Wanaka-based lawyer Janice Hughes has recently taken the reins of Rotary New Zealand’s southernmost district, and is promising to “sprinkle some more pepper on progress” during her year-long tenure as district governor.
Invercargill’s Karen Purdue formally handed over the chains of office of District 9980, which covers 30 clubs in the lower South Island from Temuka-Geraldine south, at a ceremony in Wanaka on July 3.

Ms Hughes, a senior legal adviser at Wanaka-based firm Aspiring Law, which she co-owns, has been a member of the Rotary Club of Wanaka since shortly after moving to the area 12 years ago.

However, once upon a time, she would never have fathomed becoming a Rotarian, let alone holding a senior leadership role within the 112-year-old international organisation.

“The very misconceptions that we’re starting to tackle head-on today are the same misconceptions that very nearly meant I didn’t even go to that first meeting I was invited to,” Janice says.

“When a new business acquaintance asked me to go along, I accepted more out of politeness than anything else. I thought I’d make an appearance, say my hellos and then set about finding an energetic, open-minded service organisation that catered for young, professional women.

“Much to my surprise, I found out Wanaka’s Rotary club was energetic, I was quite at home as a young, professional woman and, what’s more, it was an absolute hoot. It ticked all my boxes – I found like minds, I felt an incredible sense of purpose and reward, professional development and learning opportunities are huge in Rotary, and there’s plenty of fun and laughs to be had.

“It was a world away from what I had envisaged, so not only did I join, but my husband, Clayton, did, too.”

A major focus during the coming year would be continuing the implementation of Rotary International’s three-pronged strategic plan, which targeted increasing and diversifying membership, supporting clubs, increasing investment in humanitarian service and boosting the organisation’s public image.

Janice has paid tribute to Karen, who, along with her district team, has made great strides in launching the strategy’s implementation and putting supports in place to help clubs keep pace with the times.

“I’m delighted that Karen’s staying on to head our district membership committee, and her experience is going to be put to further great use as she takes up the role of heading Rotary New Zealand’s public relations committee.”  

As well as having Karen’s on-going support, Ms Hughes says she is also very fortunate to have the senior Rotarian who oversaw the development of the global strategic plan living just 40-odd minutes up the road.

“Stuart Heal, who’s a long-standing member of the Rotary Club of Cromwell and is currently chair of New Zealand Cricket, was head of Rotary International’s strategic planning committee when the organisation’s longer-term pathway was set. So, the whole direction we’re taking globally has some very strong southern New Zealand roots,” she said.

“I’ll definitely be picking Stuart’s brains, because he was very much at the heart of deciding Rotary’s direction, which is incredibly useful as we look how to take Rotary into the future in our neck of the woods.”

As well as rolling out new, modernised websites for the district and its clubs, a pressing issue is shaking off the image Rotary has of being conservative, boring and exclusively for older people.

“Ironically, one of Rotary’s main pillars is diversity – our organisation is actually big on celebrating differences, yet we’ve allowed ourselves to be pigeon-holed. Our membership numbers and make-up are suffering as a result, and Rotary’s long-term survival rests on changing that.

“We’re going to be really pushing to correct the misconceptions where we can and adapting to fit our changing society as we need to. I’m all for sprinkling some pepper on progress.”

Far from being stuffy and narrow-minded, District 9980 is actually highly progressive and inclusive, she says.

“We have not one, but two transgender women who will be club presidents in our district over the next couple of years. The Rotary Club of Waimate has just chartered New Zealand’s first Rotokids club, which is made up of our youngest members in the country – primary school-aged children. Our district’s NRG – New Rotary Generation – clubs, which target young professionals, are really coming into their own, as well.”

In addition Chris Bloore, of the Dunedin Club, is soon to become the president of the district’s first “e-club”, which had already attracted a global membership comprising some of the leading minds in water and sanitation in the world.

“Around 3000 children worldwide die each day because they don’t have what we take for granted – hygienic sanitation and clean drinking water. Chris and his new club, which connects in cyberspace, are working to use their immense collective skills and knowledge to find ways to bring that horrendous toll down.”

As well as supporting Rotary’s international projects, including the push to eradicate polio, District 9980 and all of its southern clubs will continue to back local communities through providing financial support, co-ordination and voluntary help for projects and events.  

Janice’s tenure will culminate in a conference in Wanaka in May. Themed “Our World a Better Place”, the conference will welcome Rotarians and invited guests for a weekend of inspirational speakers and Rotary presentations, as well as a celebration of the Upper Clutha region’s scenery, activities and cuisine.