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Four Ways Development Work Can Combat Corruption
May 26, 2022
Corruption is defined as the “Abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” It can occur on a large scale within institutions or countries when large sums of money are embezzled or used to enrich a relative few, and it also occurs at local levels when, for example, people are paid for jobs they aren’t performing or are not qualified for, or when citizens are required to pay bribes for services that are notionally free. Corruption steals resources from essential programs, harms the environment, and erodes faith in institutions. It can also be dismissed as inherent to the culture and “how things get done,” which means those who already benefit from better access to services can more easily navigate informal payment systems or corrupt politics, and those who are already excluded may experience further exclusion based on their inability to navigate corrupt practices. This dynamic exacerbates inequities in society and undermines the achievement of development outcomes. In the aggregate, corruption diverts resources that are badly needed to support country development.
While all forms of corruption have negative impact on development work, “grand” or large-scale, state-level corruption’s impact on basic services such as health, education, or the environment is indirect, whereas “petty” corruption or smaller-scale instances can be pervasive and directly affect individual lives and the environment when, for example, building standards are not adhered to or services become inaccessible due to cost.
Recently, I hosted a networking session at the Women’s Leadership in Global Development (WILD) conference. For 30 minutes, participants got to know each other and, with their new colleagues, participate in a discussion on this topic. Ultimately, we agreed that both the direct and indirect effects of corruption are detrimental to development work and, once corruption is fully ingrained in the culture, there are few incentives for individuals to stop engaging in corrupt practices.
Following on last year’s Summit for Democracy, 2022 was designated as a “year of action” for countries around the world to pursue a variety of commitments made in relation to the Summit. Many of these commitments, if fully implemented, support changes that are needed to combat the culture and practices related to corruption. As development practitioners working across different sectors, companies like Abt Associates can also help to change cultures of corruption on grand and petty scales by mainstreaming anti-corruption efforts into existing work—in fact, we are already doing so, though perhaps using different terminology. At Abt, there are four key ways that our ongoing work supports an overall anti-corruption agenda:
1. We take a systems approach to our work. This means we take into account the formal and informal rules and relationships that affect the countries we work in, and we try to understand the root causes of the things we want to change. By doing so, we seek to identify new ways to address long-standing issues.
2. We support a wide variety of actors across the public and private sectors, from global to local levels. This means we are continuously looking for ways to include different perspectives in our work. The more we engage different groups, the better opportunities there are for collective action and mutual accountability.
3. We take locally led capacity development seriously: This means we work with local groups to develop their own solutions and then we support the implementation of those solutions with our expertise.
4. We implement and model the highest standards of financial accountability and compliance: Both through our direct implementation of work on behalf of our clients and donors and our oversight of grants and contracts, we ensure everything we do and everyone we work with also operates to the highest standards. As we grow and sustain our local partnerships, they in turn act to infuse these standards and capabilities throughout the countries where we work.
Ultimately, success comes from engaging with local communities and diverse stakeholders. This is a winning—and necessary—strategy for virtually every development endeavor, and must be incorporated into all programs to have a true impact on combatting corruption.