Uniting young people against corruption?

One big reason why I was so eager to attend the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in Brasilia (see last post), was to see how young people can collectively address corruption at global level. My afterthoughts on this are mixed.

Young corruption fighters at the Global Youth Against Corruption forum in Brasilia

On the one hand, it was good to see that there is much openness from Transparency International etc. to support young peoples involvement. On the other hand, I think that getting the established institutions to integrate and support young people is not enough.

On my first day in Brasilia I had the chance to attend the last sessions of the Global Youth Against Corruption (GYAC) forum that was preceding the IACC. It was good to see that the task of turning GYAC into an independent, sustainable network of youth organisations and activists moves forward. I also realised that its closeness to the World Bank Institute, British Council etc. gives it a certain strength. So by now my conclusion is that GYAC is a good and important thing the way it is.

Intense discussion by GYAC members

It is not, however, the platform for idealism-driven global campaigns of young people I am looking for. Urban and I organised a conspirational IACC side-meeting with ca. 25 GYAC members to discuss how this could be possible. Two points came out of that intense discussion: The people who attended are supportive to the idea to organise this in a structure complementary to GYAC.
But to make this possible we have to find one clear, simple and focussed first campaign topic, around which young people can be mobilised. The network needs to grow around this first topic, and only if this topic inspires people to join in, there is a real chance for it to take off.

A third realization was for me personally: If I really want to see this happen, I will have to take a lead on this. That does not go well with myself being overloaded already with my responsibility for Fairnopoly, the social business we are setting up in Berlin. More importantly, I still think that this needs to be initiated by a broader coalition of people from many countries. But it seems that it rests with me to push for the creation of this coalition. I hope that this will work out quicker than thought.

One more event left me with a slight sense of disappointment. At the official IACC, there was a special plenary with young people on the panel and the ambitious name “The future of Anti-Corruption”. My expectations were high, since I knew there were at least two brilliant people on the panel, Dona and Emmanuel Sanyi. The panel was indeed very strong, and they made convincing points for the importance and capacities of young corruption fighters.

What I felt was missing in the discussion that followed was the really new vision for the future of anti-corruption. Strong points were made for issues already on the agenda of the anti-corruption community, in particular the use of ICT and the mobilisation and empowerment of “ordinary people”.

But I was hoping – and that is of course my personal strong opinion on this question – to hear something about really new approaches aiming to replace the structures that are constantly producing and encouraging corruption. I was hoping that young people would have the freedom of mind to challenge the established paradigms, which are so deeply anchored in our societies that some believe corruption is somehow part of our genes (what a strange concept of biology is that??).

Well, at least I have this place here to state my own bold guess on what could really be a new way of anti-corruption: Restructuring the way business works. Not by reviving the dusty and overstretched capitalism-socialism debate. But by reorganising our economies through the large-scale creation of co-operatives and similarly structured businesses, even at the multinational level.

Instead of trying to harness the socially unhealthy behaviour of businesses that by design are purely profit-driven, what about pushing for an economy made of actors that aim at providing real added value for society? Who do so not because they promise some moral commitment to “corporate social responsibility”, but because they are simply structured in this way?
Co-operatives are by design accountable to a wide group of people (ideally its staff and the users of its goods and services). And they have much less inbuilt incentives to turn our societies into consumption machines and our elites into narcissists craving for luxury goods. They can still compete in a well regulated market-economy, allowing for all the advantages of (quality-) competition. Add transparency, and there we go with a functioning anti-corruption economy.

Restructuring the driving actors seems to me a much more sustainable approach to anti-corruption than setting up huge oversight and accountability systems that require active engagement of the masses every day. Of course it would be hard to get there, but we have to reorganise our economic systems anyway, given that they have proven incapable of providing sustainable and healthy living conditions for the largest part of humanity.

In any case, I am happy to be involved in a project that goes this way. Which brings me to repeat my promise to soon write a post dedicated to Fairnopoly…

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