What is Kiwanis

The Beginning

Kiwanis was founded in Detroit, Michigan on January 21, 1915. The first Kiwanian was a merchant tailor named Joseph Prance. The original name was "The Benevolent Order of Brothers", and its purpose was the mutual exchange of preferred treatment in professional and business dealings.

Within a year, the name had been changed to "Kiwanis", taken from an Indian term "Nun Keewanis", which roughly means "Self Expression". It had also become obvious that the original purpose lacked the power to attract and hold members. The purpose of the organization thus became "community service", a concept from which Kiwanis has never deviated. A little later, Kiwanis "bought itself" from organizer Allen Browne, "incorporated itself", and began following a growth pattern that continues today.

In 1916, Kiwanis entered Canada, thus becoming international. Kiwanis moved into Mexico in 1962, breaking its long-standing tradition of serving only in the U.S. and Canada. International extension has continued since that time.


Kiwanis members number more than 300,000 in about 8,600 clubs. This membership serves the needs of over 94 nations and geographic areas. Kiwanis sponsors four organizations for young men and women: K-Kids in elementary schools, Builders Clubs in junior high schools, Key Clubs in high schools, and Circle K in colleges.

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