A society educated for integrity

emmi Oct 4, 2013

Stating the fact that there is widespread corruption in India is hardly an earth-shattering revelation, but I would go so far as to suggest that we are reaching crisis levels. Over the last three years, our country has faced a rapid succession of scandals, some of which boggle the mind, if only because of the scale of the greed and shamelessness involved. KPMG, the professional services firm, in its recent survey on bribery and corruption in India, suggests that corruption poses a grave risk to our future growth and that it may result in a volatile political and economic environment. This bleak outlook should give us all pause for thought.

Reflecting on what has been done, I note that facing this crisis, the government is considering new legislation; it has appointed a new watchdog; and it is attempting to roll out new anti-corruption programrnes across the country. Nothing in this package of reforms can give us confidence that this represents a real break from the past. And I do not think that the Opposition is faring much better with their proposals. History and the experience of other countries tell us that there is no magic bullet in the fight against corruption.

So, where do we go from here?

As a business leader I recognise that we cannot let things continue the way they are. We have an active role to play in turning the tide on corruption and we have to ensure that many more people are part of the solution. It is no longer enough to demand change. People have to be part of making the change a reality. I believe the only way to reach this scale is to engage young people through schools and universities so that they enter the workforce with new values, skills and expectations for a society with far more integrity. They will, then, also be in a position to challenge both their peers and their managers to expect more of themselves.

Our companies need to proactively create the demand for courses in applied business ethics and responsible business practices in higher educational establishments, business and law schools, corporate universities, and training centres. Virtually all graduates are guaranteed to face ethical challenges soon after they start their working life. The time has come to ensure that higher education, enjoyed by millions of young Indians, not only enables them to speak about the issues of corruption, fraud and mismanagement but more importantly, that they enter the work place knowing what to do about it.

Whether the universities are public or private, there can be no excuse for vice-chancellors, rectors or deans not to make these questions a topic of the highest priority. A few top university leaders could set the agenda by sending a clear message and using new and inspiring learning tools to make their universities’ graduates desirable to employers, as institutions that train professionals who have solidly and honestly earned their degrees and expertise. As for business leaders, we have to support such integrity education in the widest sense possible and reward those institutions that demonstrate leadership in building a generation of integrity leaders. We can do this through hiring, by public recognition, and rewards if needed. Building integrity into our society is essential for business going forward: it rewards genuine excellence, sets the tone for competition, raises standards, and levels the playing field.

One may well argue that by the time young people come to university their beliefs and values are already formed. Values education should start even earlier in school and, of course, at home. I would welcome that and l think it cannot start early enough. But there is another side to this argument. Many years ago, US President Theodore Roosevelt warned, "A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but, if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad."

I had the privilege to work on a Task Force set up by B20 and in our report submitted to President Putin in St Petersburg, this was one of our major recommendations.

I am a member of the board of an international NGO called Integrity Action that co-ordinates the world's largest network of universities committed to teaching courses on integrity. Over 400 universities are part of this extraordinary network. The courses rolled out through this network span the public and the private sector in a truly innovative way. I invite Indian business leaders and Indian universities to get in touch so that we can strengthen the foundations for India’s future.

Through this column, I am requesting both my colleagues in business and education institutions to give this some thought and let us put in some efforts to make our world a better place to live and work in.

- Arun Nanda
The author is Chairman, Club Mahindra. He was member of the B20 Task Force on anti corruption which submitted it's report to G20 at St Petersburg