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RI announces ‘Support The Environment’ as the 7th Area of Focus

On June 25, Rotary International President Mark Maloney made this glorious announcement: 


"The Rotary Foundation Trustees and Rotary International Board of Directors have both unanimously approved adding a new area of focus:  supporting the environment."  


RI's full statement is here. 


You can also read the policy briefings ESRAG presented to Rotary's Environmental Issues Task Force as they began their confidential deliberations in February.

"Thank you President Mark and the RI Board and Trustees for appreciating that healthy humans need a healthy planet.

Rotary’s first project was an environmental one in Chicago.  Now the 7th Area of Focus enables Rotarians to strive to make our world a healthy place for all life to live.

Yes, Rotary Connects the World and now Rotary Opens Opportunities. This is a call to action. 

We have much work to do in economic, cultural AND environmental sustainability. GoRotary." 

Christopher F. Puttock ESRAG Chair (2019-2021)

Starting July of '21, RI welcomes environmental global grant applications

Until now, solar panels for schools have been ineligible for Rotary global grants. Will that change?

In a video on the bottom of the homepage of All We Are, Ugandan school principals report how reliable electricity has vastly improved student achievement. It's also saving them a lot of money they can now spend on teachers and books. This is a perfect example of the synergy between environmental sustainability and other humanitarian goals. The nonprofit was created by Rotarian and DGE Nathan Thomas of Raleigh, North Carolina (USA), who serves as co-chair of ESRAG's Renewable Energy Task Force.

RI President Mark Maloney announced that the Rotary Foundation will start accepting grant requests under the new Supporting Environment Area of Focus in July, 2021. 

How did Rotary come to this decision, and what happens next? 

Rotary's leadership created a task force last year under the leadership of Past President Ian Riseley to decide how to handle environmental projects in Rotary grantmaking.

ESRAG leaders submitted a position paper recommending that environmental sustainability be named a distinct Area of Focus rather than a subset of the original six.

Working with RI staff, we also developed a questionnaire which was submitted to Rotarians and youth in Rotary programs around the world at the end of January. Almost 6,000 people responded in just over one week.

Over 94% said that Rotary can have a significant impact on environmental issues, that it's important for Rotary's reputation to be active on this, and that their friends would be interested in joining Rotary if Rotary got involved.

62% supported the creation of a new environmental Area of Focus. (Read more about the survey in ESRAG's February newsletter.)


ESRAG's Communications Director Karen Kendrick-Hands was invited to speak to the Task Force at the start of its February meeting. Then, we waited: as COVID-19 upended the world, Rotary in-person meetings were cancelled, and the Foundation Trustees and Rotary Board held confidential discussions.  

Finally, on June 26,  the closing day of RI's Virtual Convention, we got the glorious news of Rotary's decision at noon New York Time. Within 8 hours, over 2,000 Rotarians had liked and shared RI's announcement on Facebook.

Two steps are essential before grantmaking can begin under the new Area of Focus in 2021.

1. The Rotary Foundation must develop the criteria for what kinds of environmental projects will be eligible for global grants.

2. Donors are needed to contribute for environmental grants.

As the Rotary Action Group for environmentalists, ESRAG members will do our utmost to assist Rotary to achieve both tasks. 

ESRAG's new Carbon Offset Fund is a great first step in raising money to be used for grants reducing or capturing carbon emissions. 

If you'd like to donate now, start there!  Pretend you flew to Honolulu and have fun doing the numbers! British Rotarian Keith Tovey, an expert in calculating carbon footprint, estimates that Rotary prevented over 100,000 tons of carbon emissions by holding its 2020 Convention virtually. 


How you can help:

  1. SUBSCRIBE FREE to our mailing list


  3. VOLUNTEER to be part of the teams we are assembling to execute on the opportunities that lie ahead

  4. GIVE: Donations will be crucial to fund the new environmental grants, as well as ESRAG projects like the Climate Solutions Coalition and work on a new digital platform to help us best present ourselves to the Rotary Family and wider world.



Rotary Past President Ian Riseley commented on June 26th 2020:

"The Trustees and Directors have unanimously accepted our recommendation to create a 7th Area of Focus of our Rotary Foundation, being the Environment.  As Chair of the Task Force that put together and argued for this decision, I’m enormously proud today.  This photo is of the four Trustees, one Director, and one Rotaracter who comprised the Task Force, plus the outstanding and dedicated staff who assisted us in arriving at our recommendation.  We still have lots of work to do, including finalizing the Area of Focus statement and getting the fundraising going to support the grant applications that are sure to come flooding in after 1st July 2021. Congratulations, team, we just made Rotary history!

Because climate change has been a polarizing issue within Rotary for the last few years, ESRAG leaders emailed each  throughout the night after the RI decision, brainstorming how to communicate about the new Area of Focus in a way that brings Rotarians together.  


The key point is that environment builds on and enhances Rotarians' other work. 


You can help by reaching out to your Club, District, or Zone with stories of how environmental sustainability promotes the other humanitarian goals Rotarians are pursing with such passion and skill.

Mexican Rotarian Salvador Rico puts it perfectly: 

"The Environment as the 7th Area of Focus!   I am in tears of joy, gratitude, and full of hope! I know that - with Rotary, ESRAG, UNEP and all the strategic partners - we are going to save the planet, all living beings, and all of humanity!"

Swedish Rotarian Ingrid Hesser, Co-Chair of ESRAG's Europe Regional Chapter : 

"Adding this seventh focus strengthens all the others. It gives Rotarians across the world tools to mitigate and prevent disasters, and to escalate the impact of work being achieved in peace-building, reducing conflict, preventing and treating disease, providing safe water, improving maternal and child health, enhancing education, and promoting community economic development." 


The video referenced above, from the website of All We Are, is a great example: solar power equipping students to succeed.  

The 30-minute talks presented during ESRAG's June 5 World Environment Day webinar are ideal content for Rotary meetings at any level, whether virtual or face-to-face.  We are very hopeful that skeptical Rotarians will be disarmed and inspired by the optimism and pragmatic strategies shared by Daniel Cooney and Lis Mullin Bernhardt of the UN Environment Programme, Rotarian Joe Richardson of Lunch out of Landfills, Dr. Jonathan Foley of Project Drawdown, and Brendan Foran of Greening Australia.  


To learn about ESRAG's groundbreaking collaborations on carbon calculators and ways to build Rotarians' awareness and effective action,  we recommend the  Greening Rotary Events program ESRAG presented June 22 as one of the RI Convention's three featured breakouts that day. 


ESRAG will also offer one of Rotary's July breakouts, on collaboration with the UN Environment Programme.  We'll give you the date and link in a newsletter in early July.