- How did the idea of establishing Rotary Club Utrecht International come up?
In 2003 I was chairman of the International Neighbour Group (ING) in the university. We got €8,000 a year from the College van Bestuur to help organise social activities for foreign visitors, excluding bachelor students. One day I got an email from the administrator responsible for the money asking if I would get in touch with Gerard Rijntjes about starting an English speaking Rotary Club. They were both members of the same club. I knew nothing about Rotary. Friends told me it was something for old men. I did nothing. Some weeks later I got another email from him asking me as a personal favour to get in touch with Gerard. Since he controlled our €8,000, I could not afford to upset him and I went to talk to Gerard. With that visit, I became one of four key persons responsible for starting a new Rotary Club Utrecht International.
- What were the primary concerns you had at the time?
Since the idea was to establish an English speaking club, Dutch members would be less than half the members. A couple of years earlier my wife had died and I had retired. I was looking for social contacts. Less than 10% of Rotary members in the Netherlands were women. Women were not allowed to join Rotary until 1987 when Rotary lost a case against discrimination in the US Supreme Court. I said that we should also strive for equal numbers of men and women in the club. This was strongly opposed. We needed 20 members before we could be chartered as a Rotary club and it would be much more difficult to get 10 women as members. I insisted, and eventually the other three key persons agreed. Of course, it was more difficult.
- What other barriers – apart from gender equality within the club – you broke with RCUI?
- You had to be 40 before you could join a club. We made it 18. You must be an adult under Dutch law.
- Membership was strictly by invitation. A possible new member was suggested. It was discussed and members voted in a secret ballot on whether he should be invited. Only then did someone ask if he would be interested in joining. We allow potential new members to come to a couple of meetings to see if they like us.
- Other clubs offered us help to find members. But the people they suggested were like themselves, Dutch and over 40. To avoid the club becoming Dutch, I brought in the rule that new Dutch members should have worked abroad for at least two years.
- These happened, I believe, in 2003. How long did it take you to actualize the goals and found the club?
It was 2005 before we got 20 members and we were chartered.
- RCUI is a diverse and international club, unlike many other Rotary clubs in the area. How did you achieve that?
I think we have a really good club, but we are very different from the other Dutch clubs. We made a good club by thinking first about what we wanted rather than just following what other clubs do.