Equipping Civil Society in Their Fight Against Grand Corruption

  • Milica Djuric

Over the last decade, kleptocratic regimes have been on the rise, exercising growing influence on a global scale, enabling human rights violations and undermining faith in democracy. In response, civil activists have played a pivotal role in exposing corruption and advocating against it, often at their own peril. To support them, the International Republican Institute (IRI) has developed an Anti-Corruption Toolkit for Civic Activists to help civil society around the world combat corruption through innovative approaches, which we’re proud to publish this week to mark International Anti-Corruption Day.

In kleptocratic regimes, leaders use political power to exploit their nation’s wealth to enrich themselves and secure the loyalty of political elites. The immense wealth that kleptocrats amass in personal accounts are directly syphoned from the pockets of citizens: In fact, Global Financial Integrity estimates that illicit cross-border financial flows out of developing countries amount to $1 trillion per year. The opportunity cost of ignoring such sophisticated large-scale theft is one that no nation can afford, especially as these resources could benefit the most vulnerable in society.

Identifying and exposing high-level corruption, however, requires a level of expertise that is hard to find in countries most affected by it. In these countries, civil society activists are on the frontlines to restore and protect democratic values and are often the only actors demanding government accountability. Unsurprisingly, kleptocratic leaders across the globe have responded by targeting activists, impairing their capacity to uncover corruption and preventing them from mobilizing for reform.

In a growing number of countries around the world, government harassment of civil society is on the rise, resulting in human rights abuses such as extrajudicial executions, disappearances and torture. Despite the fear of imprisonment and violence, civil society remains determined to stamp out corruption and willing to advocate for greater transparency and reform. This important task requires civil society to become resilient in the face of security risks, master new skills and deploy innovative approaches. They must also be willing to cooperate with other activists both locally and internationally to learn from each other’s distinct strengths and tactics.

IRI created its Anticorruption Toolkit for Civic Activists toolkit in response to this multi-faceted challenge. This resource includes a compilation of tools, strategies and tips for civic actors engaged in anticorruption activism anywhere in the world. Its content was based on a cross-country assessment of civil society’s ability to counter high-level corruption and its three modules address key areas for capacity building.

For example, the module on research methods and security equips activists with the tools to conduct research and identify high-level corruption while understanding security risks and using advanced digital tools to maintain safety and anonymity. The module on advocacy, collaboration and setting priorities includes strategies on how to form a strong coalition and design a successful reform agenda. Lastly, the toolkit’s module on communications and the media provides guidance on writing press releases, policy papers and includes tips on working with the media and reaching out to policymakers.

IRI deployed the Toolkit through anticorruption trainings in three pilot countries, including Iraq, Mali and the Maldives. Activists in Iraq found the module on designing a reform agenda especially useful. After the training, an Iraqi civil society representative noted, “We have tried to facilitate some decision-making processes, but it has always been hard to get everyone in a coalition to accept the final decision. This toolkit will help us try something new and different.” Activists in the Maldives noted that it will be extremely helpful for their future research and advocacy efforts.

The Toolkit will provide civil society actors around the world with access to innovative resources that they can use to advocate for meaningful anti-corruption reform. Beyond the Toolkit, IRI will continue to empower local stakeholders to combat corruption by using evidence-based approaches tailored to their needs.

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