By Vivian Collings
Ursula Devolin aims to promote inclusivity and allow all members to imagine the future of Rotary during her presidency of the Rotary Club of Haliburton. It’s a vision that is aligned with a growing movement of women in leadership roles in Rotary and its related groups.
Devolin recently became president of the club on July 1, and said with the COVID-19 pandemic nearing the end, now is the perfect time to find out what all the members imagine Rotary will be going forward.
“Post-pandemic, or at least with hopefully the worst of it over, I think even in our own personal lives, we’ve all done a really significant re-imagining of the way things operate, and so I think it’s a really good opportunity for Rotary to re-imagine things too. That doesn’t have to mean a huge upheaval, we might keep with the status-quo on certain things, but they should at least be assessed and imagined. Can we change this? Can we do something that would make it better? I think sometimes we can become complacent about a lot of things that are in place,” Devolin said.
She plans to send out a club survey to all members in the early fall to acquire ideas from everyone.
“We have a really awesome club, but how do we keep it awesome and grow it further?” she said.
Devolin grew up in Haliburton County, but spent a few years travelling abroad with her family.
For her, Rotary had strong family connections with her father, John Beachli, being a member of the Haliburton club for close to 50 years.
“When I moved back to Haliburton, I thought joining Rotary was a good way to get engaged in the community and seemed like a good platform for service.”
Devolin has been the link between the Rotary Club of Haliburton, Rotaract Haliburton Highlands, and the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School’s Interact Club as the “new generations” and plans to stay in this role.
“New generations are of interest to me to make sure we are helping younger people who want to be engaged and of service to the community. Interact and Rotaract are great platforms for young people to get involved in because the framework is already there for them.”
History was made on July 1 globally when Canadian Jennifer Jones was inducted as the first ever female Rotary International (RI) president.
Jones is part of the Rotary Club of Windsor-Roseland, Ontario, and her theme for her year as president in 2022-2023 is “Imagine Rotary.”
This theme resonated with Devolin and her desire to welcome any and all who wish to serve the community.
“Being inclusive is a big part of Rotary International right now and is a big part of Jennifer Jones’ mission, and I think that’s a message we want to send to the community. I remember when I told a friend of mine, who has never been involved with Rotary, I was joining the Rotary club five years ago, and she said, ‘Why would you want to join a group of old, rich, white men?’ And I thought, that’s not how it is at all, but the perception from her point of view was that.”
The Rotary Club of Haliburton has been working hard to dismantle that stigma. The club’s membership is currently sitting at close to 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men.
“I just see myself as a Rotarian, one individual, and it happens to be my turn as president. I’ve always felt very welcome in the club, and there weren’t any barriers of entry for me. We want people to feel like anybody can join Rotary,” Devolin said.
For the first 84 years of Rotary International’s 117 year existence, only males were permitted to be members as stated by the Constitution and Bylaws of Rotary International.
Now, women account for 23 per cent of total global Rotary membership, and Jones hopes to raise this to 30 per cent during her year as RI president.
Heather Phillips was the third ever female president in the Rotary Club of Haliburton’s 77 year history during the 2021-2022 term and now serves as past-president.
“We’re an inclusive club, so it’s good that we have more women now to get rid of the ‘old men’s club’ stigma so that more people will want to join us and learn what we’re all about,” Phillips said.
Rotaract clubs around the world already have about an equal amount of male and female members, which is also reflected in Rotaract Haliburton Highlands membership.
Rotaract Haliburton Highlands president Christine Carr said that building community and connection within the club and the community is most important to her.
“I was worrying that after being online for so long during the COVID-19 pandemic, we were going to lose connection, so we’ve started having more in-person meetings and activities.”
She said that the equal amount of male and female involvement in Rotaract may signify the difference in generations.
“Rotary historically has been very male-dominated, so I think this trend we’re seeing towards female leadership is very positive because it’s showing how Rotary is progressing, but also the different voices and roles that people get to take on in the community, so I think it’s a very positive thing,” she said.
Both the Rotary Club of Haliburton and Rotaract Haliburton Highlands are welcoming new members.
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