Service: Looking Beyond Economic Growth

What does “service” mean? Service is a core activity in our lives, and yet many are unclear about what it means or treat service activities as having little value. We are being of service whenever we do something that is useful for others or that ensures a positive outcome for other people. In many instances, our service is something that the other party could do for themselves but, by doing it for them, we free them for other activities or we contribute a specialized skill that is needed.

In the business world, service industries are those that support and facilitate all economic activity. They are particularly important for small firms that do not have the resources to provide all services internally. So enterprises contract out for accounting, banking, courier, insurance, legal, marketing, printing, telecommunication, transportation, web hosting, and dozens of other services. Service industries comprise over two-thirds of the world’s economy and are the main engine for job creation, offering both entry-level opportunities and a range of highly-skilled jobs.

In our personal lives, we depend on services for the quality of our lives – child care, education, health, maintenance and repair, recreation, and a range of social services. We also contribute services as volunteers, both in our homes (self-service) and through charitable organizations. And an important part of any spiritual practice is the practical implementation of our values and a willingness to help others through service.

We are only now realizing that we benefit most when we “give back” in service — making the needs of others and our communities as important as our own. Dr. Dorothy Riddle was at the forefront of initiatives to look beyond pure economic profit as a business goal and focus on the collaboration among small firms to thrive and contribute. Now we see this focus echoed in initiatives like servant leadership, netweaving, and creating shared value.

For Dr. Riddle’s work on social issues and spirituality, see Enough For Us All.