Corruption. Corruption. Like the word courage (see previous post “Du Courage”), corruption originates from the Latin root “cor”, which means “heart” and in other translations, “altogether”. Combining that with –ruption, from “rumpere” or “to break”, corruption literally means a breaking of the heart, or a breaking of the assembly.
A breaking of the heart. A breaking of the assembly. What does that mean for a society? For an economy? What does that mean for a community’s social fabric?
Most of the “developed” world has heard about corruption, experienced it from a distance with the occasional headlines and prosecutions of those big names who “Never Paid Taxes!” or “Found A Loophole!” or have “Siphoned Money From The System For Decades!”. Offenders are then brought to justice and ostracized from the rest of society, disgusted by this perverse expression of human nature and shocked that someone could be that greedy.
What about corruption in the “developing” world, though, where many internal systems of checks, balances and justice are not fully developed or reliable? And what does that mean for an entrepreneur?
After living in Guinea, a country that ranks in the top 25 most corrupt countriesand 182/188 on the Global Human Development Index, I wasn’t all that surprised when I recently read that $15 million was misused from the Ebola relief donations. While I lived there, it was clear that many transactions are informal and unaccounted for, resulting in deeper, more pervasive implications that have had serious effects on human behavior and development.
In Guinea’s case, these forces have been slowly eroding away at the social fabric for years, breeding fear, distrust, dishonesty and the “survivor” mentality. The consequences of these characteristics, combined with a lack of education and financial knowledge, have all but choked the Guinean people’s entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to partner with fellow Guineans to create businesses. The fear of being misled, lied to and even the fear of success itself—“if I succeed, others will do everything in their power to impede my advancement”—are reasons enough to fully discourage anyone from enterprising.
So what do we do in this culture of risk aversion, mistrust and fear? How do we surmount the obstacles of corruption and its impending behavioral implications? How do we begin to re-stitch a worn social fabric into a tight-knit foundation that will nurture and encourage creative enterprise, social solutions and development from within?
Although I believe there are many avenues for overcoming these obstacles, the point of departure always begins with the self. Being an entrepreneur in any developing country requires a deep desire for change, a heart full of determined courage, a leap of faith and the belief that you, as an individual, are capable of creating a small solution that will change the world for at least one other person (providing employment, for example). It only takes one person to affect the lives of her children and before you know it, a whole village is turned upside-down.
And just like entrepreneurship, combatting corruption starts with the self. Ask yourself, truly —
Am I corrupt?
Am I honest?
With the way I account for my money?
With the way I make promises and commitments?
To my wife?
What am I teaching them by the way I live and carry myself?
It’s a hard bargain, but asking yourself and committing to these questions is one of the most revolutionary processes you can undertake to build your community and country toward healthy development. And while doing so, you will realistically run into others who are corrupt. What will you do?
In the entrepreneur’s case, despite your surroundings, a fervent commitment to constructing honest, transparent, trustworthy and communicative systems is critical to your business succeeding — especially with regard to money. If you’re not transparent with how you spend your money, you won’t gain the trust of who you’re working with. It’s a process. It takes time to build and to reinforce over time. But the alternative consequence is dire. Once the seeds of mistrust are planted, the foundation of your entire business will crumble.
So, what does corruption mean for an economy, a society? Certainly the implications are evident, but the solutions lie in the hands of the beholder. Rather than discouragement, the true entrepreneur sees this as yet another opportunity: to create a new statement that development, financial gain and human advancement are possible through honest and transparent means, creating work for others and progressing society.
Life is too short to live in discord. Start with yourself. It’s a contract. It’s the management of your karma. A commitment to your personal integrity. Du courage!
Hilary Braseth is Founder and Vice Chairwoman of the Dare to Innovate Board of Directors, and presently works with an innovation and design consulting firm in San Francisco, CA. In short, Hilary believes in integrated, authentic self-understanding, human relationships and cross-sectoral collaboration as the most viable means for catalyzing a sustainable future. Hilary is a Returned Peace Corps volunteer from Guinea (2011-2014), where she worked in waste management & recycling, ecotourism, entrepreneurship and empowerment.