There has been a deluge of corruption-related news and scandals around the world this year.

By: Blair Glencorse, Executive Director of the Accountability Lab; Friday Odeh Country Director of Accountability Lab, Nigeria; Moussa Kondo; Country Director of Accountability Lab, Mali. Follow the Lab on Twitter @accountlab.

The President of Guatemala has expelled a key UN anti-corruption body from the country and Romania’s anti-corruption chief has stepped down just as the country is taking over the Presidency of the EU. Meanwhile, Japan’s Olympic Chief is facing allegations of bribery over Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 games; and the Danske Bank money-laundering probe continues to deepen.

This is not filling global youth with hope for the future. A survey we carried out through the Accountability Lab with the World Economic Forum indicated that young people continue to name corruption as the biggest challenge they face. And with good reason- corruption has a high cost for society and for the overall economy. It undermines public funds that should pay for education, healthcare and other basic services, sorely needed in those countries most affected by corruption. Businesses and individuals- mostly the poor- pay more than $1 trillion in bribes every year, which undermines trust, exacerbates inequalities and severs the social contract.

On the surface, it is easy to get depressed. But there are plenty of reasons to believe that 2019 will be the year young people turn the tide against this lack of integrity and accountability. Why? Because a new generation of change-makers is now putting anti-corruption and accountability firmly at the center of their understanding of global leadership- across business, politics, media and civil society. We need to lift up these heroes and celebrate their work in every way possible.

In business, now- more than ever- young consumers prefer to work and shop at businesses that drive social good. CEOs understand this- the likes of David Cruickshank at Deloitte and Paul Pollman, formerly of Unilever, are speaking out strongly on issues of ethical business. At a recent WEF Partnering Against Corruption (PACI) meeting, including many leading global corporations, there was a clear consensus on the idea that values-based organizations are not just better for the world but also more profitable in the long-term.

In government, there is now a new generation of politicians and bureaucrats emerging who are pushing for more inclusive, transparent decision-making. For example, Syed Saddiq the new 27 year-old Youth and Sports Minister in Malaysia, has not shied away from calling out the kleptocratic behavior of elites; while the 32 year-old Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry in Botswana, Bogolo Kenewendo, is pushing back against unfair business practices. During our recent global Integrity Idol campaign- to “name and fame” honest bureaucrats- we found hundreds of young, honest civil servants doing everything from fighting corruption in the police to ensuring fair justice at the local level.

In the media, the ability of youth activists to set a national and global accountability agenda is rapidly growing. Young people are creating news checking sites combating fake newsbloggers in countries like Nigeria are pushing for decision-making based on openness and honesty; and incredibly brave investigative journalists are taking on corrupt regimes and criminal networks. The proliferation of social media has made it harder for those in power to listen only to dishonest elites. New, tech-savvy young media-makers have shown that they won’t be silenced or strong-armed by the corrupt- and are building a collective voice for change.

Finally, a new wave of civic activists is pushing back against the old ways of fighting corruption- and showing real progress. These new groups are nimble and collaborative, not bureaucratic and competitive- and draw on lessons from the movement-building of the past, theories of strategic non-violent action and ethnographic approaches within specific contexts. Networks like Libera are taking on the mafia and “spreading a culture of legality” in Italy; groups like Al Bawsala are bringing transparency to decision-making in Tunisia; and coalitions like Africans Rising are effectively supporting people-powered action everywhere from Nigeria to Zimbabwe.

A big part of what these individuals and organizations are doing across business, government, civil society and media is shifting norms. We know that rules and compliance are not enough- what is needed is for a new generation of change-makers to push collectively for different, more inclusive and accountability decision-making. This means changing incentives- not ignoring the “naming and shaming” approach but flipping it and working to support the “naming and faming” of the people working with integrity. Putting the do-gooders in front of cameras, as well as putting the wrong-doer behind bars, perhaps. That is what we are doing with Integrity Idol– a global campaign to find, celebrate and support honest government officials. We are catching people within government doing the right thing and supporting them publicly to change incentives. This is a powerful way to shift the way decisions are made; and is applicable not just to government but to every other sector too.

Corruption remains arguably the largest impediment to global economic and political progress, but the good news is there is a new generation that is finding creative ways to collectively push back against it. Let’s celebrate them and reinforce this dynamic. Join us at the OECD Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum on March 20th at 11.30am to learn more!


Join The Accountability Lab’s session “Rewriting the Script on Corruption through Mindset Shifting” at the OECD Anti-Corruption & Integrity Forum on 20 March. Session details at http://www.oecd.org/corruption/integrity-forum/agenda/

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