About The Ethics Initiative

“The mission of the Rotary Ethics Initiative is to develop and provide resources that promote integrity and character in the personal and vocational lives of youth and adults through Rotary Clubs and Districts.”

The Ethics Initiative is a multi-District and multi-Zone strategy designed to advance ethics and integrity in Rotary programs in Rotary clubs and districts and associated New Generations and Vocational Service programs. The Initiative grew out of the Rotary Zones 25/26 Ethics Initiative pilot program during 2007-2011. It is not an official program of Rotary International nor under its control. It is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the legal name of “The Ethics Leadership Enterprise for Rotary Clubs and Districts” but is more commonly referred to simply as The Ethics Initiative.

The Ethics Initiative History

As Rotarians, we certainly agree that today’s youth represent the future of our nation, the world, and of course Rotary. But how many of you have been troubled by what we too often see and hear regarding young people’s behavior and values. Reasons for concern are underscored by Josephson Institute surveys since 1992.

An example of the survey showed that 90 percent of youth proclaimed they were satisfied with their ethics and character. The survey went on and found that six of ten admitted they cheated on a test. Imagine, nine of ten thought they were ethical and yet 60% admitted to cheating.

It was after reading this survey that then Director-elect Paul Netzel raised the question: “How can Rotary better make The Four-Way Test come alive in its youth programs and Rotary clubs?” Paul decided to establish a Rotary Zones 25/26 (formerly 23/24) Ethics Resource Initiative Task Force headed by PDG Roy Massey. Josephson Institute was engaged and began by conducting a needs assessment throughout districts in Zones 25/26.


More than 1,000 Rotarians, RYLA and Interact Chairs, and program participants participated in the assessment, indicating the strength of interest and compelling need to address the issue.

The assessment’s findings and recommendations resulted in establishing the Rotary Zones 25/26 Ethics Committee. It’s objective was to build on existing successful programs by designing training elements that could integrate core values and The Four-Way Test more fully into Rotary’s RYLA and Interact programs. Longer range, it was hoped that many elements of the program could be adapted into Rotary clubs.

The role of the 12-member Ethics Committee was to advise and assist in the project’s organization, operation, and fundraising and to set up 12 Rotary districts in Zones 25/26 as pilot districts.

In addition, a 25-member Ethics Education Committee composed of Rotarians and non-Rotarians involved in district RYLA and Interact programs was established to develop and review material. These members participated in conference calls, attended train-the-trainer meetings, and field-tested the material in their RYLA camps. This group worked with the Josephson Institute and Michael Josephson. Mr. Josephson’s work and reputation in character education is known worldwide. Assigned as project leads were Dr. Gary Smit, a Rotarian and former teacher, principal, and superintendent; and Kay Augustine, a national character-education and trainer and past associate director of the institute for Character Development at Drake University. Their commitment and dedication has been greatly appreciated.

From the start, the vision was to develop and implement a flexible model program that could be adapted for use by Rotary clubs and districts throughout the Rotary world. The plan initially called for developing the programs training modules for use with RYLA and Interact in pilot districts in Zones 25/26. We are very appreciative of the start-up funding that the twelve districts gave us and of all the support by many Rotarians from Zones 25/26, Josephson Institute and Rotary International.

The Ethics Initiative was designed in four phases:
I. Needs Assessment
II. Program Development & Pilot District Field Testing
III. Evaluation & Refinement
IV. Implementation beyond Zones 25/26.

In the evaluation phase, RYLA students responded to thirty statements with scaled answers indicating levels of agreement. All of the scores showed positive change from Pre-RYLA Camp to Post-RYLA Camp, with significant positive change in many statements such as: I think about my values and how they apply to living my life; I am able to make effective and ethical decisions; I understand The Four-Way Test of Rotary.

Our goal was to advance and enhance the stature and effectiveness of ethics in Rotary youth programs and Rotary clubs. We hope that after you have reviewed and used our materials you will agree this goal has been achieved. We still are updating the material and recently added a module on ethics in Rotary Clubs and now are promoting it across the United States and soon the Rotary World.

Recognizing the need for a structure to carry the organization through the Implementation Phase, supporting and expanding the program, the Zones 25-26 Ethics Initiative created a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization: The Ethics Leadership Enterprise for Rotary Clubs and Districts, more commonly known as the Ethics Initiative.

A Board of Directors was formed fall of 2010 with 12 members geographically representative of our two Zones. Additional Board members, including ones from outside Zones 25 and 26 have been welcomed to the team.

Now this fall of 2015, we are organizing Rotarians for Integrity, a Rotarian Action Group in formation. Please see additional information here on our website.

The Vision and long-term goal is to become an RI sponsored internationally recognized re-source for programs and activities, which advance ethics and integrity among youth and adults.