Building trust is key to ensure aid goes where it should when providing foreign aid to communities around the world. Integrity Action works to empower citizens to act with and demand integrity, and recently released two new videos about their work in Palestine and Kenya. We sat down and talked to Joy Saunders, Chief Executive Officer at Integrity Action, to learn more about their partnerships and how they build community integrity in diverse countries.
In your words, can you define community integrity building?
It is a constructive approach to ensure public money goes where it should. It brings communities and government together to collaboratively solve integrity problems in public services. We build community integrity by bridging the gap between community officials and citizens to focus on joint problem solving particularly around vital public services such as education, healthcare, and construction. Ultimately to ensure that aid and public funds are distributed to the intended services and communities.
At the moment, what are the biggest opportunities in this space of community integrity building?
Scale. Scaling our concept to a larger, nationwide impact is our biggest opportunity. We are currently working to scale up our approach in Afghanistan, Nepal, Palestine, and Kenya. We hope to influence and affect more communities by ensuring they have measurable improvements in services such as healthcare, education, and roads. We do that by training citizens to work collaboratively with service providers and government. They learn to jointly problem solve to reduce corruption and ensure services are delivered in the most needed areas.
Can you describe your partnership with the Teacher Creativity Centre (TCC) in Palestine?
Integrity Action has been a partner with TCC for a number of years. Together, we work all across Palestine and the Arab world to improve education standards and provide practical learning for students at school level. In the video, we featured our social audit project that took place in a Palestinian high school. The project trained high school students, equipping them to go out into their communities and observe what is happening, and ask important questions. Is what I observe right? How can we improve this issue?
We’ve been really impressed with the student’s ambition and how engaged they have been with this project. By educating the students to take action and building their confidence to present results in public hearings, students are creating change in their local communities. Unsurprisingly, this is the first time most students are meeting with public heads of their communities and the anti-corruption commission to present issues they have found. It is then up to the students to follow-up with their leaders to make sure they have solved the issue. Whether it be a road that needs to be fixed or stolen medicine that should be returned, students are taking what they learn and applying it to real-life. Together, TCC and Integrity Action hope to inspire the students to take these skills that they’ve learned and be able to inspire and lead with integrity for future generations.
Where do you hope to implement a project like this next?
Currently, we work in 11 countries and we hope to continue to branch out into different communities within those countries. We work at a local development project level – we target schools, healthcare centers, etc. – services that matter the most to the students. Integrity Action’s added value is to facilitate a network between organizations working on these issues to help them learn and improve.
Integrity Action hopes to dive deeper into the education model that we have had success with in Palestine. We want to be able to answer the question of could you institutionalize this model in other countries? Could you make this a mandatory class of practical skills learning for students? We are beginning to tap into answers to these questions specifically in Palestine, we are receiving positive feedback and are excited to see how we progress and share this learning more widely.
Integrity Action partnered with the National Taxpayers Association (NTA) in Kenya to introduce DevelopmentCheck, can you explain how this tool was implemented?
We had to strategically apply our approach with the volunteers and elected local participants; they acted as Monitors throughout their communities. DevelopmentCheck is an online tool where citizens provide real-time feedback on the transparency, usefulness, and effectiveness of the development process. We educated the Monitors on what to look for and keep track of, then they were able to either use DevelopmentCheck online platform or app to track and publicize their data. Monitors are encouraged to use their data as an accountability tool for leaders in their communities, ultimately to make sure issues are being solved.
What do you think is the biggest factor for Community Integrity Building to succeed? People, process, goal orientation…?
It is definitely a combination of people, process, and goals. However, building trust is the key to success. If you don’t build trust with government or the local community you are trying to help, you will fail. It’s necessary to reach out to each community with a constructive and collaborative approach. Accusations and assumptions will never lead to long-term progress because it undermines trust. With Community Integrity Building, we find it works well if you consistently apply the approach. It’s similar to a diet, if you only implement some of the healthy eating plan, you will not see the full effect. The evidence shows that sticking to our fully applied approach works!