the story of Rotaract in Europe

by Jan Huygens, E.R.I.C. Founder

Jan_HuygensThe first roots of Rotaract developed in Europe (especially Italy and Belgium) and Australia in the late fifties. The first “Paul Harris” clubs developed as clubs of young adults, children of Rotarians, who wanted to share the same ideals as their fathers. The movement become so important it drew the attention of RI and was officially adopted as a Rotary program in 1968, while the name of the clubs was changed into Rotaract. Since, Rotaract spread around the world, but it is obvious it developed the strongest organization in those countries where it existed for the longest period of time.

While the clubs developed and spread, the RI organization did not follow all developments very closely and as a consequence hardly offered any service to its program. In the meantime in Europe the organization had grown to such an extent that many international events were organized and a need for more information grew constantly in order to improve the contacts and interaction. European Rotary discerned these needs, so in 1985 and 1987 it invited Rotaractors from various countries to attend the bi-annual CIP meeting in Strasbourg in the European Parliament. The CIP (comité inter pays) meeting was a conference for Rotarians from around Europe who were active in the exchange between clubs. Rotaractors were invited to present the Rotaract program to the Rotarians as well as to discuss various Rotaract topics between themselves. The outcome of both meetings was that Rotaractors from around Europe felt there was a need to organize an annual European Rotaract conference and that a central secretariat was needed were all information on Rotaract was gathered so it could be easily exchanged.

first european comitteeAfter that the development went very fast. When I was elected DRR of a Belgium district 2170 in mid-1987, I made it the major objective for the district to create this secretariat and to organize the first European Rotaract Convention. In March 1988 ERIC was created to be the central European Rotaract Information Center, based in Brussels. The Belgian Rotary offered to use their Brussels’ office as the official address for ERIC.  To make this known around Europe, Belgian clubs organized the first European Conference in Antwerp, where 300 Rotaractors from 16 countries attended. At this conference the first European Committee was created with one representative per country.

In the initial years all the practical work of writing the newsletter, editing the directory, etc was done by a Belgian team presided by what we called in those days the General Coordinator. From 1996 the team became international and the work was spread around Rotaractors from all over Europe.

In 1993 E.R.I.C. was officially recognized by Rotary International as a Multi-district Information Organisation thus becoming the first international MDIO in the Rotary world.