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5 ways leaders can tackle corruption, according to an anti-corruption expert

5 ways leaders can tackle corruption, according to an anti-corruption expert

Corruption costs more than $3.5 trillion annually. - Image: Unsplash/charlesdeluvio

Written By

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum

David Elliott
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda

  • Corruption could be costing the world economy more than $3.5 trillion a year.
  • Addressing it is key to tackling global goals and the interconnected risks the world is faing.
  • Lawyer and anti-corruption expert Delia Ferreira Rubio joined the World Economic Forum’s Meet the Leader podcast to explain what leaders need to know about building cultures of integrity.
  • Podcast page and transcript, click hereSubscribe on any podcast app.

“Corruption is so serious that it can not only hurt the possibility of a future, or equality, or inclusiveness in society… Corruption kills.”

Delia Ferreira Rubio is a lawyer and anti-corruption expert who spent five years chairing Transparency International, an organization that works to end global corruption. It’s vital work as, by some estimates, corruption costs more than $3.5 trillion annually. Addressing it sits at the heart of tackling global goals and the myriad interconnected risks the world is facing, as highlighted in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023.

And yet, as Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index laid bare, there is much work to do. The index scores 180 nations from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean) – the global average has remained unchanged for over a decade, at just 43 out of 100.

So what needs to be done – and how can leaders help drive progress? Delia Ferreira Rubio sat down with the World Economic Forum’s Meet the Leader podcast to share some thoughts – including what any leader must understand about building organizations based on integrity.

Here are 5 insights from the conversation.

1. Corruption sits at the heart of the world’s problems

We have to view the world’s problems holistically if we want to solve them, Rubio says. From conflict to attacks on human rights and catastrophic infrastructure failures, a common thread is corruption.

“Corruption is at the core of all the failures that we have faced as society,” she says. “Corruption is so serious that it can not only hurt the possibility of a future, or equality, or inclusiveness in society… Corruption kills.”

If we really want to achieve all of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, she continues, we all have to work together on Goal 16 – Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

“That’s essential. If we don’t stop corruption, we will not be able to achieve [the other goals].”

Transparency International’s global average corruption score has remained at 43 out of 100 for over a decade. Image: Transparency International

2. Democracy is key to defeating it

Around the world, democracy is under attack from kleptocrats and authoritarian regimes, Rubio says. And corruption is a central factor.

“We have to fight corruption to defend democratic values. And in order to fight corruption, we need democracy to be strong, because we count on the freedoms that we need – the access to information. In order to fight effectively against corruption, you need accountability mechanisms to be in place.

“It’s a cycle that works – a strong democracy, better anti-corruption work; more integrity, better democracy.”

3. We need to create cultures of integrity

For Rubio, it’s no longer enough to focus on simply complying with rules. Rooting out corruption relies on instilling a culture of integrity throughout organizations of all kinds.

This means everybody understanding and working towards transparency, human rights, sustainability – the social responsibility of the company.

“Companies have civic responsibility,” Rubio adds. “Not just making business for the business sake, but business as part of society.”

4. Rebuilding trust is essential

In a world facing intertwining crises, what should be leaders’ number one priority? According to Rubio, trust should be at the top of the list.

As societies become more fragmented and polarized, effective dialogue between different parts of society and leaders will be crucial. But, says Rubio, lack of trust is affecting every single sector in society.

“If we don’t rebuild trust, it will be very difficult to be effective in collective action. And we need collective action because the crises are intertwined, so we cannot fight alone.”

5. Help is at hand for future leaders

In order to fight corruption, you need to know the institutional tools that are available or that need to be created in your country. That’s why Transparency International runs the School on Integrity, an intensive anti-corruption course for future leaders.

Rubio says the school has more than 60 chapters around the world, with different programmes for different audiences – from youth to professionals and public officials.

“The idea is to train them in how to prevent corruption, how to use the tools in order to detect corruption, how to work to generate awareness in the population, and also to empower citizens to actively participate in the fight against corruption,” Rubio says.

“You have to understand the conditions that facilitate corruption, because corruption is a cycle.”

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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