Young people are on the frontlines fighting for democracy and freedom in Ukraine. Teenagers and youths are leading democratic protests in Sri Lanka. Students are living through power outages and food shortages in Lebanon. In the rest of the world, young people are concerned about inequality, climate change and economic hardships. 2022 has been a year of upheaval for the younger generation as much as anyone else. But they’re not giving up.
Despite facing crises that could make anyone feel alone and discouraged, youth are taking initiative through social movements and activism. And when young people come together, the results can be extraordinary – as we’ve seen them build a climate movement sweeping the entire globe.
If you’re a young person and would like to see how your generation is fighting for transparency and accountability – or a not-so-young person in need of some inspiration – read on for a whistle-stop tour of some young anti-corruption activists we’re particularly inspired by.
Hungary | Madagascar | Fiji | Palestine | Netherlands | Lithuania | Bangladesh | Malta and Spain | Russia | Tunisia | Kenya, Pakistan, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Mauritius, Zambia and Trinidad and Tobago | Jordan, Colombia, Zimbabwe and Cambodia
Hungary: a very different kind of guidebook
In Hungary, university students helped Transparency International Hungary develop an unusual idea for a photography exhibition. Their “alternative tourist guidebook” – which goes live this week – contains photos of some of the worst examples of corruption and misused public funds in the country.
“Students helped us collect, write and translate all the stories,” explains Judit Zeisler from Transparency International Hungary. “They will be alongside us at the exhibition this week, where the photos are being seen for the first time.”
The exhibition includes photos of unnecessary observation towers in the wilderness, life-threatening cycling tracks, beaches that are closed to locals and private accommodation built with billions in taxpayer funds.
The opening text of the exhibition explains what TI Hungary’s project hopes to convey: “The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an excuse to distribute hundreds of billions in tourism development aid to [largely] pro-government beneficiaries in a non-transparent way. Transparency International Hungary’s exhibition offers visitors a selection of these absurd examples, which were developed at the public’s expense.”
Madagascar: bootcamps building a new generation of activists
A very unique bootcamp inspired a group of students to make peaceful change in Madagascar.
Last month, students lined a main road in their capital city, holding up signs that read “Protect your vote from corruption” and “Don’t sell your choice”. Such protests might be a common sight in many countries, but in Madagascar they are not.
“It was my first time doing something like this, and the adrenaline was really high,” 25-year-old student Michaël R. says. “We were even afraid of going to jail.”
The students behind this protest met at an integrity bootcamp run by Transparency International – Initiative Madagascar. An energetic series of activities helped the participants to examine typical scenarios involving corruption or personal interest – and to bond as a group.
“We learned 198 methods of non-violent action,” says Michaël. “I had no idea there were so many ways to be an activist.”
Thirty-five students that met at the camp last year formed a new association that has been running workshops in rural areas and planning peaceful actions – including last month’s protest.
“We used to think that people were fed up with politics,” says Ketakandriana Rafitoson, the executive director of Transparency International – Initiative Madagascar. “But we discovered that actually young people are very interested in politics. We discovered that there was hope.”
And since successfully mounting the first protest, Michaël’s group is ready for more. “It has inspired us to try more actions,” he says. “We want to encourage more and more young people to join us.”
Fiji: unleashing creative approaches to serious issues
Lati Shalom joined Youths4IntegrityFiji at just 14 years old. Drawn in by their fun and creative approach to learning about corruption, she quickly began volunteering to run activities herself.
“Rather than just saying ‘corruption is bad’, we’re trying to approach it differently by encouraging an integrity mindset in people. We go on tours of parliament to encourage more democracy, and make films and TikToks to educate the public.”
Although some of their actions are lighthearted, the group has also recorded videos on fraud, spoken out against a draconian new police bill and taken to Twitter to demand that the prime minister protect a whistleblower who exposed corruption in the university education system. Working with Transparency International’s national contact in Fiji, they even helped the national university to develop a short, free online course on ethics and anti-corruption.
Excited YFIs with @JosaFiji (who sang 2 anti corruption songs&Amania!❤️at the Launch of the Ethics&Anticorruption Course-joint venture between Fiji Nat Univ&Integrity Fiji/Transparency International.We were inspired by FICAC Commissioner Rashmi Aslam's speech.Thanks also to FNU pic.twitter.com/GgG1bbCUoe— youths4Integrity FIJI (@youths4integri7) July 15, 2022
Youths4IntegrityFiji even organised workshops with the Fijian elections office to encourage young people to vote in the upcoming elections and do their part to hold public officials accountable. As part of the workshop, participants held mock elections to learn how supervisors will tally and calculate election day results.
“I have this sense that young people feel their vote doesn’t matter,” another member of the youth group Selenia says. “We’re trying to change that.”
Watch Selenia and her fellow youth members speak about steps towards more ethical procurement processes in government.
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Both women, only 23 years old, are now part-time staff with Transparency International’s national contact in Fiji, working to create space for even younger people to become active members of the community.
Palestine: young people sniffing out corruption risks
In the Palestinian town of Ramallah, a group of students decided to check up on some nearby roadworks that were paid for by the local authorities. They took samples from the site to the university laboratory to check if the correct materials were being used.
It was a clever piece of detective work, and it paid off: they found that the construction company had been cutting corners to keep more money for its own profit. Their findings prompted the anti-corruption commission to launch an investigation – quite an achievement for students who were only 14.
Isam Haj Hussein, executive director of Transparency International Palestine, has been working toward such youth-led initiatives for a decade.
“We started 10 years ago with high school teachers,” he explains, “helping them become more familiar with the principles of integrity, transparency and accountability, and to pass that on to their students. Now we work in over 50 schools.”
This first foray into education led to a similar program for universities, which in turn led to an official integrity course for law and business students. “It has since been adopted by 11 universities!” Isam says.
What’s more, inspired by the long-running international school in Lithuania, Isam’s team launched a series of Palestinian integrity schools for young people aged 18-24. “Each year we get hundreds of applications for these schools.”
At the end of the school, each group has two months to prepare a case study on an integrity problem in the Palestinian public sector. Then, a facilitator helps them transform this into an action aimed at public officials.
“It could be a peaceful march, or a radio show, or a community workshop,” Isam explains. “All the actions are timed to take place on the same day across Palestine – our own National Social Accountability Day. And a few months later, these same groups follow up with public officials to see what actions have been taken in response.”
After participating in the integrity school, I started reporting corruption cases to Aman (TI Palestine) and shared my experience with my peers to encourage them to do the same.
Netherlands: changing the way things are done
Lotte van Teunenbroek was a 21-year-old law student interning at Transparency International Netherlands when she signed up for their youth branch. “My internship came to an end,” she says, “but I was not ready to let go of the fight against corruption.”
Now she is chair of Young Transparency International, which has one mission: to educate as many young Dutch people as possible about corruption and the importance of integrity.
It is work that Lotte enjoys tremendously. “Most of us feel the same high energy and motivation to really change the way things are done.”
She and other members visit Dutch universities and student associations to give workshops or hold discussions. “We often see that young adults are not fully aware of the issues that Transparency International is working on in the Netherlands. So we seize the opportunity to engage young adults in the fight against corruption, which is especially important for those about to start their professional careers.”
[Young people] expect higher standards for our politicians, government and businesses – and should not settle for injustice.
90 young people are already members of the organisation, which is open to students and young professionals. “Later this year we are planning a series of events where we invite politicians, journalists and other experts as speakers, and have open discussions on topics such as political integrity or the role of the Netherlands in illegal money flows. Our members will have the opportunity to ask questions and meet with other students and young professionals who share the same interest in integrity and accountability.”
Lotte is enthusiastic about the future. “I believe that young adults can change our current integrity culture. We expect higher standards for our politicians, government and businesses – and should not settle for injustice.”
Lithuania: bringing schoolchildren on board
Lithuania hosts the longest-running and best-known transparency school in the world – with 1,600 alumni from more than 120 countries over the past 12 years. Now schoolchildren as young as six are taking part in a real-life demonstration of transparent decision-making.
“It started in 2019 with just two schools,” says Deimantė Žemgulytė from Transparency International Lithuania. “We’re now working with over 27. The fundamental idea is that students get a say in what to change.”
The model is simple but highly effective. Students are given a part of the school’s budget. They brainstorm together what their school might need, then take some time to develop concrete proposals (cost included). The final decision is put to a vote. In the process, they learn how local authorities – and the European Union – decide how to spend public money in real life.
“So often, school administrations never ask students what they want – and students don’t volunteer to get involved,” says Deimante. “This is a practical way to walk young people through what should happen in a transparent and accountable government.”
The message back from the young people involved is clear: “It’s a chance to be heard.”
And although the project was designed for teenagers aged 11-18, in some schools it has worked so well that they are launching a version for children as young as seven.
“They work with a smaller budget at first, to gain confidence. We have seen it encourage kids to feel like they can be masters of their own school – and ultimately their country.”
There’s also growing political support, with the new law on corruption prevention encouraging schools to teach about anti-corruption and transparency. Participatory budgeting is one way of doing so, and TI Lithuania has been instrumental in gaining support among national institutions, advocating for broader use of these powerful methods.
“We have seen it encourage kids to feel like they can be masters of their own school – and ultimately their country.”
Bangladesh: forming a countrywide youth network
Youth Engagement and Support (YES) is a youth group in Bangladesh that is making countless concrete differences in the community. With 4,000 youth volunteers and 61 groups across the country, YES – which is mentored by Transparency International’s chapter in Bangladesh – is the biggest anti-corruption social movement in Bangladesh.
Last year, 45 YES groups joined forces to monitor Vulnerable Group Development, which is a social safety programme driven by the government in Bangladesh. The groups were checking the eligibility of the nearly 95,000 listed beneficiaries of the programme. They found more than 2,800 ineligible cases and worked to ensure that local authorities corrected the irregularities. Their investigative venture prevented the misuse of more than US$400,000 (equivalent to 40 million Bangladeshi Taka).
Nazmus Sakib Bin Mustafa, who leads his local YES group, was 11 when he first realised he wanted to make a difference. “I saw a leaflet at school from Transparency International Bangladesh, explaining how much money was being used up by corruption in Bangladesh. It was enough to run more than 10,000 schools and help thousands of vulnerable people. I was shocked and knew I wanted to do something to stop corruption.”
He joined his local YES group as soon as he turned 15 – the minimum age one must be to join. Now, 21 years old, Nazmus is leading anti-corruption efforts in his community.
In addition to investigating public programmes, Nazmus and his fellow YES members also run information fairs about government services and provide pop-up advice desks to guide people through filling out requests for information. They check official government web portals and push for out-of-date information to be corrected.
YES groups around the country have used a variety of creative approaches to get their message across – from cartoon exhibitions to cycle rallies. COVID-19 pushed them to shift online, but they have since continued work on the ground.
When YES members reach the age limit of 27, they can join the Young Professionals Against Corruption network. When they turn 30, they can also join the Committees of Concerned Citizens or Active Citizens Group, which are also supported by Transparency International Bangladesh. This way they can continue pushing for integrity in their workplaces and communities.
“In my experience,” Nazmus says, “young people everywhere think in the same way. They dream of making a corruption-free society, a corruption-free country, a corruption-free world.”
Malta and Spain: young people making it easier to get information
In Malta and Spain, a group of committed young people under 30 years of age have turned their attention to one of the best tools for unlocking transparency and exposing possible cases of corruption: the right to access public information.
With the support of Transparency International’s national contact in Malta and Access Info Europe, they submitted freedom of information requests to the EU and their governments on important issues, including corruption, climate change, major public procurements and gender equality. They then spoke to national decision-makers about improving how the system worked, and made concrete recommendations about what needed to be done to open up government decisions for public scrutiny.
“I wanted to do my part to preserve our inherent freedoms,” participant Jeremy explained.
Russia: a laboratory for transparency
In Russia, a Laboratory of University Transparency is showing students how to conduct anti-corruption research and make their university environment more transparent.
“Our most successful investigation focused on university enrolment,” says Viktoria Shkarinova. “Government officials were misusing the system to place their children in the best Russian universities. After our campaign, the government changed the process based on our recommendations.”
This is just one of the changes made by the Laboratory, set up by Viktoria and a group of fellow students with the support of Transparency International Russia.
“The young people who come to study at the Laboratory are interested in combating injustice,” she says. “It seems to me that at a young age, the desire to change the world is greater than that of adults because we understand that we have a long life ahead of us. And continuously trying to make the world a fair, transparent and predictable place is how we protect that life.”
Tunisia: young people leading the charge
“To have integrity is to do the right thing even when no one is watching.” That’s the quote on the wall at IWATCH, Transparency International’s chapter in Tunisia.
The motto has been taken to heart by a number of young people who have passed through the doors.
IWATCH are firm believers in the power of youth, which is evident from the number of young staff members and interns in their office. To cultivate more future anti-corruption champions, IWATCH’s young cohort of staff has established clubs for primary and middle school students, and integrity schools for those in high school or above. They also regularly organise engaging activities like poetry slams and theatre.
IWATCH’s new initiative, ICAMPUS, takes their effort a step further. A network of more than 150 students across seven universities, from fields as diverse as journalism, business and computer science, will allow young Tunisians to educate themselves on their country’s challenges and be independent activists.
“Tomorrow’s leaders are today’s students,” says Siwar, a 25-year-old staff member at IWATCH. “Future ministry of finance staff are currently at business school, future newspaper editors are in journalism school. We are creating integrity champions.”
Their 27-year-old colleague, Mohamed Salah Souissi, agrees. “Young people should know the laws, should understand what corruption means and how to fight it. We should name and shame the corrupt. And f**k corruption!” he laughs, echoing the slogan that has been used by young people at the International Anti-Corruption Conference.
Kenya, Pakistan, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Mauritius, Zambia and Trinidad and Tobago
Young people in other parts of the world are taking different approaches. From high school clubs in Trinidad and Tobago, to Pakistani students speaking directly with decision-makers, here’s a taste of what they’re doing.
Transparency International Zambia regularly runs activities for anti-corruption clubs at schools around the country. These clubs were set up by the Zambian Anti-Corruption Commission to engage and equip a new generation of young corruption fighters.
Meanwhile, Transparency International Trinidad and Tobago has set up their own integrity clubs in secondary schools across both islands. “A teacher acts as an ‘integrity champion’, but the students themselves operate the integrity club…” says Kernika Charles. “They must set their own agenda and develop activities that promote integrity and ethics. We want the students to develop ethical leadership with an understanding of right and wrong, and feel capable of making positive change.”
In Pakistan, inter-university debates and online webinars are giving young people space to connect and speak with experts. Last August, Transparency International Pakistan held a webinar with members of all the major political parties, challenging representatives to first explain how they involve young people in public decisions and then giving the floor to younger participants to ask them further questions. In the same year, a bilingual debate on corruption at the University of Karachi brought together 18 universities and colleges to make recommendations and receive feedback from experts.
At just 35 years old, Shumaila Samad Khan is already a lecturer and helped organise the debate. “Helping young people to understand the harmful effects of corruption, and fostering good values such as honesty, integrity, transparency, ethics and social responsibility have an important role in developing young people as agents of change,” she says.
In Cusco, a city in Peru, Lohuana Marycielo Antonio Jalixto was among a group of young people trying to affect change but frustrated by a lack of support for their efforts. By connecting with Proetica, Transparency International’s chapter in Peru, they were able to meet other youth organisations like theirs and engage with local civil society organisations fighting corruption. Now, they have developed an integrity network through which they connect with other citizens and investigate if public investment projects in their city are following integrity standards.
Louhana credits Proetica for providing the training they needed to follow up on challenges such as identifying corruption risks in public investment. Equipped and empowered, she is determined to be a part of change. “Young people are not just the present but also the future of our country. We have energy and can take action by putting our civic values into motion, but we need help like tools and networking,” she said.
Transparency International Papua New Guinea is running an Active Civic Engagement programme for youth representatives from Bougainville, an area still recovering from a 20-year civil war. Fredlyn (pictured below) was one of them. “This program harnesses the good values in young people and instils a higher sense of responsibility as citizens and community leaders to create solutions for the challenges that affect their communities. The Active Civic Engagement Program inspires a hands-on approach to identifying community issues and developing a practical plan to address them.”
Not long after 23-year-old university student Ronald Omondi Adika joined Transparency International Kenya as a volunteer last year, he decided that he wanted to do more.
“Me and my friends came up with an idea to start our own community association – We CARE CBO. Our focus is involving young people at the local level in the fight against corruption. In one of the projects, students helped set up a system that now ensures the transparent and accountable delivery of learning materials.”
We've been running workshops on how people can engage with their government and monitoring how climate mitigation funds are spent.”
In Mauritius, Transparency International's chapter has hosted several youth forums for those aged 18 to 25. They present their vision on major issues such as corruption and freedom of information, and to show how to reach identified goals. This isn’t just a theoretical exercise: the recommendations they make are submitted to the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, the speaker of the national assembly, the president of the republic and other political leaders.
“The young people who participated are fully conscious of what is happening on their island,” says Lovania Pertab, chair of Transparency International Mauritius, “and they furnished extensive examples of how corruption works here.”
Transparency Mauritius also hosts essay and speech competitions on the importance of a Freedom of Information Act, and has held talks for over 2,000 primary and secondary students to help them understand ethics, integrity, good governance and democracy.
Camps and schools with a difference: Jordan, Colombia, Zimbabwe and Cambodia
From winter schools in the desert, to online courses in Colombia and youth camps in Cambodia, a range of young people sign up to learn more about fighting corruption – and take action themselves.
Each winter, near the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra, a group of young Jordanians aged 18 to 30 assemble in the desert. They are there to challenge themselves to set their personal lives, their careers and ultimately their country on a more ethical and transparent path.
This integrity school is the brainchild of Rasheed for Integrity and Transparency, Transparency International’s chapter in Jordan, which also encourages young people to monitor elections, share information about the channels available to report corruption and run activities in schools. “We have seen participants go on to become active student representatives,” says staff member Sana' Alawaamleh. “One young woman even established a human rights team at the University of Jordan.
After sessions on how to prepare effective advocacy campaigns, all the participants jointly choose an issue to campaign on. “I learned a lot about democracy, integrity and ways to combat corruption,” says one participant whose group went on to run a campaign about the arrests of political activists and journalists in Jordan.
Watch the video that young people at the integrity school produced on restrictions to free expression in Jordan.
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Every year, young people from across Cambodia join a Transparency International youth camp. “It was unforgettable,” says Ros Dane, who attended in 2019. “About 100 youths from different provinces and backgrounds.”
This flagship project organised by Transparency International Cambodia helps turn knowledge into action. Eighty-five per cent of the participants said that they would report corruption in future, thanks to what they learnt at camp. At the end, all the young participants are also challenged to create a mini project of their own. Ros’ group’s idea was selected for a small grant, which they used to train youth club members and get the club recognised by local authorities – even getting the community chief and local secondary school principal involved.
Transparencia por Colombia closely watched integrity schools elsewhere before launching their own online course on recognising and countering corruption – with a special focus on young people.
"We were not expecting the level of interest we got,” explains Melissa Arce Caicedo, Project Coordinator at TI Colombia. “For our first school this year, 764 people registered.” Part of what motivated people to join, in Melissa’s opinion, is the level of corruption in Colombia. “Young people see it every day in the news.” Soon, Transparencia por Colombia plans to bring the conversation to an even younger group. “We want to adapt the contents of our school for children from eight years old. That's our next step.”
Despite being deeply affected by misgovernance and corruption, a Transparency International report found that 20 per cent of young people in Zimbabwe are afraid to join anti-corruption initiatives while 35 per cent of them lack knowledge about what corruption is.
“That’s why we launched a school of integrity last year,” says Keith Sibanda from Transparency International Zimbabwe. “To help restore trust in government institutions and encourage young people to fight for accountability and transparency.”
The school is the first part of the puzzle, but Keith sees alumni getting involved long-term.
“They are already making a significant difference. They've joined our campaigns and annual multi-stakeholder indaba, calling for comprehensive whistleblower protection laws, more transparent elections and proposing public procurement reform. And many alumni are now working with the accountability monitoring committees we set up to identify issues of transparency and accountability in local communities. They also continue to engage young people in communities and promote the school among them.”
All these examples – from Palestinian high school students scrutinising public works projects to Pacific Islanders encouraging more young voters to show up at the polls – demonstrate that young people have more power than they realise.
Here are six ways young people and those supporting them can help the worldwide movement against corruption:
- If you are a young person who wants to join the global movement for a corruption-free world, find out if Transparency International is working in your country – and contact them today.
- If you are – or you know – a young journalist, scholarships are open to join the reporting crew for the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in December 2022. Apply today.
- If you are a government official, invite young people to public forums and consider convening a youth advisory group to provide recommendations.
- If you are part of an organisation working with young people, you should know that the IACC is especially interested in workshops that include younger voices. Encourage your organisation to apply today.
- If you are a young musician or artist with an anti-corruption message, apply for Fair Play 2022. The winners will be flown to Washington, D.C., to perform live.
- If you missed this year’s international integrity school, bookmark this page for 2023.
- … or simply show solidarity with some of the young people featured here. Share this article on social media with some applause or compliments!
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