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Rotary International has named October as Economic and Community Development month. I have been hearing from clubs all over the district, and I want to share what I have been learning.

Almost all of our clubs are heavily involved in this area, but many don’t realize what they are doing is building economies and developing communities.

Have you heard about Business Education Week at high schools? What an incredible way to bring training on “how to operate a business” into the classroom. For an entire week, students are put into groups where they develop a business plan and work through obstacles and financing. They even organize a trade fair where they sell their products. Offering this experience leaves a lasting impression. I wonder if Bill Gates had this opportunity when he was in high school.

There is a club in District 5020 that gives failing students a hand up, by mentoring them. The school identifies young people with potential in grade 10 (Juniors), who receive support and guidance. An extraordinarily high percentage of students in this program have full scholarships to college, many to ivy league schools. This truly will have a positive economic impact.

There are people, who, for a variety of reasons, cannot provide housing for themselves or their children. Rotarians have stepped up to help in a variety of ways. There are clubs building mini homes. Clubs are also funding community organizations who provide shelter.

One club has taken a unique approach to help with funds.  They provide the ingredients and manpower to provide a spaghetti dinner to community groups. Those groups find the facility and sell tickets and keep the proceeds, which have been as much as $10 thousand dollars. District 5020 Rotarians are changing lives by directly or indirectly providing safe shelter, which truly does assist with positive community development.

One Rotarian mentioned he requires skilled electricians and welders in his business but is finding that it is nearly impossible to find trained workers. Another told me his construction company is turning away work because no one is answering his help wanted ads. This information has prompted some clubs to take a new approach to the Scholarships they award to high school graduates. They are diversifying their financial encouragement to students by adding bursaries for students entering trade and technical schools. Those students will move into high-paying and in-demand trades, which will definitely improve the local economy.

Clubs are involved in micro-credit. We know it makes an incredible difference in developing countries, where borrowing money to start a business is almost impossible or horribly usurious. This improves the community and economies of those areas, but there is an unexpected positive outcome: we all benefit from a healthier planet. The unexpected outcome of supporting this initiative is a healthier planet. Studies have established that when people are financially secure, they care more about the environment.

If your club has looked at Economic Development in a unique way, I encourage you to share your projects. (articles in our district magazine would be a great start). We can learn so much from each other.