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Rotary story

Rotary and the beginning of the United Nations

Rotary and the United Nations share a common history of working for peace and solving humanitarian problems around the world.

During World War II, Rotary briefed its members on the creation of the United Nations and its fundamental role in preparing for peace. Materials such as the brochure, “From Here On!” And articles in The Rotarian, helped members understand the UN before it was formally established and helped members follow up on its work after it was established.

Many countries were involved in the war when the term “United Nations” was first officially used in the 1942 United Nations Declaration. The 26 signatory states pledged to uphold the ideals expressed the previous year by the United States and the United Kingdom as common principles "on which to base their hopes for a better future for the world."

Official representatives from Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States met in Moscow in 1943 and called for the creation of an international organization to maintain peace and security.

The next year, representatives from these countries, as well as China, held in Washington, D.C. Hold conferences to discuss how to tackle this monumental task. These meetings became known as the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, at which delegations from the four countries developed a proposal for the structure of the new organization.

After the conference, Rotary released What Can Rotarians Do Following Dumbarton Oaks? Rotary's goal is to promote international understanding. She also highlighted the importance of preparing a plan for the end of the war rather than waiting for the fighting to stop.

After the First World War, “proposals for international cooperation failed because there was no enlightened public opinion to support them,” explains the brochure. A discussion among members "will help create an informed public opinion".

The Timely Questions on Dumbarton Oaks booklet followed to help Rotarians understand the complexities of the proposed charter. She presented different perspectives on the Security Council and other aspects of the UN as topics for Rotary club programs or discussions. At the same time, governments around the world carefully worked through and provided feedback on the Dumbarton Oaks findings.

From April to June 1945, delegations from 50 nations attended the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco (also known as the San Francisco Conference). Their task was to write a charter acceptable to all of them. The delegations were assisted in this historic effort by a large number of staff, technical speakers and advisors.

Rotary International was one of 42 organizations that invited the United States to advise their delegation to the San Francisco conference. Each organization had seats for three representatives, so the eleven Rotary International representatives took turns. Official Rotary officials included the general secretary, editor of The Rotarian, and several past presidents. Other Rotarians from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America were members of the delegations from their own countries. Rotarians also acted as advisors to their country delegations.

Shortly before the meetings began, Rotary International published and distributed a pamphlet, Pattern for the San Francisco Conference. "It is a great opportunity for every Rotarian to fulfill the goal of international service," says the document, "by engaging in the debate about this world system of government."

For the remainder of 1945, The Rotarian and other publications kept Rotarians informed of issues and developments relating to the new organization. Editorials and articles explained topics, provided additional insights and key questions and informed readers about what was happening and the people involved:

  • Rotarians in the News at San Francisco, July 1945
  • Report from San Francisco, July 1945
  • Rotary at the Conference, July 1945
  • Gateway to Peace, August 1945
  • "San Francisco Just Started It," November 1945

After the founding of the UN, the 95-page booklet “From Here On!” Contained the exact text of the UN Charter on every double page and comments and questions on the opposite page that should stimulate discussion. This allowed Rotarians to get a clear picture of it and have appropriate discussions in the club.

The charter, so the booklet explained, would only be effective if the “free citizens” around the world were determined to breathe their life. “The Rotarian who follows these pages closely,” it says, “is on the path of service”.

In 1946 Rotary published a supplement detailing the major achievements of the UN General Assembly meetings in January and February of that year. Later articles in The Rotarian kept the United Nations and its work under discussion among Rotary members:

  • “UN or World States”, June 1946
  • “What Do You Want UN to Do?” September 1948
  • Speaking of the United Nations, March 1955
  • Appraisal at San Francisco, September 1955
  • How I Would Change the UN, October 1955

Today Rotary has the highest advisory status granted to a non-governmental organization by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which oversees many specialized UN agencies. The Rotary Representative Network maintains and promotes its relationships with several UN bodies, programs, commissions, and organizations. This network consists of representatives from Rotary International to the United Nations and other organizations.

Rotary Day at the United Nations celebrates the organizations' shared vision for peace and draws attention to the important humanitarian activities that Rotary and the United Nations carry out around the world.