I grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, WI. I have many lovely memories of my childhood, often bright and hyperbolic in a way that can only come from the childish excitement of discovery. One such memory is of “The Pothole.” The Pothole was legendary among neighborhood children, and its borders were avoided with gleeful shrieks of feigned terror by bike riders, skateboarders, and foot soldiers alike. It was an unconquerable monster. Then one day, like magic, The Pothole was gone – further investigation revealed that adults in the neighborhood, weary of damaged tires and stressed suspension systems, had gone to a town hall meeting and asked that The Pothole be repaired. The Pothole was causing a problem in our neighborhood. The adults involved asked that something be done about it. It was filled in. Simple.

Such responsiveness on the part of local government was a privilege I blissfully took for granted until, at a later stage, my eyes were opened to communities previously unknown to me, where social services lie neglected and insufficient funds make it so that public projects remain unfinished. Whereas my parents could attend one town hall meeting and reasonably expect a resolution within a few weeks, such accountability and integrity does not exist in many citizen/government relationships the world over. It is in these disjointed relationships and unaccounted for spaces that Integrity Action intervenes.

Founded and run by a global team of professionals with combined decades of experience in security, anti-corruption, and development, Integrity Action works with a variety of partners across Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia to develop open, trusting, and accountable relationships between those responsible for providing public goods and services and those who are supposed to benefit from them. Integrity Action works with civil society organizations, governments at all levels, and institutes of learning to implement their Community Integrity Building system and close the loop between service providers and beneficiaries in order to improve service delivery, ensure completion and utility of projects, and solve problems.

One particularly potent tool that Integrity Action brings to the table is DevelopmentCheck. An internet platform linked to a mobile reporting system, DevelopmentCheck is being described by some as the TripAdvisor of international development. Winner of the 2014 Google Global Impact Award, this app allows ordinary citizens to weigh in on how their government is doing – that is, the quality and reliability of service provision, follow through on community feedback, and completion of projects. This tool gives communities a real voice in how their issues are handled, but the confidence DevelopmentCheck provides can also have far-reaching ripple effects on local economies. With more information on local living conditions and the performance of local governments, business owners can invest with clarity and confidence. Especially when Integrity Action’s program is implemented at a country-wide level, foreign investors can use DevelopmentCheck to more easily meet and maintain internal and external standards, encouraging them to venture into places they might have otherwise avoided.

Integrity Action puts power in the hands of the powerless and gives them real tools to hold their governments accountable with an excellent success rate. They report a 50% Fix It Rate, which means that 50% of the time, a reported issue is resolved to local, national, or international standards. That is an unheard of success rate in this industry, and I believe a good deal of their success is attributable to their dedication to engaging in larger policy discussions, providing open source materials, and promoting collaboration across networks, NGOs, learning systems, global agencies, and sectors. They identify the movers and shakers in each specific community and do their work through trained local volunteers familiar with the context. Most importantly, Integrity Action breaks down the often overwhelming task of “fighting corruption” and transforms it into a more manageable focus on creating and sustaining meaningful relationships.

In many ways, Integrity Action’s work reminds me of restorative justice. Most famous for its use in Rwanda, restorative justice insists that communities must be empowered to heal themselves because the wound is too deep and gaping for outside authorities to sew it shut. The Community Integrity Building program applies those principles to fighting corruption. This approach aims to work with human nature instead of around it, and makes people more accountable to one another through increased direct human contact and communication. By focusing on the relationships between service providers and beneficiaries, Integrity Action adds a human element to the anti-corruption effort. People are forced to see and acknowledge one another; to recognize the other as human, worthy, and powerful; and to listen to each other. Their success rate with this approach speaks for itself.

Integrity Action is using their work to improve the lives of constituents on a variety of levels, and they have been creative in their application and the partnerships they have forged. One area of growth they do not seem to have broached yet is empowering communities to also hold private corporations and international investors accountable for the impact their businesses have on surrounding communities. Businesses, particularly international corporations, often fall short of their promises to communities or, in the worst cases, end up contributing to environmental, social, and physical degradation of surrounding areas and populations. Often business and government are inextricably linked in the web of corruption, and I would be very interested in how Integrity Action might develop their tools so that people have power against private entities, as well as governments, that ignore or take advantage of them.

In a global environment, which feels further and further from trust and common humanity, Integrity Action is putting its foot down. Their Community Integrity Building System insists on human interaction, understanding, and communication in the name of progress and better living for everyone. Their approach builds on what many of us acknowledge in our hearts but have only a faint hope will ever manifest: human relationships built on trust, accountability, competency, and compassion are the only real weapons against the troubles poisoning our world.

By Emi Kihslinger

Visit Integrity Action’s website and learn more: Act Now