Rotary International, founded more than 100 years ago in 1905, has over 1.2 million members in 33,000 clubs around the world, and has contributed more than $3 billion to life-changing and sustainable community development and aid programs. Perhaps the most notable of these is its PolioPlus program, that since 1979 has helped immunise more than 2.5 billion children worldwide and reduce cases by 99.9 percent. In Australia today, more than 30,000 business leaders are members of more than 1,100 clubs, however many, including the Rotary Club of Brisbane that is the third oldest in Australia, face a membership challenge. From peak membership levels of > 250 many clubs have experienced a steady decline to <40, combined with a steady increase in the average age of members into their 70’s. Sadly the Rotary Club of Brisbane is not alone and neither is Rotary the only service club facing a membership management dilemma. It is a common occurrence to service organisations worldwide. Simply put, clubs like Rotary need to attract new members, retain existing members and change their age profile in order to maintain their viability. In many respects, it is a crisis that has wider community, social and public policy consequences.
The complexity of changing patterns in social capital formation and volunteerism, are forcing organisations like Rotary to seek innovative ways of redefining their strategy and renewing and revitalising their value proposition. The Ideas factory provided QUT MBA and EMBA associates who are specifically trained in strategic sense-making in complex environments and equipped with systems and design thinking tools, with the opportunity to address Rotary’s challenge.
Daniel Vankov, the club president, set the context for the challenge by outlining the club’s history, describing current situation and framing the key strategic issues facing the club. Then, in agile teams of four or five, the associates used a range of tools and frameworks to appreciate the trends affecting clubs like Rotary, map the variety of value propositions to members and potential members, develop possible models for the delivery of the value propositions and finally produce action plans to move ahead. Supporting this, club members floated between teams to answer questions, probe assumptions and offer insight gained from their personal experience.
The insights that emerged from the sprint were varied and each targeted different elements of the strategic imperative facing the club. Using a “start with why” approach, one group focussed on understanding the profile of the “ideal” Rotarian to develop the value proposition. Another group, used systems thinking to explore relationship patterns between Rotary’s mission and its various value propositions. Another group, using trend analysis and resource theory, explored membership channels and possible entry pathways. Using design thinking, another group explored the alignment between the leadership of the club and its activities in relation to its capabilities and member’s motivations. Finally, another group using a range of models, focussed on Rotary’s engagement with the community. At the conclusion of the sprint these insights were delivered in stand-up presentations to the club members, and seamlessly combined to present an integrated and holistic understanding of many of the challenges facing the club.
To further consolidate the output of the Ideas Factory, an associate is now working with the club to develop their strategic plan as the capstone Integrated Workplace Project of their MBA. This entails considerable stakeholder engagement with members and past-members, as well as the development of many of the ideas and themes developed during the Ideas Factory.
The Ideas Factory is an immersive and collaborative ideational experience that provides MBA and EMBA associates with the opportunity to apply their skills and experience in real world contexts to achieve value-adding outputs for GSB partners.
Dr John Bensley
Academic Director, QUT Canberra & Learning Innovation | QUT Graduate School of Business and QUT EX