By Cynthia Salim
At the age of 21, I was a fervent student activist at Loyola Marymount University, walking picket lines to advocate for a living wage in Los Angeles, California, USA. I never would have imagined that at 28 I’d be starting a fashion label in New York City and doing social change work through a lifestyle brand. That’s the power of the Rotary experience — it widens perspectives and inspires change from every industry.
In my twenties, I went from thinking I would never work in the private sector to becoming an impact entrepreneur, spending my days finding responsible factories to work with and talking to photographers about how to thoughtfully portray women in advertising campaigns for Citizen’s Mark, a line of high-quality blazers I started for a generation of socially conscious and empowered women on the rise.
When I was selected for a Rotary Scholarship in 2009, I was introduced to the concept of vocational service. This is the second object of Rotary: “High ethical standards in business and professions; the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society.”
I met dozens of Rotarians in my district who had found opportunities to serve society through their occupations, from film and finance to education and transportation.
I went on to complete a Master of Arts in Human Values and Contemporary Global Ethics at King’s College London as a Rotary Scholar and eventually worked in Geneva, Switzerland, in policy advocacy and management consulting.
It was in building my wardrobe for these jobs that I discovered a niche. There was a dearth of professional wear for women on the rise — that space between newly minted professional and seasoned executive. There were few options at all, and even fewer from brands committed to responsible sourcing, production, and branding.
I started to build what would become Citizen’s Mark using the perspective I had gained from my master’s degree and the insightful conversations I had with Rotarians. The relationships I built in Europe were instrumental to my ability to build Citizen’s Mark’s responsible supply chain. I visited wool mills in Italy and learned about water purification after the fabric dyeing process. I talked to German wool under-collar suppliers about clean production methods. I drove into small towns in Portugal with a local friend and asked suit factory owners about — you guessed it — living wages.
Rotary truly changed the trajectory of my career. From meeting Rotarians in so many industries and countries to getting a solid academic foundation, Rotary was for me, and is for many, instrumental in transforming careers into opportunities for high-impact work that serves society.
Learn more about how Rotary strengthens local entrepreneurs
About the author: Cynthia Salim is the founder of Citizen’s Mark and a 2009 Rotary Scholar sponsored by District 5280 (California, USA) and hosted by District 1120 (England).