Making anti-corruption work

Liberia’s new President will be expected to tackle corruption on a national scale. But NGOs, funders and researchers are already taking innovative approaches to anti-corruption in Africa, across both public and private sectors. 

You might not associate hip-hop music with anti-corruption or democratic engagement. But that is exactly what a project in Liberia has done in the run up to the country’s Presidential election – engaging young people on what they can do to demand transparency, accountability and peaceful elections from political players.

The “Rap to be Repped” campaign is being led by Hip Co artists from across Liberia and co-ordinated by Accountability Lab – an incubator that empowers citizens and young people to improve integrity and accountability in their communities and political systems. Hip Co is a form of Liberian political hip-hop that emerged in the 1980s but became popular with youth after the war. Accountability Lab’s founder Blair Glencorse says:

“Hip Co is really growing in Liberia as artists have realised the power of their voice to send messages and influence behaviours. They have become more popular since they started singing about corruption and political inclusion because that’s their everyday reality.” 

A recent Impact Report conducted by the international NGO reported that in a randomised study of four of Liberia’s 15 counties, 51% of those surveyed (795,000 people) had heard the Hip Co music from artists such as Amaze and Peaches. The Lab also promotes messages about accountability through Integrity Idol, a global campaign that honours honest government officials actively improving transparency and governance in their countries.

While effective however, this grassroots approach cannot address the problem alone. With global corruption thought to cost $1 trillion according to World Bank estimates, and UN calculating that Africa loses $50 billon dollars annually in commercial transactions, offshore accounts and lost tax revenues, donors and researchers are in on the act too.

Rather than pursuing traditional methods of going after actors engaging in corruption through public prosecutors or tax agencies which evidence proves hasn’t worked, development actors are taking a different approach. Instead, they are making data more accessible to media, civil servants and the public; resourcing and empowering citizenry to demand accountability from government representatives; and exposing the impact of corruption on economic growth to find positive ways forward.

 Martin Tisne from the Omidyar Network, a prominent funder of global anti-corruption and member of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, says the punitive approach scares off the very actors who need to be included to reduce corruption:

“The word ‘anti-corruption’ is synonymous with enforcement of laws and policies, and can make government officials or civil servants feel that they are under attack.”

Instead, Tisne says Omidyar and its network partners talk with governments about the benefits of increasing access to public information. They show how to interpret data, focusing on how state systems can be more transparent, for example by installing an open contracting process. Tisne calls this approach “priming the pump” for making information more accessible to the public and says it has picked up speed since the Anti-Corruption Summit hosted in London by the British government in 2016.

The success of this approach lies partly in recognising the need for alliances between actors across public service delivery and business. In Nigeria for example, Omidyar connects civil servants to NGO grantees including Connected Development (CODE) and BudgIT, both of which are involved in tracking state allocation of funds and empowering citizens to demand accountability if funds are not spent as intended.

CODE co-founder Oludotun Babayemi says though they do put pressure on the Nigerian government to be transparent about funds through their Follow the Money campaign, they make sure to maintain good relationships with state officers, bilateral organisations and local organisations. Though when seeking funds, Babayemi says “private donors are the way to go” because they are less susceptible to state influence than multilateral agencies who often rely on government partners to deliver their work.

A team of researchers at SOAS, University of London meanwhile, are taking a different, more indirect approach. As part of an anti-corruption evidence consortium funded by UK aid, SOAS economists are leading research investigating the capture of resources in sectors such as agriculture, climate adaptation and power generation across three countries; Bangladesh, Nigeria and Tanzania.

They argue that anti-corruption activities only work when powerful sectoral players support the enforcement of the rule of law. But in developing countries this often fails because powerful organisations don’t benefit from rule enforcement. The researchers are therefore aiming to identify opportunities in these sectors where changes in incentives and policies will make rule enforcement beneficial to these elites, provoking their support for national and international anti-corruption laws.

Oxfam Senior Adviser and author of book How Change Happens Duncan Green, supports this approach. He says: “It’s almost never the interventions directly targeted at corruption that work. Often the fight against it is characterised as the end, but the goal should be about promoting some aspect of development, with tackling corruption as simply one of the means to that end.”

It is clear that the traditional ‘handcuff’ method of tackling corruption and poor governance by development actors is splintering. Whether mobilising citizens through artistic means, exposing economic losses or translating data and information to help civil society demand accountability and prevent abuse of public finances, actors across the development sector are focusing on tangible ways to make anti-corruption work.


Social enterprise: time for local leadership

Social enterprise

With new hardline US and UK governments pledging to overhaul their aid budgets, large cuts have been announced to programmes around the world – including in Africa.

These could risk significant progress in international development and economic empowerment, not to mention security. But it also presents an opportunity for social enterprise to step up.

Many hope that the growing sector – the UK alone now has 70,000 registered social enterprises working globally and employing nearly a million people – will make generating social value alongside profit the norm.

For the African region, it should provide an opportunity for homegrown social entrepreneurs to take the lead on projects targeting their countries. Unfortunately African-led social enterprises remain the exception rather than the rule.

The World Wealth Report cites Africa as the fastest-growing market for high net worth individuals in the world, with an increase of 145 percent over the past 14 years.  As a follow on from this trend, prominent African philanthropists including Tony Elumelu, Mo Ibrahim and Patrice Motsepe have created socially-driven foundations and enterprise incubators of their own.

They are breaking into a sector that used to be the reserve of Western industrialists and Silicon Valley tycoons. African female social entrepreneurs are also on the rise.

African citizens tend to be positive about the role of entrepreneurship in development, with three quarters of working-age adults surveyed considering it a good career choice. Seventy-seven percent believe entrepreneurs are admired in their societies.

All of these trends point to a move towards business model driven development, and one that should allow more space for local solutions to gain traction. “The African narrative is gradually shifting from aid-led solutions to enterprise-led solutions to developmental problems,” the British Council, an NGO, writes.

But while this is encouraging, the growing professionalisation of the social enterprise sector means that business models are still mostly driven by the West.

The lack of comprehensive data on how many of the world’s social enterprises are actually based on the continent, how their activities measure development impact or indeed how many are actually led by Africans is troublesome.

Perceptions also matter. At the World Economic Forum on Africa this year, of the three social enterprises honoured there only one was born and educated in Africa. All four winners of the prestigious Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship were either American, educated in the US or operating there.

Yap Boum, Médecins Sans Frontières’ regional representative for Africa and co-founder of a social enterprise, says that while he applauds Westerners’ commitment to social change, they need to do more to support African social entrepreneurs to “tell their stories and drive change in their own countries”.

Philanthropic adviser and Forbes writer Jake Hayman also warns that Western-led commercialisation of social enterprise makes organisations spend too long building brands, recruiting staff and codifying products in order to secure large-scale investment.

The result is that they “get lost in their proprietary ego” instead of listening to and supporting local leaders or focusing on how to achieve systemic impact.

Many funders share this concern. In a survey of impact investors managing assets worth a total of $114bn, 98 percent of respondents reported that their investments met or exceeded their expectations of social and environmental impact alongside financial return.

However, they worried that the entry of large financial firms into the sector risked “mission drift”, with investees concentrating more on financial returns and less on the impact they were created to deliver.

There are cases that demonstrate that hype around a model can outpace impact, absent rigorous assessment. The microfinance sector – created by Bangladeshi economist, banker and Nobel prize laureate Muhammed Yunus – is a case in point.

Mr Yunus’ Grameen Bank distributed $4bn in microloans between 1997-2007, revolutionising access to finance and creating an entirely new sector as others followed his lead.  However compelling the idea was, however,  the data shows that these microloans have not actually alleviated poverty and does not provide solid evidence of positive impact.

Western philanthropists and social entrepreneurs now have a real opportunity to enhance Africa’s enterprise-driven development.

But to do so sustainably, they must stop concentrating on bringing their own ideas to scale. Instead they should focus on how to tangibly support and spread existing knowledge, resources and networks within the continent, getting behind African founders leading social progress in their own countries.

Natasha Dyer is a development consultant and communications strategist who focuses on education and conflict resolution. Follow her on Twitter @nrlcadyer


Living the first two weeks of Trump’s America

20170131_080615“Donald Trump is poor.” Not something you hear very often. But when a homeless woman in Washington D.C repeated this over and over while I walked past her last week, I knew exactly what she meant. Not poor in wealth, but in every other way imaginable: poor in character, behaviour, knowledge, social progress, law, economics, empathy, leadership, respect for others, for women, for the environment and so on.

I arrived in New York City on Monday January 23rd – the first day Donald Trump officially took the highest office in the country, some would say the world. It was pouring with rain, and despite NYC never failing to impress, the usual buzz of the city was different. People openly talked about Trump and the events of his first hours as President on the metro, in book stores and over drinks. People looked as harrassed as ever, but also sad and uncertain. While life carried on, people operated in a zombie-like or agitated state and the normal day was regularly punctuated by someone announcing the latest shocking action by the President and the efforts to resist.

In DC, things became more surreal. Daily reports of outlandish and damaging executive orders were met with protests in front of the big government buildings that represent “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Justice’; lawyers, activists and refugee workers camped out at airports and a lot of concerned international workers from the  international organisations who worried they might be sent to their country or origin, even if they no longer called it home. Eerily, in between these outbursts, the city was quiet, not buzzing as usual, perhaps reflecting the anxiety or trepidation of its population.

20170204_122010I also visited family in a part of Virginia that principally voted for Trump. We attended an interfaith protest to tell immigrants they are welcome. The speakers included an excellent Egyptian American citizen who employs 100 of Americans, a reverend who reminded us of the struggles of the civil rights movement and an imam. It didn’t stop the haters driving by shouting ‘Allah is a paedophile” with ‘Americanah’ music blaring from the radio or a group of Trump supporters standing across the street with a Confederate flag, who said when invited to join us that ‘we were all Muslims’ and our protest was a conspiracy. Notably, despite the diversity of protesters, there were no Mexicans to be seen. Afraid of the consequences to even be seen in public?

This is an unprecedented time. America is currently led by a man with no regard for the rule of law or thousands of years’ establishing structures, rules, protocol, the rule of law or a public service system. The Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says by the organisation’s reckoning, Trump is well on his way to violating the First, Fourth, Fifth and Eighth amendments of the US Constitution.

All because he mastered a simplistic, offensive, abusive and lazy narrative that appealed to those who felt left behind socially and economically, that convinced them he could “shake things up”, “drain the swamp” and make their lives “great again”, despite him having no intention of benefitting anyone other than Trump and co.

In his first two weeks, he has certainly ‘shaken things up”, but in a way that has frightened, insulted and attempted to expel those who have integrated to America and who work hard to make the country a productive nation. He has emboldened terrorist groups, sparked worldwide protest and surrounded himself with a group of unqualified, right-wing ideologues that have no desire to govern ‘on behalf of the people’, but to control and implement their own right-wing vision of the world.

However, its not all doom and gloom. The crisis is mobilising and organising people like never before. The ACLU had received over $24 million by the end of January and within 24 hours of the refugee ban announcement, volunteer lawyers had set up work stations at airports across the whole of the USA. In the UK, a petition to stop Donald Trump’s state visit picked up so many signatures that the Speaker of the House added his voice to say Trump was not welcome to speak to the Houses of Parliament and his trip is now being organised for the summer when no one is around to receive him.

Protests have been consistent in the US and around the world. In London protests continued over three weeks not only against Trump’s actions but also our own Prime Minister’s failure to condemn them. I’ve heard of several young American friends giving up travels or corporate jobs to work for Planned Parenthood or interview Trump supporters to understand their frustrations. So far, the fatigue is at bay.

It is rumoured that powerful corporations are also mobilising against Trump, in spite of his giving the green light to drilling projects such as the Dakota Pipeline – which has been so boldly opposed – and abandoning the regulations of the Dodd-Frank Act. The district and federal judges’ ruling suspending his immigration ban has so far upheld, to the relief of many families and the increasing apparent anger by the President that he can’t just do ‘exactly what he wants.’

An industry that is definitely benefitting from the current crisis is comedy. From the brilliant impersonations on Saturday Night Live, to the withering and hilarious critiques delivered excellently by John Colbert, John Oliver and Trevor Noah on the Late Show, Last Week Tonight and the Daily Show, these comedians are being given dream material. And boy, don’t we need it. As Alec Baldwin, stunning impersonator of Donald Trump on SNL says himself, “With Trump, the show just writes itself!”







Propelled by feeling, not fact

I was going to write something about the terrifying and farcical US election race a week ahead of the vote. I was going to say that there is a predominant global feeling (largely to thanks to endless social and digital media) that the world is currently headed for more destruction and loss of control than ever before, regardless of the progress that’s been made. About the fact that people seem to be voting with their feelings instead of from any fact-informed analysis. That when it comes to politics, we are often quite superficial and lazy about understanding policy and law because the media are supposed to break it down for us but instead concentrate more on personality traits and outrage.

I was going to say that research and evidence are being shoved to one side, to make way for fear, nostalgia, anxiety, and technology enabling us to express those feelings at any given moment.

But I realise Mark Mason already did it. Its called ‘Is it Just Me, or is the World going Crazy?’. Read and consider. Although I am a sucker for ‘Armageddon/man-made utter disaster is around the corner’ rhetoric, though try to support it being channelled into effective mobilisation, campaigning, dialogue and understanding, its worth remembering what others sacrificed to get us here and that – regardless of Trump – there is a lot to be thankful for.


Swimming 69km across Lake Geneva in under 28 hours

In January 2016, a few of us from the Serpentine Swimming Club swimmers started talking about a relay across the 69km length of Lake Geneva. It didn’t take long till we had a team of four swimmers: Emily Chong, Jo Dale, Bee Heller and myself with Octavia Williams as our reserve and support crew.

After months of upping our regular training at the SERPS in Hyde Park and doing individual swims elsewhere (I swam an 11.5km circuit of Robben Island in Cape Town) we convened in the Isle of Wight for a weekend in August to train and really get to know each other as a team. Two weeks later we were headed to Geneva with a lot of kit and a colour-coded rota for the swim. We stayed with a lovely friend of Emily’s in Geneva Viv Talbot, who made sure we were incredibly well looked after before and after the swim. As the wind was blowing during our first two days, we spent the time shopping, cooking, packing bags, seeing a few sights and of course testing the waters with a mandatory dip in the lake.


Jumping the fountains at Nations

Wednesday was forecast to be clear and calm so our swim was set. At 6:30am, we piled in a taxi to the other side of the lake at Villeneuve as the sun came up. At the jetty we met our boat and crew, and two observers including the Secretary of the Lake Geneva Swimming Association, Ben Barnham who had organised the swim. My South African friend Marelize, who lives on the edge of the lake, came to see us off donating a bottle of fizz for the finish.

We piled on board the motorboat with Captain Claude at the helm and his merry crew of 3 Frenchmen. It was a stunning day with water as smooth as velvet, blue sky and only a few atmospheric clouds. The boat spun round to find a suitable starting point and Jo jumped in and swam to a patch of shore, officially starting the swim next to the famed Chateau de Chillon.


Starting from the Chateau
Spectacular view

Soon we started to rotate into our routine – marked out on our A3 laminated rota – while the crew cracked open their first bottle of wine before 11am. Octavia was a star supporter, making sure we had everything we could have wanted and even taking time to pull faces at us in the water. The scenery was beautiful with the Alps providing an incredible backdrop. Daylight flew by on the boat through a mix of eating, dancing, singing and posing for pictures and suddenly I had glowsticks attached and was swimming us into the night.

Apart from a hairy moment with some waterskiers, the night passed without incident. While the water temperature stayed between 19 and 22, the air dropped to 15 degrees so we kept warm in between swims with lots of clothes and food, the occasional nap and frequent hysterics and glowstick dancing.

Night swimmingimg-20160907-wa0015

Our toughest swims were the 5th round during the early hours, but mainly due to anticipation, fatigue and the cold air that didn’t make us want to jump into the lake. Once in however, we warmed up quickly and kept up our speed, looking at the moon and stars and the lit-up boat as we breathed on both sides. The time passed quickly and Emily was soon swimming into the sunrise. We reached 24 hours after doing 6 swims each and the Jet d’eau was in sight. It looked both achingly close and far away.

Nearing the Jet

I was about to jump in for my 7th swim when Claude said “I think you can make it.” No pressure then. I swam as hard as I could, but due to the number of boats the water was choppier and I swallowed a lot of water in between strokes. The Jet didn’t seem to be getting closer and I didnt’ think I’d make it before my hour was up, but suddenly the team disappeared from the boat and I looked behind to see them in the water! As we came close to the beach, I turned around and Jo shouted ‘You’ve got 5 minutes left. Go!’ I swam my heart out and was soon clambering up the pebbled beach to the sight of confused beachgoers and our friends Viv and Rhoda encouraging everyone to clap us in. It was just before 1pm on Thursday September 8th, 27 hours 55 minutes after we started.

My fellow Jets ran out the water behind me and we had a massive group hug and dance, while an official announced our arrival over the tannoy, a moment I shall never forget. We were soon swimming back to the boat to pop the champagne cork with our crew.


On the beach at Bains des Paquis
Celebrating with our crew

There’s no way we would have enjoyed this as much or been as prepared without the support of our swim friends, family and others who wished us luck and gave us tips, kit and gifts  – special thanks to the Frequent Flyers who swam the lake earlier this year and to Volker Koch for the beautifully handmade JENBO Jets. We also had an incredible amount of support during the swim on facebook, twitter, whatsapp and instagram and as you can see from our twitter feed, we loved posting a rolling commentary and millions of pictures on facebook! It meant so much to have everyone tracking us and willing us on. Bee has prepared a fun 2 minute video of the swim here for all our fans!

Huge thanks to Katt Cullen from World Radio Switzerland, who interviewed us during and after the swim on her show, before showing us round Annecy. You can listen to the radio clip here. Thanks to Ben Barnham for taking the idea and making it happen. To all those wonderful people who donated to Peace Direct to support me, thank you for helping raise over £1,500. You can still donate here to support local people building peace round the world. And finally thanks to Lac Leman. Some days Mother Nature lets you cross and some days she doesn’t. That day, we had a free pass.

N and her Jet

Doing digital

Digital image

There are so many blogs on the effective use of digital to achieve non-profit organisational goals, that I’m reluctant to join the throng. However, here are two engaging and not overly technical resources that should be useful for anyone trying to put together a strategy for using digital tools and social media to produce more effective engagement (fundraising/volunteering/sharing resources/collaborating)

First is a talk from Duane Raymond, founder of Fairsay and man credited with turning Oxfam’s digital strategy around more than 10 years ago:

Top Digital tips for achieving organisational goals with the help of digital

Second is an easily readable report about the pitfalls of using ‘vanity’ metrics to measure the impact of your digital outreach, and how  (e.g. List size/Number of signatures/Website traffic)

Hope they help!

Why is there peace in Senegal?

IMG_8034Senegal is one of the world’s best kept secrets. On my recent trip to Dakar, I was immediately struck by the vibrancy of dress, music and culture, the friendliness of its people, and the beauty of its coastline towns and beaches with mangroves, perfect surf and pirogues rowing off in the sunset.

Every Senegalese person we met told us with huge pride that what makes their country stand out from its African neighbours is its peace. Senegal in fact has the enviable reputation of being one of the most stable countries in Africa.

A former French colony in western Africa, Senegal is a Muslim-dominated country where a Christian minority (5%) is well respected and has a long-running history of living peacefully with the Muslim majority.

So I wanted to know, in a time where religious tensions are resulting in horrific violence in so many places, what has made Senegal successful in maintaining interfaith peace?

A group of professors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA travelled to Senegal and came up with some answers.

The first appeared to be the pride I mentioned. The Senegalese have a national idea of ‘Teranga’, a conception of hospitality that they feel they must live up to, including being good to each other. For example Muslims often invite Christians to feast at Muslim events and vice versa.

Secondly, Senegal’s political leadership has historically married people of other faiths. The first President of Senegal was a Catholic, and every head of state since him has had a Catholic wife. This example trickles down the rest of society. Despite Christians only making up 5% of the population, many middle class Muslim families send their children to Catholic schools, so that educated Senegalese Muslims are familiar with Christianity from an early age.

IMG_7927Thirdly it has to do with the influence of its religious leaders. Some of them converted from Islam to Christianity at an early age, meaning they understand both religions and in a way identify with both. They have connections with both communities and take opportunities to speak to counterpart religious leaders about issues of mutual social concern. What’s more, the Senegalese practice Sufi, a mystical branch of Islam that emphasises the importance of religious leaders.

Muslim leaders therefore play an important role in both local and national politics.

I wondered if it might have something to do with Senegal not having oil or gas, and therefore being less open to exploitation and profit-driven conflict. Saying that, the country does have gold, which has fuelled conflict in the separatist southern region of Casamance, though violence has mostly waned since a 2014 ceasefire and its stable economy is mostly based on agriculture and fishing (75%). Though tourism, communications and infrastructure play a significant part. I can’t find evidence to prove my thought, and Senegal has also been accused of corruption in other industries. But little violence.

0384--IMG_3070Goree island just off Dakar, is also where millions of slaves passed through to plantations in America and elsewhere from the mid 16th century to the 19th. Ivory and gold were also shipped by the ton. The prison where slaves were kept on Goree island is worth visiting. Its small and dank rooms are a gentle reminder of the men, women and children whose lives were brutally traded for cheap labour.

Both Presidents Obama and Mandela are counted amongst visitors.

However, present day Senegal remains peaceful and peace-loving. It is considered one of Africa’s model democracies, and has a strong tradition of stable government and civilian rule. The current President, Macky Sall, is bucking the African trend and reduced his presidential term at the start of this year from seven to five years. Concerned by the recent terrorist attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso next door, Sall’s government has recently called for increased regional security cooperation to protect itself from a similar attack.

If Senegal is hit by the extremists’ ISIS or Boko Haram, its people will be tested. Will their national commitment to peace make them even more resilient? Or will it rock the characteristic they hold so dear. I want to be optimistic, and believe they will stand strong in the face of violent threats or actions. A Senegalese toast ‘Ngoko Boko’ means “We are all together”. Indeed they are.