sponsor a vocational training program for 450 underprivileged youth to become craftsmen in building and construction, car and equipment maintenance, and other technical areas. This program, designed in partnership with Cite des Jeunes, a local organization, gives at risk youth an opportunity to get or create new jobs in Lubumbashi or neighboring areas.

These examples, amongst many others, show that sustained economic development is not possible without improved employment opportunities. As our efforts continue around the world, we encourage Rotarians to prioritize sustainability and community ownership in projects by involving stakeholders from the onset during the community assessment stage and continuously throughout every aspect of project planning and implementation.





Reducing poverty through economic and community development

By Azka Asif, Rotary Service and Engagement Staff

Globally, 836 million people still live in extreme poverty today. About one in five persons in developing regions lives on less than $1.25 USD per day. Global unemployment has increased from 170 million in 2007 to nearly 202 million in 2012, of which about 75 million are young women and men.*

How can we change that?

By supporting projects that focus on generating income and creating productive employment opportunities, we can reduce poverty. Providing income security and empowering women, people with disabilities, youth, and the extremely poor is essential to economic and community development.

Rotarians worldwide are committed to reducing poverty through projects that provide people with equipment, vocational trainings, and work to strengthen local entrepreneurs and community leaders, particularly women, in impoverished communities. Below are a few examples of Rotarians taking action.

Growing local economies

The Constantia Rotary Club helped set up a community garden and farm training center for young residents in Khayelitsha, the largest township in Cape Town, South Africa. The club is working with Abalimi Bezekhaya, a local organization that helps create income-producing gardening opportunities, and partnered with Rotary clubs in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany.

The garden yields many vegetables and herbs that supply Abalimi’s Harvest of Hope venture, which sells boxes of produce to middle-class Capetonians for a monthly fee. As the garden grew, a training facility was built for young, unemployed people, who could benefit from the knowledge of the older farmers. The training offers both practical instruction and theory, covering topics such as soil preparation, seedling production, cross-pollination, organic growing, and climate change.

Read more about the story in the October 2016 issue of The Rotarian or online here.

Providing vocational trainings  

The Rotary Club of Panaji in India conducted a vocational training program focused on training 12 women in stitching and tailoring. The workshop was conducted over a period of ten days for four hours a day to help women gain skills to be able to earn their own living and be financially independent. After the trainings, the women were each given sewing machines that they could use to start their own tailoring business.

Strengthening local entrepreneurs

Based on a community needs assessment, the Rotary Club of Ikeja in Nigeria concluded that traders or other local entrepreneurs interested in  growing their business did not have access to funding through local financial institutions. The club provided an interest free micro-credit loan to 20 beneficiaries to be used to enhance their businesses. After three months, those beneficiaries passed along the money to another set of 20 people. Over time, the revolving fund has assisted carpenters, tailors, barbers, hair dressers, various food sellers.

During October, Rotary Economic and Community Development Month, we’ll be sharing tips and resources to help with club and district economic and community development projects. Read previous posts below focused on growing local economies and check back here for more inspirational stories!


Doctors’ Fellowship aims to empower albino community in Tanzania

By Dr. John Philip, Past District Governor and Chair of the International Fellowship of Rotarian Doctors

Albino FamilyThree years ago I was on the island of Ukerewe in Tanzania leading a Rotary project when I heard a child had been abducted and murdered. The child was an albino and was targeted by traditional healers. I was in utter disbelief when I discovered traditional healers, sometimes called witch doctors, target albinos to use their body parts in ritual practices, which they claim bring wealth and good luck. The Tanzanian government banned witch doctors in January 2015. Since then more than 200 witch doctors and traditional healers have been arrested, but many people with albinism still live under the threat of death.

People with albinism lack melanin pigment in their skin and appear to have “white” skin. They have sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation and are at risk of developing skin cancer and significant sight problems. The Rotarian Doctors’ Fellowship is supporting a campaign in Tanzania to help this marginalized and discriminated community claim their rightful place in the society and live without fear. Our project addresses many interconnected challenges – reducing stigma through village seminars, vocational training and improving eye care.

ROTARIAN WITH AN ALBINOAs a cancer specialist, my initial interest was to help this high risk group receive better treatment for skin cancer. Skin cancer is not a lethal disease and is easily preventable. I soon realized that improving skin cancer care was important, but will have little effect until other complex social issues are addressed. Through village education and peace building efforts, we sought to help persuade communities with high incidences of violence against people with albinism to abandon old beliefs and myths.

This year, I went back to evaluate the campaign and our efforts. Our local partner, the Mennonite Central Committee of Tanzania (MCC), had conducted more than 40 village education meetings engaging 2,000 villagers.  At the review meeting, I met with 16 village leaders and heard their plans of action. There had been a dramatic change in their perception about albinism and a sense of determination that they did not want the good names of their villages to be tarnished by attacks on people with albinism.

Then I witnessed something that had never happened before. I heard a joint presentation by a traditional healer and person with albinism. As a result of the year-long peace building efforts, traditional healers and people with albinism had formed an alliance called CHATAS to openly fight against albinism myths.

They called for action to bring to justice those who propagated abhorrent views. The leader of CHATAS, a traditional healer himself said, “We – the traditional healers – condemn and disown those who bring disgrace to our profession. We hope they would be debarred from practicing healing. Albinos are people just like us.”

This type of collaboration was unimaginable a year ago. The village education meetings and peace building program were funded by Rotary and implemented by our partners – MCC and Albino Peace Makers. Rotary helped make this miracle happen.

Through the Fellowship’s network of contacts, I have been able to share my experience with colleagues all around the world and thus highlight the plight of people with albinism.  The project has attracted support from seven Rotary districts and a number of organizations. I was even invited to share my experience with delegates at the Rotary International Presidential Conference on Disease Prevention and Treatment in Cannes.

PEOPLE LIKE US1Helping people with albinism is one of many projects supported by the Fellowship of Rotarian Doctors. The Fellowship offers for Rotarians, their family members, and program participants and alumni a unique opportunity to bring their vocation into service, change lives and make friends. The group shares a vision for supporting and promoting global health improvements, an enthusiasm for making advancements through volunteering, and a strong commitment to support local and international healthcare initiatives. For more information, contact me.



2016 Economic Development Presidential Conference to develop solutions for community growth


By Past District Governor June Webber, District 9350;  Chair of the Economic Development Presidential Conference host organizing committee

Rotary districts of Southern Africa invite Rotarians from around the world to join the dialogue on economic development on Saturday, 27 February, in Cape Town, South Africa, where Rotary’s Presidential Conference on Economic Development Conference 2016 will be hosted in the “Mother City”.

A primary goal of the Rotary Economic Development Conference 2016 is to provide solution driven guidelines that can be piloted and implemented after the conference, initially in Southern Africa, then internationally.


This one day conference,will focus on economic enablement by bringing together Rotarians, business leaders, government and representatives from the public and private sectors to explore solutions to Southern Africa’s unemployment crisis and create opportunities through strategic partnerships and project planning.

The conference will feature engaging speakers who will share successful enterprise development models, and breakaway sessions focused on developing partnerships with governments, civil society organisations, NGOs, micro-finance institutions, and corporations to create solution driven entrepreneurial support programs. Attendees will have the opportunity to network with fellow leaders and take away new ideas and strategies to put into action. Implementation of the suggested solutions discussed will be driven by a Conference Legacy Project Team to ensure that the good ideas are practically carried forward with action plans in place.

The conference will be a catalyst to maximize the resources in Rotary’s local and international networks, linking partners which operate in effective job-related economic and entrepreneurial enabling activities, with those entering the workplace, especially in small business enterprises.

Bookings are filling up fast and seating is limited to 350 conference delegates. For more information, please visit our website at

Please join the conversation to seek solutions to address the economic and entrepreneurial development on both the local and global platform. Stimulating dialogue will come from the African continent as well as from the USA, Europe and the East.



The Importance of Social Business and Inclusivity

By Ingrid Schwab, Regional Grants Officer, Rotary Grants

We often receive questions about how to best engage the local community in Rotarian-led service projects. One way in which Rotarians can provide service to others is by prioritizing inclusivity in their humanitarian projects. Inclusivity gives an opportunity for all individuals and groups (especially marginalized populations) to have a voice and to actively participate in the local culture and economy.[1] Rather than making assumptions about what needs may exist within a community or the best way to address them, consider instead integrating yourself in the community and taking the time to speak with and listen to all populations. This can include not only meeting with established leadership but also visiting different families at their homes and holding a general assembly meeting open to all community members. It is important to ask about needs while also taking note of existing community strengths through asset mapping and storytelling.

For Rotarians interested in grant or service projects, establishing and operating a social business is a good opportunity to put inclusivity into practice. A social business addresses a need within a community by selling local products and reinvesting the profits into the business itself. While a social business can be privately owned, its value on inclusivity should ensure that profits are used towards a public benefit and prosperity is shared among all members of the community.

Kalpeshkumar L. Gupta and Sujo Thomas provide a good example of social business and inclusivity in their 2013 case study[2] of Mirakle Couriers, a courier agency that employs low-income deaf adults in Mumbai. The founders of the for-profit company saw an opportunity to help the deaf become self-sufficient in a sustainable way through employment. They took the time to understand deaf culture in Mumbai and address their social exclusion through employment, income generation and human connection, and have seen incredible results in self-reliance and independence.

How to establish a successful social business will vary depending on the needs and dynamics of a particular community, but placing a value on inclusivity from the start can help everyone feel they benefit and have a voice. To consider supporting social business and inclusivity through a grant project, please visit Grant Activities for more information and resources.



[2] Gupta, Kalpeshkumar and Sujo Thomas. “Social Inclusion and Social Entrepreneurship Case Study of Mirakle Courier, Mumbai.” 10th Biennial Conference on Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, Gandhinagar. 20-22 February 2013.

Rotaract clubs build stronger communities through sustainable service projects

By Jessie Dunbar- Bickmore, RI Programs staff

Rotaract clubs around the world change lives by developing innovative solutions to community challenges both locally and globally. Here are just a few examples of how Rotaract clubs are making a lasting impact through economic and community development projects:

Lighting up homes

The Silay Rotaract Club (Philippines) led the Spark Up Dreams, Light Up Homes project to provide light and electricity to indigenous families living in remote villages. The project aimed to meet a basic need by providing light and electricity while minimizing the use of kerosene and other expensive and dangerous fossil fuels. Through solar power lighting, families live more comfortably, efficiently undertake household chores, and children are able to study after sundown.

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Addressing Hunger

Millions of people around the world don’t have access to nutritious food. The Baker College Muskegon in Michigan, USA volunteers at Kids’ Food Basket every Friday to pack approximately 600 meals. These meals go to children at three different elementary schools.

Providing financial education

In an effort to empower high school students to make informed financial decisions, the Rotaract Club of Nairobi-Muthaiga North in Kenya conducted financial literacy trainings. The program focused on introducing youth to sound money management practices and instilling confidence in making good financial decisions. The trainings also fostered an interest in investment and entrepreneurship.

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These projects were submitted for the Rotaract Outstanding Project Awards. Tell us about your club or district’s high-impact, sustainable project aligned with Rotary’s areas of focus. Share your success and get recognized for your outstanding service. Complete the nomination form by 1 February.



Rotarians taking action to empower communities

By Duncan Stanners, Rotary Club of Calgary West, Canada

To help grow and empower a local community in Honduras, the Rotary Action Group for Microfinance and Community Development (RAGM) teamed up with District 5360 Microcredit Task Force to implement the Honduras Economic and Community Development Program (HECD).

Microfinance is a key component to a successful economic community development project as it has been proven to be a significant tool in eliminating poverty. Through microfinance and other financial services, along with skill development and training, low-income individuals are able to lift themselves out of poverty over time.

A Honduran woman uses a press and oven funded through HECD to develop her tortilla business.

We worked with the Rotary Club of Real de Minas Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Opportunity International Canada (OIC) and their operating partner in Honduras, Instituto para el Desarrollo Hondureño (IDH) to provide microfinance services in the region.  Access to affordable loans allowed Hondurans to pay for their children’s school, provide food, shelter and health care. The women that are a part of this program have grown in social stature in a male-dominated society, and have assumed leadership positions in their communities. It is astounding to see the variety of businesses these entrepreneurs have taken on, from making tortillas to farming chickens and tilapia to stores and candle makers. As their businesses grow, they create jobs for their less entrepreneurial family and community members.

pic 1During our trips to Honduras, our translator Maria Elena Alvarez introduced us to her husband Arnoldo, the Honduran Director for Impact Water. Over the past 25 years, he has executed more than 300 water projects through his perfected methodology of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) which we incorporated into the HECD program. The sustainable methodology empowers the villages to take full project ownership establishing a water committee, securing access to a water source, providing all of the unskilled labour, naming a local water expert to be trained in water system maintenance, and collecting $1-$2 a month per family to fund future expenses required to keep the water flowing. The pool of funds collected for water maintenance is also used to provide loans to the villagers, in essence forming their own microcredit co-op.

Having access to clean sustainable water has impacted the community tremendously. Women no longer have to walk miles every day to get water and carry it back to their homes. The women can now focus on earning money for their families and growing crops to feed them. Schools are no longer closed due to lack of water and children are able to focus on their education.

Economic and community development is not just about access to funds. It must encompass all the areas of focus. It happens in a peaceful environment, free of disease, with access to clean water, education and healthy mothers and children. Rotarians can make a huge impact by empowering local communities to be self-sustainable through economic and community development projects. 

The Rotarian Action Group for Microfinance and Community Development (RAGM) is a group of Rotarians whose purpose is to provide global leadership to assist clubs and districts in effective Microfinance and Community Development programs. Contact the group for assistance with your economic and community development projects.