Paul Harris had a way of seeing the good in everything. Rotary was not born in Chicago in the early part of the twentieth century because the city was awash in goodwill and concern for others. Quite the opposite was true. The concept of "business ethics" in Chicago at the time was considered an oxymoron. The principles of Rotary were a reaction to the unethical business climate of the era.

Harris believed that nothing got cleaned up until people could no longer stand it. He noted that the pollution in Chicago was ignored until people were dying and unable to live with the stench. Only then did the people of Chicago come together to do something to correct it, although their solution (flushing the pollution down the river to other cites) was by modern standards far from ideal.

Harris believed that ethical business people could survive and even prosper, because given a choice, people would want to do business with someone they trusted. Standing for ethical behaviour in business and professions set Rotary apart from every other social club of the era, and it is still a foundational principle today.

When professionals join a Rotary club, they do so as a representative of their classification - their particular business or profession. Rotarians have the dual responsibility of representing their vocation within the club and exemplifying the ideals of Rotary within the workplace. One of the central goals of Vocational Service is to promote and advance Rotary's high ethical standards.

Vocational Service is one of Rotary's Avenues of Service. Vocational Service calls every Rotarian to:

  • aspire to high ethical standards in their occupation;
  • recognize the worthiness of all useful occupations, and;
  • contribute their vocational talents to the problems and needs of society.

Several of RI's programs offer opportunities to exercise Vocational Service, including:

Rotary Volunteers: put your vocational talents to work on a service project

Rotary Fellowships: start or join a vocational fellowship group

RYLA: teach young people leadership skills

Rotary Friendship Exchange: conduct vocational exchanges with Rotarians in other parts of the world