5 reasons why we can beat corruption

Blair Glencorse
Founder and Executive Director, The Accountability Lab
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“We have to do what our parents’ generation did not do…so that when they die, the corruption dies with them,” says Divine Anderson. Anderson is the young director of the Accountability Film School, which empowers Liberians to make documentaries about integrity issues in their communities and show these films to government officials at local video clubs and national film festivals. This helps them raise their voice, increase awareness, and generate demand for reform.

Across the world, the millennial generation is finding new tools to make people in power more responsible to citizens. New leaders like Anderson are fighting corruption in ways that are fundamentally changing societies that, in many places, have been deeply hierarchical, frustratingly opaque and unequal for hundreds of years.


Corrupt officials are worried – and they should be. Young people are proving themselves to be hugely committed to working towards greater transparency, accountability and integrity in their countries. Here are five reasons why corruption is no match for the millennial generation:

  1. Strength in numbers. Over half of the people on the planet are now under the age of 35. In South-East Asia, this number rises to two-thirds of the population. In Africa, the median age is now less than 20. This is a constituency that is large, vocal and cannot be ignored. It is also bringing with it votes for a new cadre of young leaders who understand how to fight corruption. Think of the youthful Joko Widodo in Indonesia, for example, respected for his integrity; or President Benigno Aquino, who won the youth vote by vowing to crack down on corruption in the Philippines.
  2. Global perspective. It is no secret that today’s youth are better connected than ever before, through tools that allow them to chat, share and collaborate. Almost 70% of the world’s internet users are on Facebook. This provides an unprecedented comparative perspective across societies and replication of good ideas from place to place online and offline. The I Paid a Bribe platform, for example, started in India but now has local versions – led largely by young people – in 14 countries. The Global Youth Anti-Corruption Network (GYAC) has more than 45 chapters around the world. It is easier than ever for youth to come together and build coalitions for change.
  3. Civic-minded. Young people today are less entrenched in patronage networks than their parents and grandparents, and less interested in perpetuating these ties than any generation before them. The Citizenship Forum in Morocco, for example, is building a network of civic clubs in schools across the country to help youth understand their rights and responsibilities. In Papua New Guinea, Transparency International’s Integrity Camp has supported hundreds of young leaders on issues related to the rule of law and accountability. Our conversations with millennials indicate that their aim is not to become part of a corrupt system but to change it. They desperately want to create a new generation of citizens who value meritocracy over partiality and honesty over duplicity.
  4. Innate creativity. Millennials are less bound by traditional ways of thinking and more able to work outside conventional mechanisms for change in their societies. Social enterprise – business that does good – is increasingly popular among young people. In the US alone, social business is now worth over $500 billion a year. This movement is spilling over into the anti-corruption realm. In Prague, Corrupt, for example, is running paid tours that highlight where graft has taken place in the city, with demand for at least four tours a month. In Thailand, the for-profit Refuse to Be Corrupt cafés at universities provide a space where young people can discuss how to tackle corruption. For the younger generation, building integrity can also mean making money.
  5. Tech-savvy. Computer programming and tech literacy are second nature to many millennials, even in places where internet access is still limited. In fact, poor equipment and connections precipitate innovative technology ideas to stamp out corruption. In Nepal, for example, a tool called Nalibeli allows young people to crowdsource information on public services online. This allows citizens to better navigate government and avoid paying bribes. In places with greater online populations, like China, young people have been playing a popular new anti-corruption video game. In Colombia, a site called Congreso Visible provides information on elected officials, including their attendance in parliament and key votes. Transparent information online is allowing millennials to hold decision-makers more accountable.

Back in Liberia, Anderson and his team are working on a film festival to show films that focus on the corruption that they perceive to be contributing to the Ebola epidemic. “Our people are dying,” he says. “Corruption is killing us. Young people have to be responsible for building an honest future, or we won’t have one at all.”

The results of the survey, The Impact of Corruption: Perspectives from Millennial Voices, are available here

Author: Blair Glencorse is Executive Director, Accountability Lab, an organization which empowers young people to build creative tools for integrity and anti-corruption

Image: A man holds out bolivar notes as he offers to exchange currency at the border between Colombia and Venezuela at Simon Bolivar international bridge in San Antonio in the Venezuelan state of Tachira July 23, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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