“The only unique feature of Rotary is vocational service; everything else that we do is repeated by some other organization. If we have a special message or mission in the world that is unique to ourselves, it lies only in the realm of vocational service.” - T.A. Warren, Past RI President 1945-46
Traditionally, Rotarians set aside October as the month to showcase our second avenue of service, Vocational Service. It is possibly the least understood of our five avenues of service and for this reason it is often overlooked as an area of activity within our clubs. In reality, vocational service is an avenue through which we serve so often that we don’t always recognise it as service.
We assume that Paul Harris and his friends created Rotary to promote the noble ideas of humanitarian service, goodwill and world understanding. In the early days of Rotary this was not the case. These worthy pursuits came later. Rotary was started for business and professional purposes.
At the start of the twentieth century, business was aggressively competitive. Professional standards, customer service and business ethics were seldom topics of real concern. Simply making money was the goal. Paul Harris began to wonder if one person from each business and profession could meet as friends perhaps rivalries could be broken down and they could even help each other to achieve business success. Thus, the idea of a club combining friendship and business developed.
Over the decades the value of Vocational Service has evolved greatly. We now “recognise all useful occupations as worthy of respect” and we can use our “work as an opportunity to serve society”. Every occupation serves a need. Whether we are serving customers, teaching students or treating patients, whether we’re involved in commerce, research, the media, or any one of countless other fields – we are contributing to our communities and our society. As Rotarians, we should take pride in doing our work with competence and integrity.
Vocational Service also encourages us “to hold high ethical standards in our business affairs and our professional practices”. During the early meetings of Rotary, the members frequently discussed techniques to improve their business practices. They gave one another wise and friendly counsel on misleading advertising, shoddy products, poor customer relations and so on. Members and their friends soon began to feel that when you did business with a Rotarian, you were always going to be treated properly, that their word could be counted upon, and that there was an ethical element in all transactions. The word “Rotarian” became a mark of distinction in the business world and remains so today.
The simple philosophy of the 4-Way Test was created by Rotarian Herbert Taylor in 1934, when he was called upon to take charge of a company facing imminent bankruptcy. He turned the company around by creating the test as a measure of the company’s fairness, honesty and integrity in all its business transactions. In 1943, the Rotary Board of Directors adopted the “Four Way Test” of the things we think, say and do: Is it the Truth? Is it Fair to All Concerned? Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships? Will it be Beneficial to All Concerned? The 4-Way Test is a simple and practical guide for all human relationships and has become firmly imbedded in Rotary‘s Avenue of Vocational Service. It has been displayed in clubs, schools, workplaces and public buildings all over the world.
Rotary’s high ethical standards are also demonstrated in The Rotary Code of Conduct, formerly known as The Declaration of Rotarians in Business and Professions.This code defines a set of values that are appropriate for the personal conduct of Rotarians in business, as professionals, as community leaders and in retirement. This code is sadly not as well-known as it used to be but it can be found on page 4 of the 2014-2015 District 9800 Directory. It deserves to be read, discussed and debated during Vocational Service month.
Vocational Service now encompasses a wide variety of Rotary activities. Club members can use their vocational skills working on service projects, providing career guidance for young people, doing mock job interviews, mentoring students, creating vocational award programs and participating in vocational fellowship groups.
Since 1965, one of Rotary’s most popular and rewarding programs - combining vocational service and international understanding- has been The Group Study Exchange (GSE) program. It enables young business and professional men and women to observe and learn how their vocation is practised in another country. Next March, District 9800 will send a GSE team to District 6840 in Louisiana and Mississippi. A team from District 6840 has already been selected and includes a lawyer, a meteorologist, a career guidance officer, an office manager and a media executive. Our team will be chosen next month.
More recently the Rotary Foundation has funded Vocational Training Teams (VTT) which consist of groups of professionals traveling abroad to either learn about their profession or teach local professionals about a particular field.
Vocational Service is basic to our organisation. When we join Rotary, our Rotary dinner badge notes our “classification.” Rotary’s classification principal assures that each club has among its members a cross section of a community’s business and professional population. Each member brings unique skills, knowledge and abilities to their club and its projects. What do you know about the vocations of all of your club members?
Let’s celebrate Vocational Service Month by promoting the ethical basis of Rotary and by gaining a better understanding of the diverse vocational talents of our fellow members. We may find untapped talents to enhance our club and our community.
Murray Verso
District Governor 2014-2015