The volunteer mindset that drives global impact

In the course of my career I’ve found that there are two types of people at work, those who take initiative and those who take orders. The former type are those who see life as a blank canvas awaiting their inspiration, creativity and skill to express something meaningful and lasting. The latter view their existence as a maze, full of booby traps, and anything that they do out of the ordinary is bound to get them in an inextricable jam that will negatively alter the course of their careers.

While one boasts about how much work they have, the other brags about how much work they’ve dodged. While one is benevolent and outwardly focused, the other is primarily concerned with their individual needs.

Early in my career, when my boss encouraged me to give to charity, I was inspired to take a lofty view of society and that was when I was introduced to the Rotary Club whose motto is ‘service above self’. I was forced to take a deeper look into the world of philanthropy, both organised and unstructured, and decide for myself which was more effective in addressing the ills of society.

As a young hotblooded male growing up in Kenya, I could wax lyrical about all the problems in our communities and always found someone else to blame, but this new perspective caused me to stop and think, “what can I do about it in my own way?”

My personal observation while comparing mandated corporate social responsibility projects and volunteering brought me to the conclusion that without a doubt, volunteering had the greatest impact.

The Rotary Club was misconstrued to be a society of rich people with extra cash to give but when I joined I was neither rich nor had I idle cash, and what I admired most about Rotarians was their mindset. They claim to be a society of men and women; leaders of high ethical standards with the ideal of service, and with such highfalutin language I’m not surprised that they were misunderstood.

However, the ethical standards that they espouse seem to define their outlook. They follow principles of trust, good behaviour, fairness and kindness, which they bring from their businesses and careers and apply them in community service. They are busy people, growing their companies, climbing the corporate ladder, bringing up their families and thus when they are engaged in volunteer activities they’d like to get the most out of it.

This is reflected in Rotary’s flagship project, where they had the audacity to pursue a world without polio and in 1985 asked the UN and other global development agencies to join them on the journey. Today they are at the brink of ending polio and I still wonder if any corporate would have the guts to lay out such a brave goal and make real progress towards it.

If Rotarians were only concerned about meeting minimal standards and ticking boxes, then their impact would be insignificant and totally uninspired, but instead they ask themselves individually whether they are adding to the sum total of these amazing outcomes.

Rotary is the most respected volunteer organisation globally because its members continue to dream big and bring their best to the table. They do this under the simple concept of sharing and building meaningful relationships with others.

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