Allan has just become the first Jersey-based District Governor of the Rotary Club since 1955 and his achievement is bringing positive economic and business results to the Island. In October, he will be hosting the District Conference in Jersey: ‘We talked with what was then EDD and they gave us tremendous sponsorship and encouragement.
‘We have got 650 delegates so far coming. The States want to publicise it because they want other people to start thinking about Jersey as a conference venue again and it brings lots of people here in the shoulder months – it does the economy good. We’ve had tremendous help from Jersey. We’ve had the Ports of Jersey sponsoring a night’s entertainment and the Co-op helping.’
The Rotary Club was originally set up in Chicago in 1905 as a business networking club, but its founding members soon realised they could do something far greater and do good in the world. While it’s forbidden to go to your club and try to sell your products, it’s still a valuable networking opportunity for businesses and people are not only able to use the skills they’ve learnt in the workplace, but says Mr Smith, you learn new ones: ‘Rotary also gives anyone the chance of doing projects where you can either be shown project skills or develop project skills. You develop speaking skills because you have to talk to groups of people. Rotary can actually help when you are progressing your career to give you opportunities; to do things which a lot of companies pay a lot of money for.’
Like many of the traditional clubs, Rotary has struggled in recent years to attract new younger members, but it is evolving. The Jersey club is still attracting members from age 30 upwards, but Allan says the pressures on everyone’s time has been a factor, and tighter budgets mean people aren’t keen on necessarily having a meal every couple of weeks, so Rotary is exploring different ways of doing clubs.
‘We are starting one in our district called Social Innovation, which is largely based on networking through Facebook and Twitter, and they meet once a month but conduct all their other business online,’ he said. ‘They get together and help other clubs, predominantly. There are over 60 people in that club and it’s not been open a year, so that’s one way that younger people can do good in the community without too big a commitment in time.’
Rotary is also still struggling to get the gender balance right with only around 20% female membership. It’s been a slow process since the global club opened up to women in the mid-Nineties and locally it wasn’t until 2000, under Allan’s presidency of the Jersey club. He is hoping they can keep on improving the balance.
For Allan, Rotary has meant a lot more than just a social club: ‘You meet a lot of like-minded people, you get involved in the community and can give things back and you can also make a difference and it opens many doors.’
The list of overseas projects that he has helped with is endless, from a huge variety of fundraising events, to going to developing countries and helping with polio vaccination campaigns, building a school in Kenya, helping create a soft room at a Sarajevo orphanage, and assisting at limb camps, where Rotary provides lower limbs or aids for disabled people.
In 2004 he received an MBE for services to the community and overseas charities. He has also received an Honorary Master of Arts for services to education and training from Plymouth University for his work in Jersey. Allan has done a lot of overseas work, but Rotary does a lot of work locally too, including supporting the Good Companions Club. Different members take different initiatives. ‘Rotary is a huge organisation and it depends how much and what you want to do.’
So what has motivated Allan to spend his retirement years in a leadership role for Rotary? ‘To put something back and to try and stimulate clubs to do more. I believe in Rotary and I want to do my best for Rotary. Being district governor is a big commitment but I think it’s worth it. If you want to try and achieve something you’ve got to step up and do it.’
Allan Smith is one man for whom retirement hasn’t meant putting his feet up and forgetting all his business skills: ‘My nightmare is getting up in the morning and not having anything to do.’