As an increasingly integrated global community, we now stand at a crossroads. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals are reaching their conclusion in 2015, and discussions are advancing on the targets that will shape the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda. The outcome of these discussions will be the identification of the core areas that require global attention to ensure the achievement of sustainable development. I am firmly convinced that for sustainable development to take hold, renewed attention and focus must be given to curbing all forms and manifestations of corruption worldwide.

It is now universally accepted that corruption poses critical challenges to economic and social development, and diverts resources from legitimate causes beneficial to society at large. Corruption also restricts millions of people on a daily basis in their enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, contributing to the perpetuation of poverty and hindering economic opportunity. The collective recognition of the challenges posed by endemic corruption has led to political upheaval and, in some cases, revolution as social groups disadvantaged by corruption demand accountability from their governments and public officials.

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A world free from corruption is critical to the strengthening of the rule of law, achieving the ends of justice and ensuring the advancement of core fundamental principles of a just society, including a fair state of play, integrity, transparency and objectivity in both the public and private sectors.

But to be truly transformative, efforts to end global corruption and achieve sustainable development must have at their core the full participation and involvement, at all stages, of young people. As the next generation of political and business leaders, civil servants, educators and community workers, the young represent the fundamental fabric of society. We will need their engagement to achieve the three key ways to curb corruption set forth below, and to ensure the generational advancement of the global community towards a better world.

  1. Focus on education

It is absolutely essential that greater attention be placed on the need for comprehensive education for the future generation. Such efforts would involve ensuring that school and university curricula are updated and modernized in line with societal changes and developments to reinforce positive ideas and societal values for future generations and protect vulnerable groups of children. These efforts also require us to ensure that all children have adequate access to education, proper transportation and facilities, and necessary government and community support.

An emphasis on education, however, is not limited to only the formal school or university setting. It includes the holistic education of the next generation through community and religious institutions, vocational and internship opportunities, and participation in public and political processes as an integral part of socialization and development. Such an approach would be more likely to bridge the gap between the younger generation and political institutions that represent and serve their interests, fostering more productive relationships and more open dialogue.

  1. Create a culture of integrity

Closely connected to the focus on education is the need to create a culture of integrity that is “hard-wired” in society. While such a culture can be fostered and advanced through the comprehensive education of the next generation discussed previously, there is no reason to limit such efforts to only young people. Civil servants, political leaders and private-sector actors – both individually and collectively – can immediately begin establishing and strengthening a culture of integrity that concentrates on high-quality service delivery and professional performance standards, treating individuals with respect and dignity, and – above all else – playing by the same rules of fairness and objectivity. That means living by principles seemingly so basic and obvious as “no cutting corners” and “not being above the law”. To paraphrase the author Robert Fulghum, such wisdom is not to be found on the top of the graduate school mountain, but in the sandpile at elementary school.

  1. Demand accountability

For any society to be successful at curbing corruption and sustaining a culture of integrity, there must be mechanisms in place that operate as a check on thinking or behaviour that would represent a backsliding to the previous corrupt ways of doing business in the public or private sectors. Such monitoring and oversight helps to positively reinforce integrity and professionalism while holding accountable those who choose to violate the positive societal norms. In order to create such institutions, however, it is up to the public to demand accountability from their political leaders, civil servants and private-sector actors. And this demand must be sustained through challenging times of political transition or economic downturn, when the temptations for engaging in unlawful and corrupt behaviour will be at their highest levels.

The need for transformations such as these have been reaffirmed time and again, through such means as The Future We Want outcome paper from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the Declaration adopted at the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law in September 2012 and the Salvador Declaration, adopted by the Twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. There will be a further opportunity to discuss these issues and the road ahead at the 13th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, to be held in Doha, Qatar, in April 2015.

Translating these three key focus areas into concrete action can help free the world from corruption and lead to long-term sustainable development that benefits all sectors of society. It is my hope and belief that the discussions in 2015 will pave the way for a truly transformative agenda, which will harness the energy of the next generation and call for society to be built on the bedrock principles of integrity, professionalism and accountability.

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

Author: Dimitri Vlassis, Chief, Corruption and Economic Crime Branch, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Image: A bank clerk works behind twenty-dollar bills piled at a bank in Seoul November 9, 2004. BANKG REUTERS/You Sung-Ho LJW/FA