How young people are turning the tide against corruption

Yoiuth 2019

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Blair Glencorse, Founder and Executive Director, The Accountability Lab & Friday Odeh, Country Director, Accountability Lab Nigeria


A deluge of corruption-related news and scandals has recently rocked the world. The President of Guatemala has expelled a key United Nations anti-corruption body from the country. Romania’s anti-corruption chief has stepped down just as the country is taking over the Presidency of the EU. 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. Young people continue to name corruption as the biggest challenge they face, according to a survey carried out through the Accountability Lab in conjunction the World Economic Forum. And with good reason – corruption has a high cost for society and the economy. It depletes public funds that should pay for education, healthcare and other basic services sorely needed in those countries most affected by it. Businesses and individuals – mostly the poor – pay more than $1 trillion in bribes every year, which undermines trust, exacerbates inequality and severs the social contract.

It is easy to get depressed about this. But there are plenty of reasons to believe that 2019 will be the year in which young people turn the tide against this lack of integrity and accountability. A new generation of change-makers is putting anti-corruption and accountability firmly at the centre of their understanding of global leadership across business, politics, media and civil society.

In business, this clearly showed at Davos 2019, which was chaired for the first time by Global Shapers from the World Economic Forum’s youth network. Accountability for everything from corruption in global corporations to state capture in South Africa were key topics of discussion. These Global Shapers and their contemporaries are leading the way in the corporate world, where 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 Polman, formerly at Unilever, are speaking out strongly on issues of ethical business. At a recent World Economic Forum Partnering Against Corruption (PACI) meeting, which included 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, a new generation of politicians and bureaucrats is emerging, pushing for more inclusive, transparent decision-making. In Malaysia, the 27-year-old Minister of Youth and Sports Syed Saddiq has not shied away from calling out the kleptocratic behaviour of elites. In Botswana, the 32-year-old Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry 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 growing rapidly. Young people are creating news checking sites to combat fake news; bloggers in countries including 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. 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 historic lessons from movement-building, theories of strategic non-violent action, and ethnographic approaches within specific contexts. Networks such as Libera are taking on the mafia and “spreading a culture of legality” in Italy; groups such as Al Bawsala are bringing transparency to decision-making in Tunisia; and coalitions such as Africans Rising are effectively supporting people-powered action in countries from Nigeria to Zimbabwe.

Corruption remains arguably the largest impediment to global economic and political progress. But there is a new generation finding creative, collective ways to push back against it.

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