An endowment fund, set up by Rotarians in 1917 "for doing good in the world," became a not-for-profit corporation known as The Rotary Foundation in 1928. Upon the death of Paul Harris in 1947, an outpouring of Rotarian donations made in his honor, totaling US$2 million, launched the Foundation's first program — graduate fellowships, now called Ambassadorial Scholarships. Today, contributions to The Rotary Foundation total more than US$80 million annually and support a wide range of humanitarian grants and educational programs that enable Rotarians to bring hope and promote international understanding throughout the world.

In 1985, Rotary made a historic commitment to immunize all of the world's children against polio. Working in partnership with non-governmental organizations and national governments thorough its Polio Plus Program, Rotary is the largest private-sector contributor to the global polio eradication campaign. Rotarians have mobilized hundreds of thousands of PolioPlus volunteers and have immunized more than one billion children worldwide.

The Rotary Foundation is our bridge to International Service for a better and more peaceful world. Their mission is to support the efforts of Rotary International in the fulfillment of the Object of Rotary, Rotary's mission, and the achievement of world understanding and peace through local, national, and international humanitarian, educational and cultural programs. 

Two major programs of the Rotary Foundation are Educational and Humanitarian.

Educational Programs

Ambassadorial Scholarships – The Foundation sponsors one of the largest international scholarship programs in the world. Scholars study in a different country, where they serve as unofficial ambassadors of goodwill. Since 1947, more than 47,000 scholars from 110 countries have received scholarships of more than $476 million through The Rotary Foundation.

Group Study Exchange (GSE) – Annual awards are made to paired Rotary districts to cover travel expenses for a team of non-Rotarians from a variety of professions. Rotarian hosts organize a four- to six-week itinerary of vocational, educational, and cultural points of interest. Since 1965, more than 57,000 individuals (almost 12,000 teams) from 100 countries have participated at a cost of more than $92 million.

Rotary Grants for University Teachers – These grants are awarded to university faculty members to teach in a developing nation for 3 to 10 months. Since 1985, more than $4 million in grants has allowed over 430 teachers to share their expertise with a college or university in a developing country.

The Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies Program – This program, which began July 2006, provides professionals from around the world the opportunity to be trained in conflict resolution and mediation strategies. The intensive three-month course is housed at the Rotary Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.

Rotary World Peace Fellowships – Each year, up to 60 scholars are sponsored to study at one of the six Rotary Centers for International Studies in peace and conflict resolution for a master’s-level degree. Since the program’s inception in 2002-03, 233 fellows from 60 countries have participated, funded by awards of almost $14 million through the Foundation.


Humanitarian Programs

PolioPlus Grants – Primarily applied for by National PolioPlus Committee chairs or a major partner agency, such as the World Health Organization or UNICEF. Support is available for eradication efforts in polio-endemic, recently endemic, and high-risk countries, including National Immunization Days, poliovirus transmission monitoring, and other activities.

Disaster Recovery – Allows Rotarians to donate money in response to specific disasters. Funds are distributed to local committees to support recovery efforts. The program was created in 2005-06, and the Foundation currently administers four Disaster Recovery accounts: Hurricanes Stan and Wilma (Guatemala and Mexico), Hurricane Wilma (United States), the Earthquake in India and Pakistan, and Solidarity in South Asia. Total contributions to the accounts were $6.4 million.

District Simplified Grants – Support the service activities of districts locally and abroad. Since this program began in 2003-04, more than 1,160 grants totaling over US$17 million have been awarded to districts in almost 60 countries.

Health, Hunger and Humanity (3-H) Grants – Fund large-scale, two- to four-year projects that improve health, alleviate hunger, or promote human development. Since 1978, more than 280 projects in 75 countries have been funded through The Rotary Foundation at a cost of $74 million.

Volunteer Service Grants – Support the international travel of qualified Rotarians and their spouses to provide a needed service or plan a necessary project in a community. This program began in 2006-07, and more than 200 projects in over 40 countries have been funded at about $1 million.

Matching Grants – Provide matching funds for the international service projects of Rotary clubs and districts. Since 1965, more than 24,000 Matching Grant projects in 167 countries have been funded at a cost of more than $257 million.