Saturday, September 03, 2011

Treat Anti Graft Ideas as Start Ups

Stop being an Arundhati and Start Being Constructive

The first step has been taken. The journey has one step less to take.  The Anna agitation has given us a sense of excitement, achievement and hope. Its most heartening gift is putting corruption right at the center of our dinner table. No longer are youth accused of ‘pretending to be serious’ when they discuss national issues in the college canteen.  Office cubicles are abuzz with as much debate on the Indian Penal Code as the Indian Premiere League.  House wives talk about a citizen charter as much as Balika Vadhu.  As remarkable as it sounds, a septuagenarian has made fighting corruption sexy for an entire generation.

The nation has to seize this momentum and come up with solutions that address all aspects of corruption from supply to demand, reward to punishment, legal to moral, and redressal to improvement. There is not a moment to lose. This season will not come again. All Indians should see through the ‘You bribe traffic cops so you have no right to take on corruption’ argument and apply their minds to solve the one issue that has held us back.

It is time to stop being an Arundhati in criticizing Anna’s funding, while suggesting zero solutions in taking on the A Rajas. It is time to be constructive.  To overcome cancer, you have to outflank it and cut its supply off. A multi pronged approach is needed.

Jan Lok Pall Bill is punishment for being corrupt. Punishment is practical but it is also temporary. In a society as complex as ours, its value as a deterrent will take years to be proven.  A more lasting impact can occur through positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement happens when a reward is given for a desired behavior. The desired behavior is bringing down corruption. The actors could be any person, process, or technology that improves the system.

We need to find anti –graft ideas and reward both the thinkers and doers.

There are many organizations that reward Integrity. Transparency International awards individuals and organizations that fight corruption around the world. In India, there are similar initiatives like the Manjunath Shanmugam Integrity Award.   But there is no award that specifically rewards ideas, technology or process that tackles graft.  If there is, then the impact of the solution gets restricted to the institution in question and the lesson is lost when the award evening ends. Remember, inspiring individuals like Anna Hazzare are not easy to replicate. But the ideas that come from their minds are.

We need a mechanism that takes innovative ideas, improves them and more importantly helps to take them to a wide audience.  We all know this is easier said than done.  Even getting a resolution to discuss a strong anti-corruption watchdog took a nationwide movement while it should have been established as a matter of natural course decades ago.

So we can perhaps start small. Or start with the corporate sector. Perhaps Indian business houses will start pilots based on some of these award winning ideas instead of signing nominal anti-corruption pledges and codes of conduct. The Government, like has been the trend in many sectors, will be forced to follow such best practices especially with its increasing adoption of technology and process redesign. An award for innovation in integrity can encourage making ‘anti-graft’ a design principle in any system that government uses to deliver services. In these times, an ‘anti-graft’ design mentality is as important as cost, usability, performance and scalability. 

Jan Lok Pal was able to stand the scrutiny of Parliament and a thousand TV debates because it was drafted by people who had worked with Government. Team Anna knew the government - public touch points, system leakages, constitutional challenges etc.  Change has to come from within and not forced from top through a law, or shoved up through the bottom by frustrated citizens.

The Innovation in Integrity awards should have a category to reward and learn from individuals within government who were successful in reducing corruption. For example, if an official in the Ministry of Defense implements a transparent auction system (like the one done for 3G) for defense procurement –he should be recognized for not only speeding up procurement but also cutting down on kickbacks. Similarly, if a private company decides to have a system to make electoral funding more transparent, it should be rewarded and the solution should be shared with other corporations.

The awards in Integrity should become as much a badge of honor like the Malcolm Baldridge Award is for quality. An Indian corporate, and there are many who have been able to grow without indulging in graft, can adopt the initiative and sponsor it. But we should not stop at merely rewarding good work. The ideas and suggestions that the committee learns through the exercise should be stored, improved, and made into reusable artifacts that can be applied to other parts of society.  That is the key. The Noble Peace Prize never led to world peace. But the X Prize led to affordable space travel, an idea which I feel will define the collective future of our planet in the next decade.

The committee should treat every remarkable idea to tackle corruption as a start up. It should nurture it, guide it, and make sure it delivers as much value as possible.   If we can reward Indian Juggad in tacking rural and environmental problems, we can definitely reward our ingenuity in tacking graft. Corruption has left us bleeding, while non performance only hurts. We need to prioritize and focus on this grave problem that has over the years become our way of life. 

Ours is a resilient country, and this movement has shown the world that a previously insurmountable problem can be taken on peacefully if the right method is applied. There is no reason why we cannot do it again. Our journey as a nation has been rebooted. It is time to reach our destination. It is time to deliver.

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