All Things Rotary: A CDS Podcast

But Like, How Do I Effect Change?

September 14, 2021 CDS Americas Season 2 Episode 2
All Things Rotary: A CDS Podcast
But Like, How Do I Effect Change?
Show Notes Transcript

Policies are sometimes seen as a roadblock for clubs, but did you know that they can actually be a road map to change? Putting it in writing solidifies the current needs of Rotary members, and gives us a course for the future. On this month's episode, we discuss the Council on Legislation, the event where updates to our governance documents are made. Most exciting of all, we learn how you, as a member of Rotary, play a crucial part in creating these changes.


Wyn Spiller, member of the Rotary Club of Grass Valley, California, USA and Council Trainer, COL 2022

Sarah Christensen, RI Staff: Supervisor, Council Services


Nick Taylor, CDS Associate Officer 


Sarah Steacy, CDS Associate Officer


John Hannes, CDS Senior Officer

All Things Rotary: A CDS Podcast 
2.02: “But Like, How Do I Effect Change?” 

Host: Nick Taylor, CDS Associate Officer

  • Wyn Spiller, member of the Rotary Club of Grass Valley, California, USA and Council Trainer, COL 2022
  • Sarah Christensen, RI Staff: Supervisor, Council Services

Producer: Sarah Steacy, CDS Associate Officer
Contributor: John Hannes, CDS Senior Officer

[Intro Music Begins]

SARAH STEACY: Hey, Nick -  Do you know what's special about this Rotary year?

NICK TAYLOR: The fact that the Summer and Winter Olympics are happening in the same year?

SARAH: Ugh! Of course this comes back to sports! No! I'm talking about something way more exciting...the 2022 Council on Legislation!

NICK: Oh, snap! I forgot...when is that happening again? 

SARAH: April of 2022!

NICK: Oh, cool. But, like...why is that a big deal?

SARAH: Remember, in a previous episode, how we talked about how club bylaws make a club unique?

NICK: Yeah, of course!

SARAH: Well, all the other governance documents are what unites clubs across the globe. And, every three years, each district sends a representative to the COL (or, Council on Legislation) to vote on these changes. And you want to know what else is super-cool about it?

NICK: What?

SARAH: It's the Rotarians who get to directly propose the enactments for these changes!

NICK: Oh, cool! Excited to hear from our guests today about each individual member's role in the COL.

[Music continues]

SARAH: This episode is brought to you by the 2022 Proposed Legislation, which you can access through your My Rotary account.

[Music fades]

NICK: Well thanks, everyone, for joining us today on this next episode of All Things Rotary: a CDS Podcast. We're excited to have two different guests here with us on this particular episode. I want to introduce Wyn Spiller and Sarah Christensen. I want to give them the opportunity to tell us who they are and how they're involved with Rotary. So, Sarah do you mind kicking us off?

SARAH CHRISTENSEN: Sure! My name is Sarah Christensen and I am the Council Services Supervisor. I've been working with the Council since about 2013, and this will be my fourth Council that I've been helping to manage as the Council Services Supervisor. I help manage the legislative side of the Council. So, thank you for having me!

NICK: Yeah, happy you're here! Thanks for joining us. And next, we also have Wyn Spiller!

WYN SPILLER: Delighted to be here, thank you! Yes, Wyn Spiller, and I am very honored to be serving as the COL Trainer this year for the 2022 Council. I have been an alternate, a representative, and also served as the chair of our district's nominating committee for the next COL representative.

NICK: Perfect! So, for all of our many listeners, they know that this podcast is really a Club and District Support podcast, right? CDS. All Things Rotary: a CDS Podcast. And one of our main jobs as a club and district support officer is to deal with policy, and to answer questions with policy. And the way I like to describe it is: it could be something as simple as changing your name, and what's the name policy, all the way to some, you know, more extreme situations even involving situations with harassment - what's the policy with that, right? And everything in-between. And, we're really excited about this particular episode because we get to talk about where the policy came from. And that's something that we don't always know, where it came from, and there's a lot of misconceptions out there as to where, you know, how it originated, who had a part in that. We often times get blamed for, you know, creating such policy - and so we're really excited to kind of explain exactly how that happened, and most of it comes from the COL. So, let's just start from the beginning. What is the COL? And, either of you can jump on in. What is the COL? What is Council on Legislation? What even is this? 

SARAH: The Council on Legislation - or COL for short - is essentially Rotary's Parliament. So, this is the way that Rotary goes about changing its constitutional documents. So it is the RI Constitution, RI Bylaws, and the Club Constitution. Part of this process is to make updates to the constitutional documents. In addition to the COL, we have the Council on Resolutions which our COL representatives also participate in. The resolutions are a way for clubs and districts and the Board to suggest changes to the RI Board, or to the TRF Trustees, of how they could do some changes that are not necessarily related to the constitutional documents. And that is kind of how I describe the Council on Legislation because I am coming at it more from a legislative side. I don't know Wyn, if you have a little bit of a different description coming from the representative side?

WYN: Uh, no - it's a really extraordinary opportunity that we all have as Rotarians to have a voice in the governance of our organization. And it's one that I certainly encourage all of us to take advantage of, because the way that the constitutional documents are changed at the COL is through creating enactments - proposing enactments that are then presented to the Council. And the Council, as you probably know, meets every three years to deliberate and vote on these proposed changes with representatives from every district in the world of Rotary. So, it's an exciting opportunity that we all should take advantage of.

NICK: Alright, perfect! Well, thanks so much for that explanation. I think, like we said, it's really helpful to know where all of this comes from - where the policy comes from and how it's actually made. And something that, Wyn, you said that is so fascinating is, you know, there's representatives from every single district in the world, right? 

WYN: Yep!

SARAH: I know, for me, it's one of the exciting parts of my job - is that, I can be communicating with someone from India in the morning, and somebody in the US, and then somebody in Indonesia at any point of the day and I just, I love that international-ness of the Council and how we really have a wide variety of people involved. 

NICK: And how do - I mean, how does that individual get selected? Like, how does the district representative actually become the district representative?

WYN: Well, first of all, it's really nice to consider the fact that every district in the world selects a representative and an alternate, just in case the representative isn't able to serve. To be selected, you have to be a member of a club in the district, you need to have served a full-term as district governor at the time of the election, and then be able to attend not only  the mandatory training, but to attend the Council for its full duration. Interestingly, there's a proposed enactment coming to the 2022 Council that adds, potentially adds, one Rotaractor representative per zone to the Council. The process is done by either nominating committee - similar to the nominating committee selecting district governors - or representatives may be elected at the district conference or through a club ballot process. Representatives serve for three years, so the representatives for the 2022 Council were selected by June 30th of 2020 and their term goes from July 1st of '20 to June 30th of 2023. So, the year preceding the Council, the year of the Council, and then the year following the Council.

NICK: Nice! And I kind of liken this a little bit to local government, right? Or Federal government here in the States, for example, you have your senators and you elect your senators, and your senators go to Congress and they, kinda, they work based on their constituents and what their constituents want, right? And if their constituents aren't happy, then they vote 'em out of office essentially. And so, how does a district representative ensure that they're doing everything based on the wills of...I guess we can call them their constituents, you know, the Rotarians within the district?

WYN: Well, it's very interesting because I think that each representative does have a responsibility to have a sense of their constituents but, actually, the decisions should be made at the Council after listening to all of the debate and points of view. It's one of the great strengths of our organization, that we do have this internationality and diversity of views. And when you're considering enactments at the Council, you have to remember you are making a decision for the entire world of Rotary. Not necessarily just what you think might benefit your own district or club. You need to be thinking globally about how it will impact, and is it an important change for the world of Rotary.

NICK: Mhmm. Yeah, and I mean we oftentimes talk about the different constitutional documents being, you know, the Recommended Rotary Club Bylaws, the Standard Rotary Club Constitution, the Rotary International Bylaws and the Code of Policies. And oftentimes in our position in Club and District Support we get asked, "well, you know do I have to follow the Standard Rotary Club Constitution?" And we have to explain that, yeah, it's the standard for everyone in the entire world, so every single club whether you're in Malaysia, whether you're in, you know, a club in Africa continent or if you're in Australia, or here in North American continent - like, these is, and so you're right you're not just making policy for one region or one district, but this is the policy for the entire world. And, could you explain a little bit more about the enactment process? Like, how that actually goes in. Where does it start? How does it end up becoming policy?

WYN: Well, it begins first and foremost with Rotarians thinking about changes they might like to see. So, that is the beginning! And, at the club level a Rotarian may have a proposal. Each proposal has to include a statement of purpose and effect, and describe an issue, and how the proposed legislation would address that issue. That goes to the club's board of directors and if they - they submit it to all of the club members for adoption at a regular club meeting - and if it is adopted by the club, then it is forwarded to the district with a letter signed by the president and the secretary certifying that the club has adopted this. And then, the clubs in the district have to endorse the proposed legislation - and that can happen during a district conference, or a special resolutions meeting, or a ballot-by-mail - and if the district, by those votes endorses it, then the district governor submits that through an online process by December 31st a couple of years ahead of the next Council and verifies that, in fact, the district does endorse this proposed enactment.

SARAH: Yep! And that's kind of where my team takes over from there, is that we receive the legislation. The deadline for the 22 Council was December 31st of 2020 - and so, just this past December. And once we have the enactment we go through it, we make sure that everything is duly proposed so that it has a proposer, a purpose and effect statement, is under the word limit, and that it's been endorsed by the district, and submitted by the deadline. So, once we've determined that it's duly proposed we're able to move forward with it, draft up the enactment, and then we send it over to the Constitution and Bylaws Committee. The Constitution and Bylaws Committee reviews all enactments on behalf of the Board and determines whether the enactment is regular or defective. And enactments have a variety of defective reasons - one is if...let's see...if it's illegal. [all chuckle] So, if somebody is suggesting a, um - I think the one example I use is if they're suggesting an age restriction on Rotarians, that "you can't be over 70 and be a Rotarian." And so, in some countries an age restriction is going to not be legal. Other reasons that it could be defective would be if it's subject to two or more meetings so, basically meaning that an enactment, it's not very clear what they're saying - and so, often we'll ask for clarification. Or if it's impossible to administer or enforce, that tends to be one of our more defective reasons. So, it's just that either the timeline for implementing the enactment is much too short, or what they're requesting just really is impossible - that, we just don't have the structure within Rotary to be able to implement something, or they're asking for something that's kind of out of the hands of Rotary International, maybe it's something, a requirement at a club or district level. And so, the Constitution and Bylaws Committee goes through and reviews all of the enactments and determines which ones are regular, which ones are defective. The defective ones do, typically, have an opportunity to fix them. They usually get at least one round of "here's what was wrong, let us know how you want us to fix it, and we can review it again." And there's usually one or two rounds of that, depending on time. And then, all of the regular items of - all the regular enactments - then get approved by the Board and then are published to our representatives! In fact, we just - last week we sent out our book of legislation to all our representatives, alternates, and governors and so everybody should have the current enactments!

NICK: Nice! And who makes part of this committee?

SARAH: So, it is an RI committee that the RI president appoints a member each year, and then the committee members typically have a three year term. So, this year, we have Past Director Ann-Britt (Åsebol) - I'm sorry, I always pronounce her last name wrong - but she's from Sweden. And then, also, we have Duncan Conrad from Canada, Peter King from the UK, and then Jennifer Scott who is from Australia. And so just every year, we have a new committee member. And then, actually, in the year of the Council that we're in right now, the committee member that would have normally rotated off actually stays on for an extra year - so we get Duncan for an extra year this year. So we have four members, instead of three.

NICK: Wow, nice!

SARAH: But, yep! And they are just typically people that either the president sees as good in a legal sense or somebody who has, kind of, stood out to us or stood out to the president as somebody who's knowledgeable in the Council and can have a really good review of items.

NICK: Very cool, and I mean - that is fascinating to hear, the kind of step-by-step process, right? Of like, where it starts and how it actually ends up at the Council on Legislation. Is there a limit as to how many enactments can be proposed, whether by a district or in general? Because, I mean, if everything were to get there...COL could be a marathon event, right? I'm assuming there has to be some sort of restrictions beyond just "defective or not."

SARAH: Yep! So there is a five enactment limit per district. And, the good news is most districts don't meet that limit. Most districts submit one or two items, at most. But every now and then we'll have an extra - a district that submits five! If they submit six, we tell them to withdraw one.

NICK: Got it.

SARAH: But, just as - this year for the Council, we had about 146 enactments that we received. And through merging items that are very similar items that we kind of merge together, and then also finding some items defective, we were able to get it down to 92 items that will actually go forward to the Council. But we have had years - there was one year, I think 2001, where there were like 400-600 enactments and I am very thankful I did not work here at that point! [Sarah and Nick chuckle] Cuz 146 is more than enough for me!

NICK: Yeah that's, I mean - and to kind of paint a picture for those, I mean, like we mentioned: one district representative from all over the world, every single district, over 500 districts shows up. I was lucky enough to be part of working at the COL in 2019 and was able to kind of witness what it looked like. And for, you know, the multitude of people that don't get that opportunity do you mind kind of explaining what the actual COL looks like? I mean, how does the debating happen? Is it just kind of like - cuz I think in my mind, without knowing first-hand it could go in many different places as to how this actually looks [chuckles].

WYN: Well, it's quite exciting! Obviously, a very large room with places for all of the representatives, the Board, and other members of the Council group - and it moves along very orderly. The enactments are all numbered, and they move in order with few exceptions - things can be moved for need, but generally they move in order. And the representative from the district that is proposing that enactment comes to the floor and makes what's called an opening statement, and that opening statement...lengths are decided at the Council before the Council really begins - they decide on the time limits for things, so - generally three or four minutes, something like that, for the opening statement. And then representatives have the opportunity to get up from their seats and go to one of the floor mics that are in the room and they are carrying cards - so, green card if they are speaking in favor, a red card if they're speaking against - and they are called on by the chair to, usually going back and forth between pro and con. And that is how the debate occurs. Amendments can be suggested and there is a process for that as well. Also, for asking procedural questions that are answered by the Constitution and Bylaws Committee, usually. So it's very interesting and very exciting, there is simultaneous translation of all the languages of Rotary - large bank of interpreters along one side of the room. So we all learn to speak slowly and clearly, and give time for translation because in addition to the languages of Rotary with the translation, there are many in the room for whom that is not their first language. So, we take time to allow people to process what they're hearing.

NICK: Nice! And Wyn, you've had an interesting experience because you've been able to be a representative, correct?

WYN: Yes.

NICK: And now you're a trainer. 

WYN: Yes.

NICK: Could you explain a little bit about the differences in experiences and kind of how that's played out for you?

WYN: Yes! So, I was able to be a representative, actually, for the 2016 Council which, at the time, was considered to be fairly progressive. A lot of things happened there that contributed to flexibility, changing our requirements for membership. The Council on Resolutions was created at that time because, prior to that, resolutions and enactments all came before the Council every three years. And resolutions, as Sarah said, really recommendations asking the Board or the Trustees to consider doing something. And it was felt that, for those, it would be more efficient and effective and timely if those could come annually - so, every Fall we have the Council on Resolutions where, again, clubs and districts kind of, will have proposed those and they are considered in an online format. But, it allows those things to be taken care of in a very timely manner leaving the enactments, which change the constitutional documents, for the time that the Council is actually meeting. So, that was an exciting Council to be part of and I enjoyed that very much! In this role, which I'm also enjoying very much, I am working with the lead trainers for each of the Zone Rotary Institutes around the world. So, representatives have mandatory training and we certainly recommend that alternates - so, you have a representative and an alternate is also selected so that if the representative is not able to serve, the alternate can step into that role. So, there is mandatory training - some of it is online right now, through the Learning Center - and then there is a mandatory training that takes place as part of the Rotary Institutes, which are convened around the world by directors and their paired, usually, their paired zones. Each of those folks select a lead trainer for that mandatory training, and those are the people that Sarah and I work with, supporting their training. We have a suggested training and leader's guide and timing and materials and so forth. So, we provide that to them and then they have their training team and they actually put on that training as part of their Institute - either in-person or, this year, several of them are virtual.

NICK: Sounds like a complicated process but, you know, required to really have this run successfully. You know, a lot of work goes into it and it's, like we mentioned, with so many people coming from different regions, and making sure that the policy works for every single club and district all-across the world, it's pretty impressive how that can all happen. That's one of the things that I love about Rotary, and that I always talk to Rotarians about, is like, this is really a volunteer-run organization and it's created, you know, down to the policy. For those listening that maybe, you know, aren't a district representative, or they're not even a district officer - or, maybe they're new to Rotary and, you know, they're just, a brand new member of a club but they want their voice heard - what kind of recommendations do you, either of you, have for somebody like that to, you know, maybe they have a great idea or they feel underrepresented and they want to, you know, improve the policy that exists for them and others...what kind of recommendations do you have?

WYN: A person for them to talk to is their district's representative. So that person is going to be serving for three years, and they are the folks who can help the person create, potentially, create an enactment. So, how to put it together, how to package it, what needs to happen to it for it to move forward in their club and in their district. So, that is the most important person to connect with if you do have an idea, because part of the role of the representatives is, in fact, to support Rotarians in their district in terms of creating proposals, also taking a look at the ones that are proposed by the district, and understanding them and potentially endorsing them. So, the representative has a broader role than simply being at the Council during those three years. The other thing I probably should have added to the training piece is that our role in these trainings is to ensure that the representatives really understand the process of the Council when they arrive. We can help them practice their opening and closing statements, talk to them about strategies at the Council itself, and just be sure they're really prepared to participate effectively once they get there because this year, as is often the case, 75% of the representatives are attending their first Council.

NICK: Sounds good! Yeah, I mean, it sounds like reaching out, finding that district representative is the best way possible to kinda get the ball rolling and really take initiative if you see anything that you want to make happen, or have a policy change, which I think is fantastic. To kind of wrap up here, though, I'd love to just get both of your last opinions. Why should somebody care about the COL?

SARAH: I mean for me I think it's...the COL is just such a unique format of working with an organization's governance documents, to me, that it's very much something of - you as just a general Rotarian can make a suggestion that will change the RI Constitution. And, not a lot of organizations have that, almost a democratic feel to them. A lot of them, it's very much coming down from your board to make decisions of where your governance goes, but then that's why I like the Council is that it's very much, like, anyone can make a suggestion. You just need to work it up the chain and it can actually get adopted eventually! And so I think that's why just a general Rotarian should care about it, but also because these enactments do impact how your club is run, how the district is run, how RI is run and it's important to know those things - that, once you know how the process is supposed to work, you can work better within that process.

WYN: And I completely agree! It is, as I said earlier, a really unique and special opportunity that we have to have a say in the governance of our organization, Rotary International.

[Outro Music begins]

And, as Sarah said, it is unique among organizations I think. And, it's a special opportunity to take advantage of. 

NICK: Yeah, I think it's so rare and unique, like, just to echo what both of you have said -that somebody can join Rotary tomorrow, or one day, and the very next day be working on an enactment to, you know, change the course of an entire organization if it's, you know, works its way up the chain and is passed and everything like that, which is really unique and awesome that we can do that, and that we give that opportunity. So, thank you both so much for joining! I think, more than anything, having both Sarah and Wyn - you both here on this episode - is just a great example of how our Rotary International staff works with the volunteers, and the collaboration that happens, and that something like the Council on Legislation wouldn't be possible if it was just the staff. Or, it wouldn't be possible if it was just the volunteers. Like, it really takes an entire team effort to do something like this, and make an organization run. So, thank you both so much for joining today.

WYN: Thank you for having us!

SARAH: Thank you!

[Outro Music]