K.R. "Ravi" Ravindran
There was once a strong young man who was offered a job as a woodcutter. He set about his task with energy: The first week, he turned 18 trees into firewood. The second week, he worked just as hard, but was surprised to find he had chopped only 11 trees. The third week, despite working nonstop from morning till night, the number was six, and he went despairingly to the foreman to offer his resignation. "I am losing my strength. I can no longer cut as many trees as I once could."
The foreman looked at the young man, who seemed to him in fine health. "Have you thought of sharpening your ax?" he asked.
"Sharpen my ax? Who has time to sharpen an ax?" the young man asked indignantly. "I have been too busy chopping wood!"
When we aren't making the kind of progress we feel we should be making, the natural response is to redouble our efforts. Sometimes, though, the better response is not to work harder, but to work smarter. Look at your tools. Analyze your processes. Are you directing your resources in the most effective ways? Or are you pouring all your strength into chopping wood with a dull ax?
For the last 20 years, we have relentlessly beaten the drum of membership in Rotary. We set goals and launch campaigns, all focused on bringing in more and more members. And yet, our overall numbers remain the same.
It is time to sharpen our tools. Instead of focusing on the question, "How can we bring more members into Rotary?" we should be asking ourselves, "How can we add more value to Rotary membership, so that more will join and fewer will leave?"
One way we are doing that is with the new Rotary Global Rewards program, which launched in July. This innovative program allows Rotarians to connect with, and receive discounts and concessions from, businesses and service providers around the world. Individual Rotarians may submit their own business to be included alongside those with which Rotary has already negotiated relationships; the most appropriate offers will be added to the listings. We have also created the option of allowing businesses to return a percentage of their profit on each transaction to our Rotary Foundation, and several companies have already been locked into this part of the scheme. Each month we will update the list with additional offers that we may receive. I urge all of you to try it out by signing up on My Rotary at Rotary.org now. The more Rotarians participate, the stronger, and more beneficial, the program will be.
Much more than another loyalty program, Rotary Global Rewards is a new way to benefit from being a Rotarian, and being part of the Rotary network. It is another way to combine business and service. And it is yet another way to add value to Rotary membership. We cannot forget that our potential members will be asking themselves, "What's in it for me?" We need to demonstrate the value of Rotary by showing that becoming a Rotarian will enrich their lives, as it has ours.
In the 1930s, Ole Kirk Christiansen, a Danish carpenter, had a wooden sign hanging on his wall that read, Det bedste er ikke for godt: "Only the best is good enough." Today, Christiansen is remembered as the inventor of Lego, the colorful plastic bricks beloved by children around the world. But in the early days of the Lego company, its signature product was a wooden duck – one built to the highest standards, out of aged beech, with three coats of clear varnish. Lego's company history tells how Christiansen used his ducks to teach a lesson in quality to his son, Godtfred Kirk:
One evening, when I came into the office, I said to my father: "It's been a good day today, Dad. We've earned a little more." "Oh," said Dad, "what do you mean?" "Well, I've just been to the station with two boxes of our toy ducks for the Danish Co op. Normally they get three coats of varnish, but since it's for the Co-op, I only gave them two. So I saved the business a bit of money." He looked at me in dismay. "Godtfred, fetch those boxes back. Unpack them and give the ducks another coat of varnish. You're not going to bed until the work's done – and you'll do it all on your own." There was no arguing with Dad. And it was a lesson for me about what quality meant.
Today, Lego's quality standards are legendary, and its products are the most popular toys in the world: Lego pieces outnumber humans 86 to 1.
We all recognize that this success stems directly from Lego's business practices – its insistence on quality, efficiency, and innovation. I compare this with our efforts in governance and accountability in Rotary, and realize that sometimes we fall short of the standards expected.
The leaders at the Rotary International, zone, district, and club levels have to maintain the highest standards in governance. The RI president and directors must serve the membership in a meaningful manner; zone leaders must deliver on the investment Rotary makes in them; district leaders must provide dynamic leadership in the district and focus on transparency in accounting and timely reporting of financials; and club leaders must adhere to proper reporting functions and get their clubs onto Rotary Club Central.
Just as Christiansen refused to consider sending a lesser product to any of his clients, so should we refuse to consider giving a lesser effort to any of our work. We must always demand the best of ourselves – in our professional lives, and especially in our Rotary work.
For in Rotary, what is our product? It is not wooden ducks or plastic bricks. It is education, water, health, and peace. It is hope, and it is life itself. For this work, only our best is good enough. I ask you all to remember this – and to do your very best to Be a Gift to the World.