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Business Leaders on Integrity in Practice

by Prof Jay Fogelman, Central European University and Ellen Goldberg, Tiri – Integrity Action

Sixteen business executives, three academics and two consultants gathered together in a room to talk about integrity/Добропорядочность.  It’s not such a common topic of conversation.  The beautiful mountains outside of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan were the backdrop of this unlikely meeting of professionals, who came from multinational and national corporations in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, from Tiri-Integrity Action (a UK-based NGO), CNS Risk (a consultancy), and the host, Central European University’s Center for Integrity in Business and Government in Hungary.  All had corruption on their minds.

A healthy skepticism filled the room, which was soon replaced by interest, growing attention and lively participation as the presentations were made and discussions followed.  The first presentation outlined personal and organizational Integrity/ Добропорядочность, explaining that Integrity encompasses Accountability/Подотчетности  (letting your stakeholders/заинтересованных сторон check that you’re doing the work you promised to do), Competence/Компетентности (doing it well), Ethics/Этики (doing it with honor and honesty), and No Corruption/без Коррупции.

Tough questions were asked – How can I work with integrity and win, if others cheat and bribe? How can I promote more integrity in my business?  Honest answers were given:  Sometimes you’ll win, and sometimes you’ll lose.  But you can begin to use collective actions by finding others who believe that working with integrity is economically viable, profitable and may often be attractive in strengthening your competitiveness.  They heard about corporations that turned themselves around from corruption to integrity and how they did it; they heard about work being done throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia and other parts of the world to transform the norm to one of doing business with integrity.

The level of integrity required in multinational corporations is slowly seeping into the consciousness of their supply-chain businesses in countries where you mention integrity in English and people argue about whether there’s an exact word for it in Russian and what that word might be.

People are tired of corruption.  They’re tired of seeing money leak into private pockets, and they’re tired of poor service delivery, of growing poverty and slow (or no) development in their countries.  More and more businesses are looking for a different route to prosperity – one that makes them proud of their work and what they accomplish, and rewards them in tangible and intangible ways for being honest.

At the workshop, three groups were formed to discuss the challenges of integrity and corruption from a business standpoint.  Recommendations for making corruption difficult and for iterating the values, practical skills and behaviors needed to live and work with integrity were offered.  These proposed solutions were compared with the results of a global survey of Business Executives, carried out by the Central European University.  Both sets of results affirmed that most of the Business sector wants to be clean, and believes that it is possible to achieve it.  But the findings also showed that the road is difficult, must be well-planned, implemented with consistency and reviewed periodically with employees at all levels so they internalize the principles and reap the benefits of doing business fairly and honestly.  They also acknowledge that the public sector must be involved and leadership should guide from the top and be in touch with their own customers – the citizens. 

Plans were made to develop concrete collaborations on employee training and providing ongoing support to respond to the integrity challenges that arise in every workplace.  We’re up to the task, and want to encourage others in the civil, private and public sectors to join.

On the evening after the end of the workshop, a Bishkek rainbow crossed the sky and the mountains in all its glory.  Did it herald good things to come?  We like to think so.

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