Fighting Corruption Through Business Education

Rania Uwaydah Mardini | December 4, 2019 |

Corruption refers to “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain” (Transparency International).   It undermines the effectiveness of any given ecosystem – from individual entities to national economies, and impedes development and related progress towards the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The anti-corruption movement has achieved important milestones; however, progress remains significantly short of intentions. Corruption is a multi-dimensional problem requiring a similarly multi-dimensional solution, involving a variety of stakeholder groups – not only lawmakers and enforcers. The private sector is one such group. The youth is another.

What Does It Take to Fight Corruption?

There is no one simple answer to this question. A good starting point though is to create the appropriate host environment - a culture of integrity. That said, culture alone will not cut it, concrete targeted efforts are a must, and for those, there are two fundamental components.

First is the will to fight corruption (including the commitment to stay the course). This derives from the conviction that fighting it is the right thing to do – not just the good thing. For example, a business entity should be convinced that it makes good business sense to be ethical. There is a common misconception that there is a trade-off between ethical conduct and good business performance or that corruption “greases the wheels” of business. This misconception needs to be addressed.

Second is the conviction that one does in fact have a role to play and it is actually possible for each of us to make a difference. For that, having the knowhow is very important, and a proper network too. A network provides backing, brings individual efforts together while coordinating between them and thus amplifies their impact.

In a nutshell, fighting corruption requires conviction, knowhow, and networking.

Where Does Business Education Come in?

Business schools have a critical role to play.  As educational institutions, they are expected to graduate responsible citizens who are willing and able to proactively promote integrity in their environments. They engage with students – the business men and women of the future – while their ultimate characters, ideas, convictions are still developing. They are in a unique position to impress upon them the value of integrity and ethics.  Leading by example is fundamental in this regard: modelling ethical behavior, recognizing and rewarding diligence and honest hard work, and showing respect for the rules.

Moreover, the business school is where future managers acquire business acumen and develop the groundwork on which they will build their experience and make their choices. Accordingly, curricula should be carefully designed to address two core program learning goals, professional business competence and ethics:

  • Ethics: graduates should be taught how to evaluate ethical principles, apply ethical behavior, and argue for the ethical choice – not only because it is morally appropriate but because it makes good business sense. They should join the workforce with the firm conviction that, while cutting corners may increase profits in the short run, over the long haul, ethical conduct is essential for optimal and sustainable shareholder value.
  • Professional business competence: graduates should be taught the know-how of recognizing the risks of corruption to an organization, recommending appropriate mitigation strategies, and identifying and assessing the management role and its effect on the control environment and control activities.

As classes of students graduate, one after the other, a network of ethically responsible and capable individuals are embedded in society. This network may be further strengthened by initiatives that focus explicitly and entirely on enhancing integrity to curb corrupt practices. 

OSB’s Business Integrity Network

In this spirit, on 3 April 2019, the Olayan School of Business (OSB) of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon launched the Business Integrity Network (BIN). BIN, created under OSB’s Beta Gamma Sigma chapter, is the first of its kind in Lebanon. It was inspired by and aligns with the Universities Against Corruption initiative that was launched in 2016 by the United Nations Development Program and which OSB has been part of since. Universities Against Corruption recognizes the power of the youth as agents of change and aims to empower them with the tools – namely knowledge and networking - to fight for integrity in the Arab region, where corruption is considered a rampant problem. BIN connects OSB students to a network of peers from around 23 universities (as of December 2018) in Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, and Morocco.

BIN’s mission is to promote the business case against corruption with a view to build a network of people who believe in and promote the value of ethics in profitable businesses. OSB students and alumni will be at the heart of BIN, but as they liaise with their connections in other universities and countries, their impact in creating a culture of integrity will hopefully grow beyond their campus and into the greater Lebanese and Arab communities.

To accomplish this mission, BIN’s activities include organized talks, workshops, conferences, debates, and competitions. They aim to primarily:

  • Create knowledge-based spaces to raise awareness and build capacities with regard to the value of integrity, international anti-corruption legislation, and anti-corruption efforts in Lebanon and the Arab region.
  • Offer a platform for thinking out loud and engaging in constructive discussion and debate among the youth and with civil society organizations and public officials.
  • To connect students with national and regional integrity networks.
  • To encourage students to engage in related research.

To fight corruption, we need to think strategically and act and collectively. Everybody has a role to play – business schools included.

Rania Uwaydah Mardini

Lecturer in Accounting, Olayan School of Business, American University of Beirut

Rania a faculty member of the Olayan School of Business at the American University of Beirut and the Vice Chairwoman of the Lebanese Transparency Association, the Lebanese chapter of Transparency International. She is also a Member of the International Panel on Accountancy Education (IPAE) that advises IFAC and the Chair of its Public Sector Accountancy Education Consultative Group. Prior to this appointment, Rania served as Member of the International Accounting Education Standards Board, the IPAE’s predecessor. In addition, Rania has served as Senior Advisor and Regional Expert to the United Nations Development Program’s regional project on Anti-Corruption and Integrity in the Arab Countries (ACIAC).

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