January is Vocational Service Month on the Rotary calendar. Vocational Service is at the heart of Rotary, which was founded on the classification system of membership. Business and professional life are the bedrock of Rotary, and Vocational Service is a major force in promoting honour, integrity, and trustworthiness in business.
A Short History Lesson
Originally only one representative from each business or profession was invited to join a club. Paul Harris felt that if several members of the same profession were to join, they would either sit together and “talk shop” or compete against each other for other members’ business. The idea of “trade-boosting” was gradually eliminated and by 1912, Rotarians were no longer required to exchange business with one another.
The Forgotten Avenue of Service
Of Rotary’s five Avenues of Service* – Club, Vocational, Community, and International – Vocational is difficult to define, so it is sometimes called the “Forgotten Avenue of Service”. One reason is Club, Community, International and Youth Service activities usually involve groups of Rotarians. They enjoy the fellowship of Club Service, the satisfaction of serving the needs of their communities, and the hope that their International Service promotes world peace and understanding. But Vocational Service – the second Avenue of Service -- is generally conducted by individual members.
Service Above Self
Rotary’s early leaders often cited the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – as the guiding principle of Rotary’s Vocational Service. By the time the National Association of Rotary Clubs held its first convention in 1910, the networking emphasis had begun to shift. The majority of clubs told the new Civic Committee that Rotary should move from being a booster club to improving their communities. The concept of “he profits most who serves his fellows best” became “he profits most who serves best”. This idea morphed into “Service, not Self” and finally, it became the Rotary slogan we know today -- “Service Above Self”.
In 1940, Rotary International defined the Object of Vocational Service “to encourage and foster: high ethical standards in business and professions; the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; the dignifying by each Rotarian of his occupation as an opportunity to serve society.” Today’s Rotarians still pride themselves on being able to use their professional stature and knowledge to make things happen worldwide, wherever there is a need for change.
The Rotary Code of Ethics
Back in 1912, when Glenn Mead succeeded Paul Harris as President of Rotary International, he recommended a code of business ethics be formulated to contribute to the advancement of business morality. At that time, there were no consumer protection laws or truth-in-advertising statutes. Fraudulent and deceptive business practices were the norm. The unwritten law was caveat emptor, “Let the buyer beware.” Since the adoption of the Rotary Code of Ethics in 1915, at least 145 national industrial codes of conduct practice have been adopted as a direct result of the influence of Rotarians.
The Four-Way Test
Rotary’s current code of ethical conduct – The Four-Way Test – was developed during the Great Depression, by a Rotarian, Herb Taylor, from the United States, as a four-part ethical guideline that helped him rescue a beleaguered business. The code’s four points are simple and direct – “Of all the things we think, say or do:
1. Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?”
The Four-Way Test was officially adopted by Rotary in 1943 and has been translated into the languages of over 100 countries. It appears on highway billboards, in schoolrooms and on the walls of businesses, in labour contracts, courtrooms and halls of government. It’s even on the moon, in the form of a Four-Way Test pin planted on the surface by astronaut Buzz Aldrin!
The Heart of Rotary
Vocational Service remains at the heart of Rotary. In 1987-88, RI President Charles C. Keller reinvigorated the Avenue by appointing the first Vocational Service Committee in 50 years. The committee redefined how clubs could more effectively participate in Vocational Service and drafted the new Declaration of Rotarians in Businesses and Professions.
Today, with over 1.2 million members in more than 35,000 clubs in nearly 200 countries, Rotary provides humanitarian service, promotes high ethical standards in all vocations, and helps build international understanding, goodwill and peace.
Written by Immediate Past Chair of the District Vocational Service Committee Ian Lancaster, member of the Rotary Club of Toronto Sunrise.