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  • Paul Van Nest


In 1917, Rotary International President, Arch Klumpf made a donation of $26.50: “It seems eminently proper that we should accept endowments for the purpose of doing good in the world.” The fund increased slowly until the death in 1947 of Paul Harris, Rotary’s founding father. Memorial gifts poured in raising the fund to $1.3 million dollars.

The Rotary Foundation transforms donations into service projects that change lives both close to home and around the world. Since its founding more than 100 years ago, the Foundation has spent more than $4 billion on life-changing, sustainable projects.

Today, the Rotary Foundation has two funds. The Annual Fund invests donations received each year for a three-year period (US$360 million in 2019), using the income to pay operating expenses. The capital is then expended in the fourth year. On the other end, the Endowment Fund holds the capital forever, expending only the investment income each year; $472 million is currently invested.

Rotary Foundation funds are allocated through a variety of programs:

  1. Since 1988, through PolioPlus, Rotary and its partners have immunized more than 2.5 billion children against polio with Rotary committing more than $2 billion so far. The goal is to eliminate the virus entirely and keep it from returning anywhere in the world.

  2. Each year, the Foundation supports the training of peace fellows at six Rotary Peace Centers, where they earn master’s degrees or professional development certificates. Since 2002, 1,284 fellows have graduated from the Rotary Peace Centers and are working in more than 116 countries.

  3. District grants support small-scale, short-term projects related to the Foundation’s mission. Individual Rotary clubs apply to their respective districts to help bolster funds raised locally for community projects.

  4. Global grants fund large-scale international activities with sustainable, measurable results that support Rotary’s six areas of focus. Activities include humanitarian projects, scholarships, and vocational training teams.

In 2019, the Rotary Foundation awarded $335 million to these programs: $151 million (45%) towards PolioPlus, $18 million to providing clean water, $11 million to supporting education, $10.5 million to growing local economies, $7 million to saving the lives of mothers and their children, $3.5 million to promoting peace.

Much of what is raised for the Rotary Foundation comes from individual Rotarians through the Paul Harris Fellowship Award. In 1957, this recognition program was instituted to acknowledge individuals who contributed (or who had contributions made in their name) US$1,000 to the Rotary Foundation.

The Rotary Clubs in Kingston have since developed a practice of supporting the Foundation by honouring both Rotarians and non-Rotarians for their exceptional community volunteer contributions. Each club has set up an Awards Committee to annually bestow upon individuals the highest honour a club can award. The presentations are gala events and introduce us to community leaders who truly make a difference. Some of you reading this article may well be Paul Harris Fellows: our congratulations!

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