AS she reflects on her year as the third ever female District Governor of Rotary Club, Ireland, Conny Ovesen wants to encourage more women to get involved with the organisation.
Conny held the position for the year from June, 2020. She is only the third woman to hold this role. Becoming District Governor was an “amazing honour”, said Conny.
“I was in charge of the 17,000-plus members here in Ireland, across 72 clubs.”
Originally from Denmark, Conny moved to Ireland in 1979. She became a Rotarian in 2005 and is a member of Youghal Rotary Club.
Rotary is an international organisation, comprising over 35,000 clubs and 1.2 million members called Rotarians. Rotarians work on various initiatives and projects with the aims to promote peace, fight disease, provide clean water, sanitation and hygiene, save mothers and children in disadvantaged parts of the world, support education and help communities to grow their local economies.
Rotary was established over 110 years ago in the United States. Women were not allowed membership in Rotary Clubs until 1989. Approximately 22% of Rotarians are now women.
Having been only the third female District Governor of Rotary Club, Ireland, increasing female membership to Rotary is high on Conny’s priority list. She said: “The majority of decision-making positions in organisations across the globe are held by men.
"I want to encourage women to go for these types of positions and to not be afraid, just go for it.”
As an international organisation, Rotary strives to build a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change. The organisation values diversity and celebrates the contributions of people from different backgrounds. Conny echoes this sentiment.
She said: “We are living in a changing world.
"Most organisations, including Rotary, need to welcome diversity in our membership so that our membership profile reflects the diversity of our communities.”
Conny believes that women are essential to help Rotary promote their membership policies relating to inclusion and diversity.
She said: “Women have compassion, empathy and understanding of the importance of inclusion and diversity in communities. I firmly believe that if organisations can attract more female members, I think the issues of promoting diversity and inclusivity would be more easily solved.”
Although Rotary is an international organisation, each Rotary Club has the autonomy to decide which projects they would like to volunteer time to.
The Rotary Tree of Remembrance is Rotary Club of Cork’s flagship project. Every Christmas, the tree stands tall on Patrick Street. The public remember a loved one at Christmas by writing on a yellow ribbon and tying the ribbon to the tree. People make donations to the Cork Rotary nominated charities.
More than 400 volunteer hours are necessary to manage the project. Rotarians up and down the country run fund-raising events to help local and international charities.
Conny said: “Rotary is not a charity. We are a service organisation. As Rotarians, we give our time and services to other people.”
On a national and international level, Rotary runs a Youth Leadership Development competition each year for 15 to 19 year-olds. The competition facilitates young people to learn leadership and speaking skills. After preparing a CV and being interviewed by Rotarians, 26 young people are chosen from the Irish programme and are given the opportunity to visit Stormont, Dáil Éireann and the European Parliament as part of Euroscola, an initiative which allows young people to learn about European integration. The young people chosen become Members of the European Parliament for one day and take the floor in sessions to debate and vote on resolutions on current affairs while practising language skills with students from across Europe.
The current Miniter for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, took part in this competition as a teenager and availed of the opportunity to take part in Euroscola.
School Bikes Africa is another Rotary programme and UN project that originated in Ireland over ten years ago. Rotarians collect unwanted bikes from around the country and these are delivered to two prisons by the Defence Forces, where they are repaired by prisoners before being shipped to the Gambia and distributed to children by UN troops so that they can cycle to school.
Conny said: “We have a slogan; ‘Rotary are doing good in the world’. Although Rotary is a service organisation, the organisation also has a charity called The Rotary Foundation which is supported by voluntary contributions.
"The Foundation runs a number of global programmes, including Polio eradication programs and educational programs.”
Conny was invited to become a Rotarian by an existing Rotarian, which is the process for membership.
She said: “If you are interested in being a volunteer but you are interested in being involved in more than one project, Rotary is the perfect place to be involved in a broad spectrum of volunteering opportunities because Rotarians volunteer at a local, national and international level.
“Rotarians are very, very good people. The fellowship and friendship you gain from being a Rotarian is unbelievable. Rotary is a community of like-minded people who want to do good.”