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Future anti-corruption trends—four reasons to be optimistic

Anne Wrede

This is the second of two articles reflecting on the key findings of an in-depth, participatory strategic research project that Firetail conducted with Transparency International. The first article identified key trends that will drive corruption over the next decade. This article explores reasons to nevertheless remain optimistic about the future.

In our conversations with experts, campaigners, academics and policymakers from around the world, the overwhelming tone was one of concern. From the rise of populism to the shrinking space for civil society organisations, it is easy to get discouraged when thinking about the future fight against corruption.

Yet, the conversations also revealed causes for optimism that the battle for a world free of corruption can be won. There is a platform for progress and those working in the field identified four main reasons to be optimistic about the long-term future of the fight against corruption:

1) Corruption is now on the agenda

Today, people across the world are much more aware of corruption and its destructive impact. Asking experts how the fight against it has changed over the last decades, the conversation quickly turns to how much the narrative has shifted.

This is reflected in the political debate. Nearly every country in the world is now part of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). In contrast to a few decades ago, “everyone now wants to get on the anti-corruption bandwagon”, as one leading academic highlights. Worldwide, politicians are campaigning — and winning — elections based on the promise to curb corruption. Whether these politicians tackle corruption once elected is another story.

But it remains an extraordinary victory for corruption fighters that across the world, people are aware of corruption and its negative consequences. A triumph that corruption fighters can build on in the future by holding politicians who promise to fight corruption to account.

2) Young people across the globe are demanding change

Young people across the world have been at the centre of mass movements demanding social change. From the climate activists of Fridays for Future to the March for Our Lives in the United States, youth are not accepting the status quo. As one Transparency International activist puts it: “we are seeing mass levels of mobilisation to defend certain principles that we have never seen before”.

Looking at what youth worldwide are most concerned about, corruption takes centre stage. 47% of young people across the world see corruption and lack of government accountability as the most serious issue affecting their country, according to a survey by the World Economic Forum. Thought leaders echo this positive development. When asking them about opportunities to accelerate change, we heard one thing time and time again: “today’s vibrant youth” is a key reason to be hopeful about the future fight against corruption.

3) Tech offers new tools to fight corruption

Digital technology will be key in the future fight against corruption. Corrupt actors will make themselves at home in new digital spaces, by using cryptocurrencies to launder money, by manipulating and stealing data and by leveraging AI and machine learning.

But it’s not necessarily all bad news. The rise of new technologies also gives reason to be hopeful about the future. By 2030, an unprecedented number of people will have access to the Internet. With more people online, there will be more and more opportunities to access information, instantly connect with others and organise social action. Experts point to the rise of online activism, increased government transparency through online platforms and the ethical use of machine learning as key opportunities to fight against corruption. They suggest that if corruption fighters succeed in using technology more effectively than those exploiting it for corrupt purposes, it may be one of the biggest opportunities to foster positive change.

4) More allies are joining the fight

97% of businesses worldwide now recognise the importance of demonstrating that they are operating with integrity, according to Ernst & Young’s Global Fraud Survey. Driven by growing pressure from customers, companies are slowly waking up to the importance of good governance and ethical behaviour. There is an ever-growing range of benchmarking tools, integrity frameworks and networks that are often just waiting to be properly implemented.

While a significant amount of work still needs to be done for businesses worldwide, corruption fighters and experts see the recent shift as a step in the right direction. Many suggest that joining forces with this emerging ally offers new opportunities for civil society organisations to push for change.

Can we rise to tomorrow’s corruption challenges?

New social, political and technological developments bring along many challenges and uncertainties. By understanding the key trends and new opportunities that will shape the fight against corruption in the future, Transparency International can rise to these challenges. Anti-corruption experts are clear: A strong anti-corruption narrative, innovation in anti-corruption tools and new actors joining the fight are all reasons to be hopeful about the future of anti-corruption work. Transparency International’s next strategy will use these opportunities as a basis to drive forward its global quest to stop corruption.

This is the second of two articles reflecting on future (anti-)corruption trends, based on the key findings of a strategic research project that strategy consulting firm Firetail conducted for Transparency International on the global fight against corruption. Anne Wrede is a consultant with extensive experience in strategy, evaluation and anti-corruption at Firetail.

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