Mana Tangata: People of Action

The History of Rotary in New Zealand 1921–2021

The Project

Begun in Chicago in 1905, Rotary was established in New Zealand in 1921 when clubs were set up in both Wellington and Auckland. The idea was that men from a range of vocations would meet together on a non-political and non-religious basis to enjoy fellowship and work for the betterment of their community. The abiding principle was ‘Service Above Self’.

Over the subsequent century Rotary in New Zealand has expanded to over 265 clubs and 8000 members. It has made a huge contribution to the improvement of New Zealand society through grants and direct assistance in many fields of social enterprise – the welfare of children, education, public health, the environment, encouraging the local economy. Many voluntary institutions, furthermore, were kick-started by Rotary.

The history will tell this important story.

It will describe the development of Rotary as an institution – its changing composition, its geographical spread, its ways of working – against the wider context of New Zealand society and culture. Its flax roots story of clubs and members will feature large. It will explore and explain the different forms of service undertaken by Rotary over the years, the impact which Rotary initiatives have had on the communities of New Zealand and the Pacific. Case studies of notable projects will feature. It will also establish what was distinctive about the New Zealand contribution to the international Rotary movement.

This book will not only tell the Rotary story, of its service in the community and place in New Zealand society for 100 years, it will inform future actions for the next 100 years.



Although the book will obviously be of interest to clubs and members this is an important story for all New Zealanders as it touches on the social, economic and cultural history of New Zealand over the past century. In telling this history three major themes will be explored.

What does the story of Rotary tell us about the changing importance of service in New Zealand?

‘ Service’ is at the core of Rotary principles, ethos and actions. Rotary was the first of the American service clubs to land in New Zealand. Service and its social function will be a major focus of this centennial history. 

What has been Rotary’s contribution to New Zealand society?

Rotary illuminates New Zealand’s welfare state through the significant niches it has filled and also provides an insight into the role of clubs as the foundation of civil society, especially in a settler society. This book will also contribute to our understanding of New Zealand social history as it relates to men’s and later women’s voluntarism; the history of philanthropy/social enterprise, children’s, health and welfare organisations as well as youth internationalism; and the role of non-governmental organisations in New Zealand’s place in the world.

What has been New Zealand Rotary’s contribution to the international Rotary movement?

What distinguishes the New Zealand experience of Rotary at the edge of its international wheel? What has been the extent of its contribution and influence on Rotary International?


The story is told in a chronological chapter order (working titles):


Forewords, Preface



International Origins


Chapter 1

Rotary and all that Jazz


Chapter 2

Dark Days with Silver Linings


Chapter 3

Building the New World


Chapter 4

Golden Years


Chapter 4

A Changing Society


Chapter 6

Getting Stuck In



The Future



Appendices: Timeline, Membership Graph, Awardees, Officers


Further Reading, Endnotes, Index

While the story is told in a chronological order each chapter is structured into four parts to highlight significant areas of interest. The first part, In the Club, looks at organisational development and the changing social role of Rotary. The second part, For the Community, examines its significant areas of service in the community. Serving the Future concentrates on new generations service, vocational service and education. Finally, Across the World examines Rotary’s international service and contribution to Rotary International.

Tone / ‘Look & Feel’

The book will be about 80,000 words in length, accurate, scholarly and well researched, but written in a lively style and with an imaginative and abundant use of illustrations. The final design of the book will have a vibrancy that does justice to the compelling story it tells.

The Author

Dr Stephen Clarke is a History graduate of the University of Otago and the University of New South Wales and has worked at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and Massey University. He is a professional historian and director of Making History Ltd. His most recent publication After the War: The RSA in New Zealand (Penguin, 2016) was commissioned for the centennial of the Royal New Zealand RSA in 2016, and where formerly he was Chief Executive 2008–13.

A Landmark Publication

Rotary is rightly proud of its history. This landmark publication will enable clubs and members to celebrate 100 years of Rotary in New Zealand in 2021 and with it the ability to share their story with their community, with the nation, and with fellow Rotarians around the world.

If you are interested in contributing to this project, please contact

Mana Tangata: People of Action

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