Rajika Jayatilake notes that millennials are raising their youthful voices to fight pervasive corruption globally

Youth are considered idealistic, seeking perfection in an imperfect world. The young people making an impact in the world today belong to the millennial generation – born somewhere between 1981 and 1997, and comprising about 27 percent of the world’s population or about two billion people. They’re the generation with spending power across the globe.

Millennials believe they are agents of change. Being the first generation to grow up with the internet and smartphones, millennials are used to accessing information in an instant with the tap of a finger. They learnt at an early age not to depend on others for information and as adults, they have no interest in tolerating or accepting social problems that earlier generations had simply shrugged off.

They also do not tolerate hypocrisy and believe that the truth should prevail. And one of the biggest changes they wish to make is to eradicate corruption in the world. As the late American singer Kurt Cobain said, “the duty of youth is to challenge corruption.”

The millennial focus on fighting corruption has been under the microscope in the recent past. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently partnered with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) to carry out a survey to garner insights into the millennial perspective on corruption.

According to the findings, the issues of utmost importance to millennials are the impact that corruption will have on economic growth and how it will impact the future
– like voting trends and the public sector as a career choice. Earlier, the UN’s My World 2014 survey also identified transparency and corruption as priority issues for people below 34 years.

Even as they come forward to fight corruption, youth are also seen as one of its most vulnerable victims. The 2017 Global Corruption Barometer found that under 35-year-olds are the most likely targets of forced corruption and that 35 percent are more likely to pay a bribe to get public services.

In politics and the workplace, millennials demand honesty and transparency. This is why young Democrats passionately voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 US presidential election. They considered him a model of political integrity – an outsider who had pointed his finger at a corrupt system for decades.

This characteristic in young people is a much sought after quality in the global campaign against the ever widening net of corruption. At the forefront is Transparency International (TI), a global organisation working with over 100 countries in a committed battle against corruption since 1993.

Recently, TI invited youth across the world to “join the anticorruption movement and be a source of inspiration in the fight against corruption.” The challenge is for young people to submit a short video clip with out-of-the-box thinking, ideas and strategies to fight corruption.

This competition was appropriately titled Future Against Corruption Award 2018 and marked International Anti-Corruption Day, and the 25th anniversary of TI. It was held in collaboration with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The winners of the competition were honoured in October at a public awards ceremony during the International Anti-Corruption Conference of 2018 in Copenhagen.

The winners of the ‘against corruption’ award are considered a source of inspiration to the anticorruption campaign because all of them convey the same message – that corruption can be challenged and overcome. This dedication to fighting corruption is seen in many of the statements of millennials such as ‘corruption is causing lost opportunities for my generation’ and ‘corruption is holding my country back.’

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council recently had its first discussion on corruption and its links to global conflict, and the need for strategies to disrupt the illicit siphoning of money overseas by corrupt leaders.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council that “corruption breeds disillusionment with government and governance, and is often at the root of political dysfunction and social disunity.”

He quoted WEF estimates of the global cost of corruption deemed to be at least US$ 2.6 trillion or five percent of the world’s GDP. Earlier, the World Bank noted that businesses and individuals pay more than a trillion dollars in bribes every year. TI believes that corruption could be even more pervasive, with 68 percent of countries identified as having serious corruption issues.

This is the reason global anticorruption institutions feel that firing up youth to fight corrupt individuals and establishments will probably bring about changes that would not happen in any other way.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence echoes a millennial trait of telling honest stories on social media platforms. She said: “We need to tell each other our stories. We need to show that everyone – our neighbours, families, community leaders – we know is touched by corruption.”

António Guterres
UN Secretary-General