Socialising has temporarily moved online, and what better way to reconnect with your Rotaract friends than a massive virtual hangout, the so called Rotaract Bar everybody’s talking about. Powered by a fresh platform, World of Rotaract – and only one of its many activities.
The man behind the idea is Riccardo Loizzo, a social media strategist from Rotaract Club Lecco PHF, Italy. He shares with us the concept of the project, tips on how to get involved, as well as his first-hand experience of being quarantined in Lombardy, Italy’s region coronavirus has affected the most.
World of Rotaract is a new player in the Rotaract sphere. How did you come up with the idea and what is its purpose?
This idea was born gradually. Firstly, this year’s Rotary International motto Rotary Connects the World has been very inspirational. Then, during the autumn REM in Caserta, the amount of members in the event’s official WhatsApp group reached its limit (257). To me, who lives Rotaract in the most inclusive way possible, it was a shame to leave people out because of it. A Telegram group, instead, has a limit of 200.000 members, so I decided to start Rotagram. In two months we were 800 and I was starting to feel a sort of responsibility towards all of them, so I thought of doing something more. I did a call and a bunch of people, from all over the world, replied enthusiastically to my request for help with starting a brand new project: in December World of Rotaract was born.
After taking a month to organize everything, we introduced the project to other Rotaractors on January 6th. Its purposes are to inform, inspire and connect Rotaractors from different parts of the globe. Basically, our main purpose is that of building a social media infrastructure to allow Rotaractors to connect and get in touch with one another; for example, we offer them public space where they can come up with new ideas and projects. My task is that of managing World of Rotaract social media profiles; I give people the freedom to take advantage of the channels to connect with each other. From what I see, it is working well, because many people both propose and start new projects on World of Rotaract. Furthermore, it is becoming a good digital space for sharing ideas and points of view on Rotaract, news, life, and much more.
There are quite a few other preexisting Rotaract initiatives, such as Rotaract Couch, Rotaract TRIPS, Rotaract Events & Trips and RotaHub. Which novelties does World of Rotaract bring and do you envisage a future collaboration?
From the very beginning I’ve always emphasized I wouldn’t create competition amongst different initiatives already at hand. World of Rotaract wants to offer a digital space to all Rotaractors: one can find a World of Rotaract account on nearly all social media there are. Another point that I want to underline is that it is not addressed to a singular club, district or MDIO. It is a bottom-up project, created by many Rotaractors, which can, in my opinion, permit a long-term planning. Going on, our aim is that of creating synergies to start new international collaborations and initiatives; for example, we talk about services, we present clubs, we inform our followers on Rotaract TRIPS and Events & Trips. Our project, by the way, is a very fluid and dynamic initiative that adapts to the needs of Rotaractors and grows according to the response of our followers.
How many people are currently on your team and what are their tasks? How can other Rotaractors get involved?
At the moment we are 20, but the door is always open to anyone who wants to take this opportunity. We have a a great and talented content manager, Sophia Rita, who organizes our editorial calendar. Some members, such as Jan Van Houtte, manage and »keep alive« our Telegram group; the others help with finding new interesting stories to share.
Every Rotaractor can join the initiative by sharing their stories as members – particular services they organized or got involved in, or particular experiences they lived – anything they want to share with our big family. Anyone can join the team and contribute to creating new posts or gets involved in other activities – we always have something to do.
I don’t see myself as a boss but as a leader: I don’t give orders, on the contrary, I allow people to demonstrate their real value having the opportunity to let me see who they really are. We need various kinds of expertise, so don’t be shy and join us.
To better deal with the pandemic of COVID-19, you have enabled Rotaractors to hang out virtually every day in a Zoom chatroom. It started out with Stay at Home Party; now, every day, the chat is open 24 hours to welcome Rotaractors in the so called Rotaract Bar. How is the feedback? What happens in the Rotaract Bar?
This is another successful step for World of Rotaract. As always, I considered people’s needs: how could both I and other Rotaractors survive at home, especially on a Saturday night, and how can people meet while forced to stay at home? When I created the Zoom chatroom, I received a huge, positive and immediate reaction from Rotaractors who soon decided to join the chat every day, meet with old friends and get introduced to new ones. After a week and a half, today there are 20–25 members who regularly join the conversation and many others who visit the Rotaract Bar occasionally. Last Saturday, for example, we organized a DJ set and had more than 100 visitors!
You are originally from Lombardy, the region in Italy that the virus has affected the most. You have been in isolation since February 22nd. Do you have news from the frontline? What is your first-hand experience?
I have always considered myself lucky for living in a big house with a huge terrace and a beautiful view which allow me not to go mad at home, but not everyone is as fortunate. Every day, we hear we are reaching the peak which represents »the midnight of this dark night we are living.« I received many messages from friends who are also doctors, who tried to give me a real idea of the situation without being too explicit in order not to make me worry. They need protective materials, such as hazmat suits, masks and glasses, they need rest because they work 10–12 hours a day non-stop. Outside the hospitals, there is a very noisy silence that hits us because we find it unusual. Car noise, people chatting … The normal sounds of the city are missing. Everything now appears still and silent.
How has the lockdown affected you personally and what else do you do to cope?
It is difficult to manage a long lockdown: we feel stress, depression, anger, sense of helplessness towards an invisible enemy, fear of getting infected and infecting our loved ones, loneliness … In the end, I have to admit, the first person enjoying the benefits of online Rotaract Bar is me, having found a way to share with friends the problems everyone is dealing with at the moment and enable us to give each other strength to ease this discomfort.
What do you think humanity can learn from the pandemic?
Very good question! I’ve read some articles and am trying to make some predictions, but for sure, at the end of 2020 humanity won’t act the same as before. A revolution was already ongoing with millennials who were slowly imposing their digital way of living and, clearly, coronavirus has accentuated it. In addiction, it will be interesting to see if and how some measures, such as social distancing, for example, will remain in the society …
You’re a digital enthusiast – obviously, therefore, World of Rotaract communicates through many channels. Where can we follow it?
Photo: Craig Simons/ERIC; REM Øresund 2019; Philip Muneer Flindt/World of Rotaract