Jennifer E. Jones will create history on July 1 by becoming the first woman RI president in the organization’s 115-year history

“I am honoured and humbled to serve as Rotary International President for 2022-23. In a recent interview I was asked if I was excited to be selected as the first female President of Rotary. My response was of course I am excited, but I also believe it is critically important to recognize that I was selected for my qualifications and not because of my gender,” says Jennifer E. Jones.

A member of Rotary Club of Windsor-Roseland, Ontario, Canada, Jennifer E. Jones will create history on July 1 by becoming the first woman RI president in the organization’s 115-year history. A Rotary member since 1997, Jones is founder and president of Media Street Productions Inc., an award-winning media company in Windsor. She is the recipient of Rotary International’s Service Above Self Award and The Rotary Foundation Citation for Meritorious Service.

In a conversation with Rotary Action Group for Family & AIDS Prevention (RFHA), Jones shares her admiration for Dr Sylvia Whitlock, first ever female president of a Rotary Club; her vision of bridging the gender gap, and bringing together young thinkers and women; and her passion to create a lasting change through the meaningful work done by Rotary. 

Read on for some great insights on her vision and plan to weave Diversity, Equity and Inclusion into all the amazing work Rotary does.

Q. As the first female president in the history of Rotary, what changes do you plan on implementing through Rotary’s work that could open doors for hundreds of other women who are underrepresented? 

A. As a female leader, I want to continue to raise up those around me and be a voice for diverse perspective. It is not enough to be seen as the standard bearer of a gender but instead the catalyst for opportunity for leaders of all backgrounds that comprise our organization’s global mosaic.

If we are truly serious about diversifying to attract young members, young thinkers and women, we need to bridge generations, address the gender gap and create a picture of what is possible for every member of the Rotary family.

That is why it’s so important that we make a real effort to weave Diversity, Equity and Inclusion into everything that we do. That means having open, honest discussions at the club level about how welcoming we are to Rotary members and potential members. It also means making sure these values are woven into our service projects and global grants. 

What’s at stake here isn’t just the status of women in Rotary, but the full tapestry of humanity – disabled people, the LGBTQA+ community, people of all races and ethnicities. Rotary will become stronger the more that we serve all humanity and part of that service is constantly redefining ourselves by welcoming the voices and leadership of people of every characteristic and background.

Q. One woman who has inspired you the most and how. 

A. One of the people who paved my path in Rotary was Sylvia Whitlock. Sylvia was the first woman to be a Rotary club president. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to lead my club, to become a District Governor, member of the Rotary Board or President of our organization without Sylvia’s strength and determination, and because of the service that is in her heart. Sylvia did more than just break ground – she broke ground for the right reasons. Sylvia believes strongly in being open to change and always looking forward, not backward. Our organization has grown because of her. I try every day to live up to her challenge and not only to maintain Rotary’s place at the forefront of service organizations in the world, but also strive to make it better through our actions.

Q. Women’s health has been one of the core focus areas for Rotary Action Group for Family Health & AIDS Prevention (RFHA) during its family health day programs. What would you suggest RFHA could do to reach out to more women from the developing nations to create a bigger impact?

A. There are a number of steps RFHA can take. We need to change the way services are offered in the women’s health areas in developing nations. We need to enable healthcare workers to identify and act upon gender inequalities in health care – what’s known as gender mainstreaming. The female Rotarians, nurses, doctors and volunteers who work with RFHA at the health day sites can help create awareness on women’s health so that the community as a whole becomes aware and more responsive. 

Another step we can take is appointing female representatives in rural areas who might find it easier to talk to women and find out their major health concerns. Once RFHA has the list of these health issues, they can plan, align and implement the solutions and services during the Rotary Family Health Days (RFHD) in those areas. 

Another way to reach out to more women in these countries would be to invite these women to get involved with RFHA’s program. Women from the local communities have previously been actively involved in the health day programs and this has produced great results. 

She leads with strength, respect and empathy. Having served Rotary as RI vice president, director, training leader, committee chair, moderator, and district governor, Jones has also played a lead role in Rotary’s rebranding effort by serving as chair of the Strengthening Rotary’s Advisory Group. 

Cheers to women in positions of leadership!

Interested in joining the RFHA team or participating in a Global Grant supporting Rotary Family Health Days?

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