Geo-Economics and Politics

Can young people help in the fight against corruption?

Elaine Dezenski
Head of the Partnering Against Corruption Initiative, World Economic Forum
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Young people are some of the most important agents of change in the fight against corruption. Often overlooked, they offer a chance to reshape norms. In the Philippines, where over half the population is under the age of 24, there is a substantial opportunity to create a new culture against corruption.

The UN’s “My World” survey, which aims to inform the post-2015 international development agenda, shows the importance 16-30 year olds place on transparency and accountability: “An honest and responsive government” was one of their top concerns, ranking above other issues you might expect to have more traction among young respondents such as job opportunities, environmental protection and climate change. Only education and healthcare rank higher. In South-East Asia, only healthcare was deemed more important.

Given the appetite among the young for fighting corruption, how can we channel that energy into real change? Through the World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative, we will bring together business, government, civil society and members of our Global Shapers community in Manila to explore how social networks can foster transparency and accountability, and amplify the voice of the next generation of leaders.

Young people have the power to change the social and political dynamics that underlie a resigned acceptance of bribery and other forms of corruption. Connectivity makes it easier for influential voices to popularize a rejection of the status quo, and consequently provides a space for discussion that can lead to better opportunities to pursue structural changes in the system.

An example is the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which held its annual meeting in Bali this month. When it was launched three years ago, it had eight supporting governments. Now it has 63 national signatories. It works in part by encouraging networking among citizens and civil society organizations to hold governments to account for commitments expressed in national action plans.

Both the Philippines and Indonesia were among the eight founding members of the OGP, reflecting the growing momentum for anti-corruption in several South-East Asian nations. There is much variation within the region: according to Transparency International’s (TI) latest corruption perception index, South-East Asia contains some of the best and worst national performers, from Singapore (placed 5th of 177) down to Cambodia (ranked 160th).

The recent history of the Philippines shows that a change in culture is possible. The country has climbed 40 places in TI’s rankings since President Aquino’s election, and his party’s strong showing in last year’s mid-term elections demonstrates that a government’s commitment to a sustained reform process can bring in votes.

There are further encouraging signs: more survey respondents in the Philippines said they thought corruption had got better than worse in the last two years, and three-quarters – more than the global average – agreed with the proposition that “ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption”.

Across the region, there are initiatives supporting the changes need against corruption: the UNDP’s Thai Youth Anti-Corruption Network; Singapore’s leading work on anti-corruption and youth engagement; commitments from the governments of Cambodia and Malaysia to increase transparency and accountability in their national development strategies; and the OECD and the Asian Development Bank’s Anti-Corruption Action Plan for Asia and the Pacific.

Commitment from high-profile business leaders to anti-corruption is a vital complement to civil society’s role in holding officials responsible. The Forum, through its Partnering Against Corruption Initiative “Vanguard” community of CEOs, is partnering with the OECD to bring the global business voice in support of the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention at the country level. This collaboration can serve as a powerful tool to unite business and government to bring about a level playing field, especially in high-growth markets.

It is with the next generation, however, that the hope rests of a sustainable change in cultural norms. The appetite for accountable and transparent governance is there; we need to find effective ways to translate it into lasting action.

Author: Elaine Dezenski, Senior Director and Head of the Partnering Against Corruption Initiative, World Economic Forum

Image: A man looks out at a harbor from a high-rise building REUTERS/Mike Segar

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