The International Association of Lions Clubs began as the dream of a Chicago insurance man Melvin Jones, who wondered why local business clubs – he was an active member of one – could not expand their horizons from purely business concerns to the betterment of their communities and the world at large.

Jones’ ideal struck a chord within his own group, the Business Circle of Chicago, and they authorised him to explore his concept with similar organisations from around the United States.  His efforts resulted in an Organisation Meeting at a local hotel on June 7, 1917.

The 12 men who gathered there overcame a natural sense of loyalty to their parent clubs, voted the “Association of Lions Clubs” into existence, and issued a call for a national convention to be held in Dallas, Texas, USA in October of the same year.

Thirty-six delegates representing 22 clubs from nine states heeded the call, approved the “Lions Clubs” designation, and elected Dr. William P. Woods of Indiana as their first President.  Guiding force and founder, Melvin Jones was named acting Secretary.  Thus began his association with Lionism that only ended with his death in 1961.

That first convention also began to define what Lionism was to become.  A Constitution and Bye-Laws were adopted, the colors of purple and gold approved, and a start made on Lionism’s Objectives and Code of Ethics.

One of the objects was startling for an era that prided itself on mercenary individualism, and has remained one of the main tenets of Lionism ever since.  “No Club,” it read, “shall hold out the financial betterment of its members as its object”. Community leaders soon began to organise clubs throughout the United States, and the association became “International” with the formation of the Lions Club of Windsor, Ontario, Canada in 1920.  Clubs were later organised in China, Mexico, and Cuba.  By 1927, membership stood at 60,000 in 1,183 clubs.

In 1935, Panama became home to the first Central American club, with the first South American club being organised in Columbia the following year.  Lionism reached Australia in 1947 and Europe in 1948, as clubs were chartered in Sweden, Switzerland, and France.  In 1952, the first club was Chartered in Japan, and in 1956 in India.

The International Association of Lions Clubs is today the largest service club organisation in the world with over 1.4 million members in more than 43,300 clubs in 714 Districts covering 183 countries and geographic areas.  Lions Clubs are not social clubs, although there are social benefits to membership.  Lions Club members give their time, skills and resources to raise funds for charity giving both their communities and internationally.

The International Association of Lions Clubs began a program of fund raising that they called “Campaign Sight First” in order to cure/prevent 40 million cases of blindness worldwide.  Over $148,600,000 have been raised by Lions all over the world for this program.  Eye hospitals are being built in the places that most need them.  In India alone, over 300,000 cataract surgeries have been performed and that number is rapidly growing.  Lions’ services to humanity range from purchasing eyeglass for a child whose parents can’t afford them to multimillion dollar programs to cure blindness on a worldwide scale.

Throughout the world, Lions support the young people of their communities through numerous program: Lions Youth Outreach, Changing Tomorrow Today, Lions-Quest, The Future is Ours….So Now What?, Youth Volunteer Video Program, Children at Risk: Focus on Street Children, Lions International Peace Poster Contest, Lions International Youth Exchange, Lions International Youth Camps and Leo Clubs.

Lions are also involved in a variety of other activities to improve their communities and help people in need, such as assisting the hearing impaired, diabetes awareness, education and environmental projects.

The International Association of Lions Clubs is the largest non-governmental organization associated with United Nations and was called upon by the United Nations and the World Health Organization to raise funds for an international program of sight conservation.  It has been estimated that 40 million cases of curable and preventable blindness exist on this planet today.  Without intervention, this is projected to become 80 million by the end of the century.

The major focus of Lions fund raising activities is Sight Conservation, although other projects are pursued such as Drug Awareness programs in high schools, Diabetes Awareness programs and other programs that are specific to individual Clubs and Districts.  Lions took up Sight Conservation as their major goal after a speech given by Helen Keller at the Lions International Convention held at Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1925.  At that time, Helen Keller challenged the Lions to become “Knights of the Blind”, a challenge that has become a rallying cry for Lions projects around the world.

Lions work in the area if Sight Conservation is carried out at many levels.  Individual clubs sponsor free eye screening programs using mobile eye clinics.  In many countries, clubs sponsor eye surgery camps where cataract surgeries are performed at no charge for those who can’t afford this medical care.  Many clubs collect old eye glasses for distribution to the needy in other countries.