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Speaking Out Against Corruption | by J. Caleb Stewart

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No one doubts that corruption is a vast and damaging social cancer.  In monetary terms, the costs are mind-boggling. Jacey Fortin of the IB Times asserts,

The world’s developing countries lost a total of $946.7 billion to corruption, trade mis-invoicing and tax evasion in 2011, according to the research. And to make matters worse, the amount that gets spirited away is growing larger with each passing year. Money lost to corruption in developing nations was 13.7 percent greater in 2011 than was lost the year before; illicit outflows totaled $832.4 billion in 2010. The total figures are staggering: between 2002 and 2011, developing countries lost about $5.9 trillion to illicit outflows.

There’s absolutely no reason to think that the situation has improved over the last 5 years.  If anything, it is worse.  A simple google search for “aid money lost to corruption 2015” will yield pages of well-substantiated and disheartening results: Uganda looses $300 million to corruption.  Palestinians see no improvement in living standards, again, mostly due to corruption within the Palestinian Authority.  The UN cannot even track $3.3 billion worth of money sent to fight the ebola virus.  Pick a nation, problem or project and you are likely to find the money sent to help does as much for criminals as it does for victims.

Solomon truly nailed it when he wrote, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan. (Proverbs 29:2 – NIV)”

Corruption is not the result of need.  If it was, then once the need was met, the corruption would naturally subside.  But, it does not.  In fact, history shows us that it often increases.  Corruption is the result of one factor, and one alone: opportunity. 

The good news is we, you and I, can stand up to corruption.  We can fight it and we can win.  The strategy is simple.  When the opportunity to act corruptly comes your way, say no.

If we are honest with our selves we recognize that we face, almost daily, opportunities to benefit personally from the lack of oversight that accompanies most of our actions.  We can steal songs, movies and tv shows from the internet.  We can cheat our employer out of unworked minutes, even hours.  We can nickel and dime our clients, borrow a friend’s username to access an online subscription or cut corners on any number of projects.

In monetary terms, the cost of these individual behaviors may seem like pittance.  But when extrapolated to the national or corporate level the figures are no different than the sums siphoned by the dictators and CEO we publicly loathe.  And in moral terms, there is no difference at all.  We, like them, see an opportunity and we seize it.

However, if we will choose to be content, we can shift the culture from the ground up.  If I don’t have the money to acquire a film legally, I content myself to be entertained by other means.  If I deserve the speeding ticket, then I don’t call up my friend at the police department and ask for a special favor.  If a restaurant employee gives me too much change, I let them know.  I act on what I know to be true – in all cases, it would be better for me to go without than for my behavior to be commonly practiced.

If more and more people make similar decisions, then momentum builds against corruption.  Over time, integrity at the grass roots level makes it harder and harder to justify corrupt behavior at higher levels.  Corruption becomes easier to spot as an anomaly and easier to prosecute as a crime.  Ultimately, right-acting citizens can effect more change than the plethora of laws, special panels, subcommittee hearings, or legislative actions that continually fail to stem the problem.

The “personal” approach to ending corruption will simultaneously help the economy by fostering one of the key elements of prosperous markets, a culture of trust.  I don’t know about you, but when I see an acquaintance ask for a cup for water and then fill it up with soda, I’m certainly not more likely to have them replace my home air conditioner, act as my attorney or babysit my kids.  Integrity builds trust between citizens.  Trust supports the profitable exchange of goods, services and ideas.  Everyone benefits from integrity.

So, corruption isn’t intractable.  But to defeat it we have to hold ourselves to the same standard we hold our leaders to.

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J. Caleb Stewart is an award winning filmmaker, writer and public speaker.  He is the owner of Nomenclature Media and blogs weekly at JCalebStewart.com.

A Culture of Trust | by Jonathan A. Moody

Culture-of-Trust Jonathan Moody

I traveled to Washington DC with my family last month. Rather than check into an obscenely expensive hotel, I used Airbnb.com to rent out a personally owned basement apartment from Daniel – a nice guy who was, up to that point, a complete stranger.  On that same trip I used the Uber app on my iPhone to order a ride across town.  Within minutes, Bereket, another complete stranger, arrived.  For a few dollars he drove me from my AirBnB to my meeting in his personally owned Toyota Rav4.

Now, Uber even offers a service called Uber Pool that allows you to share a ride with yet another complete stranger who happens to be headed in the same direction.  Both passengers pay even less and the driver makes even more.

So, why would I stay in a home owned by a complete stranger and then get in a car with a complete stranger (or two)?

Simply put, I trust them.

AirBnB, Uber, Amazon and dozens of other mostly-online services trade on an emerging culture of consumer trust bolstered by customer ratings, feedback and word of mouth spread via social media platforms.

Then again, in some ways this is nothing new.  After all, I was staying next door to complete strangers when I was overpaying for a hotel room.  And I never took a cab with a driver I new in advance.  By and large, the US enjoys a culture of trust.  These new web-based companies simply make it easier to engage with it.

After reading the reviews, I trusted Daniel to provide us with a safe and clean place to sleep for a few nights at a reasonable rate.  Likewise, after checking out Bereket’s stats, I felt comfortable hoping in his Rav4 for a cross-town trip.  In both cases, my trust was validated.

I write all of this for you now because it exemplifies a key tenant from the PovertyCure Statement of Principles:

The state of our culture matters:  Christianity reminds us that poverty alleviation is not primarily a resource problem.  Like all human endeavors, wealth creation takes place within a cultural context… Societies that enable human flourishing require cultures that promote trust, honesty, reasoned discourse, and respect for the dignity of the person.

We all want to see people flourish.  We want to see healthy, thriving communities – from Chicago, IL and Ferguson, MO to Kigali, Rwanda, and the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  The PovertyCure conversation exists to help us all ask ourselves the tough questions: How can we help individuals get on a true path out of poverty?  How will they sustain prosperity?  How do we promote self-sufficiency rather than dependency?

It doesn’t take long to realize that any rational answer to these questions requires a level of trust between people if it going to be successfully implemented.  And that trust has to extend beyond aid organizations and recipients on the ground.  The individuals that comprise communities in need must enter into voluntary, trust-based collaborations with each other.

Interpersonal trust is an essential element of every transaction – every financial and cultural decision that creates and spreads wealth.  If I trust you, I can buy from you.  If I buy from you, you’ll have money to meet your needs and eventually reinvest so that your endeavors will grow.  So, that small step of trust is the first motion toward a virtuous cycle that can, overtime, upend generations of lack.

Early this year I had the chance to learn from some of our PovertyCure partners in Guatemala.  While there I was amazed by the impact of a local company called Ecofiltro.  They make organic clay pots that filter out the disease causing microbes from water.  A family that owns one of these amazing devices has access to unlimited, clean drinking water.

Equally as impressive is their business model.  Before entering a new area Ecofiltro identifies someone in that community who is highly trusted by their fellow-residents. They build a relationship with him or her and earn their confidence in both the product and the organization.  Once they have a strong relationship, they employ that person as a “community entrepreneur” to represent Ecofiltro to the friends and neighbors who already know and trust them.

When it comes time to sell the product, the customers rarely hesitate.  They trust their neighbor.  If he or she says Ecofiltro is a great company with a life-saving product, well, their word is as good as gold.  As a result, a local company, employing locals, turns a profit selling a product that the community desperately needed anyway.  It’s a true win/win.

Trust requires more than mere information.  It requires first-hand knowledge about a person or organization.  Thus, trust is not built overnight, but over time.  We can’t just show up with a box of free t-shirts and a water pump and expect lasting change.  If we’re going to make a long-term difference, we need to prayerfully pursue long-term relationships that value local knowledge and foster local trust.

I encourage you to take some time this week and think of at least one way you can strengthen a culture of trust in your home, workplace, church or community.  You can trust me when I tell you; it’s worth the effort.

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Jonathan A. Moody is the Managing Director of PovertyCure, an Acton Institute Initiative.