As District Governor, Grand Bend Rotarian Martin Ward embraces change

Martin Ward spends a lot of time thinking about the future. As District Governor of this region, his mission is to help Rotary clubs adapt to the needs of a rapidly changing world. “The message about change from Rotary leadership is getting stronger and stronger,” he says. “And that just reinforces what I’m already thinking.”
In addition to District Governor, Martin is a member of the Grand Bend Rotary Club. “It’s a huge honour for us to have Martin as DG,” says Club President Paul Turnbull. “And it means we’re really plugged in to what’s happening at the District and International level.”
There are 57 clubs in the District, spread across Southern Ontario and into the United States, and Martin has visited all of them. His official visit to the Grand Bend Club took place in November. He stresses that individual clubs now have much more flexibility to do what’s right for them. “The new rules are that there are no rules,” he says. “Clubs are allowed to make the changes they feel necessary so they can continue to make a difference in their communities.”

Service clubs across North America and Europe are experiencing declining membership, and Rotary is no exception. But there are some very positive signs. In emerging countries, such as India and many in Africa, Rotary clubs are multiplying. More young people are getting involved in new and different ways. Rotaract clubs, which cater to young adults between 18 and 30, are springing up. “I really believe that millennials want to be engaged in serving their communities,” says Martin. “But they want to be engaged on their own terms.”

Martin is encouraged by what he sees and hears as he visits local clubs throughout the District. “Every club is different, but what clubs share is a passion for what they do – both in their communities and also internationally,” he says. “Even the very small clubs are doing incredible service work.”
Martin grew up in Ajax, where his father was the town milkman. Ajax was small then, and by helping his father he got to know nearly everyone in town. A small scholarship helped him to go to university. It was only in later years that he discovered that the scholarship came from the local Rotary Club.

As a computer analyst and programmer, Martin understands the nature and power of rapid change. He graduated in math and computer science from University of Waterloo in the early 70s, and went on to develop a specialty in agricultural software. He’s still a consultant for Hensall Co-op, a relationship that has spanned almost 40 years.

His involvement in Rotary began in London, at the urging of other members of his consulting firm. “At first I wasn’t sure I really belonged,” he says, “but when they put me on the Easter Seals Committee I got hooked.”

When Martin moved with his firm back to Waterloo, he joined the local club there, and gradually began to take on leadership roles. The most profound and lasting influence has been his involvement in the youth exchange program. Over the years he and his wife Mary have hosted 15 foreign exchange students. They have three children, and the exchange students became “part of the family.” He and Mary have stayed in close touch. Their first exchange student, Merete, from Denmark, was at their son Adam’s wedding, and they attended Merete’s wedding. “I think of youth exchanges as building world peace one friendship at a time,” he says.

When Martin visits clubs he’s impressed by how proud members feel to be Rotarians. It’s this sense of pride that gives him confidence in the future. “The great strength of Rotary is individual Rotarians,” he says. “A Rotarian will get a passion for something that other Rotarians rally round, and everyone gets very excited and proud of their accomplishments.”

Rotary’s momentous polio initiative got started when one Rotarian at a club in the Philippines felt it would be a good thing to immunize his community. From there Rotary began a global initiative that has almost eradicated one of the world’s most dreaded diseases. “We are cautiously optimistic that we will see the last case of polio very soon,” says Martin. This year there have been only 3 new cases in the world.

Martin is pleased that the Grand Bend Club, after a review of Club practices, is changing its meeting structure and reducing the number of meetings to two a month. The Club is also looking to organize an Interact Club in Exeter, for young people ages 12 to 18.

The Club is planning for a District Conference at Oakwood Inn on May 4-5, an event that will host some 200 Rotarians and dignitaries. The theme of the conference is no surprise: “Embracing Change.”

When asked about the future of Rotary and what kinds of changes he would like to see, Martin’s answer is simple. “We need to figure out how to become irresistible.”