I had the opportunity to meet and catch up with the Integrity Idols of 2018 to see what has happened since the Integrity Idol campaign and what they have been up to in the past few months. Here are some of the insights I gained from them.  

By Rabia Abba Omar

Two weeks ago, I started working in the South African office of the Accountability Lab. Within my first week, I got the opportunity to meet and catch up with the Integrity Idols of 2018 to see what has happened since the Integrity Idol campaign and what they have been up to in the past few months. Here are some of the insights I gained from them.  

1. With a Great Award Comes Great Responsibility

Each of the Idols shared that they’ve come to realize that they’ve wanted to be more intentional about having integrity and ensuring that people have integrity in their workspace since the award ceremony. This award is a way of encouraging people to be more honest and accountable with their work, and we can already see this in the work that the Idols are doing. For example, Captain Vinny Pillay has been working with the Tongaat council to fight corruption at the local Home Affairs office.

2. Building an Integrity Legacy

Captain Vinny Pillay is now in charge of ten new recruits to the police force, and he stresses to them the importance of being honest and that having integrity and being accountable will make them better police officers. Firefighters and EMS Responders, Jocelin Flank and Deon Easu, have both been working with the South African Fire Youth Academy to train future firefighters and EMS responders for Johannesburg to also work with integrity and honesty. They are all playing a role in ensuring the future of the South African public service is full of civil servants with a firm understanding of integrity.

3. Dealing with the Green Monster

Nearly all of the Idols raised that they have had to face jealous colleagues and supervisors in their workplaces, who have at times made their work difficult to do. This treatment has ranged from isolating the Idols to no longer supporting the projects that helped them be nominated for the Integrity Idol award. What struck me the most was wondering whether this is a product of a wider systematic culture of not wanting others to flourish and do better than ourselves, and, if that is the case, how this culture affects our relationships and the work we do. Why aren’t people happy for their colleagues? Why do people want to, in some way, sabotage the good work that others are doing?

4. Just Keep Moving

Regardless, the Idols have continued to work towards integrity in their workspace in spite of the disapproval they have received. Despite a recent increase in push-back for their work with the Academy, Deon Easu and Jocelin Flank have continued to stress the importance of leading with integrity.Nurse Elizabeth Mkhondo revealed that she has had a sizable increase in patients recently and that this has motivated her to do her job even better in order to ensure that her patients get the care they need and deserve. 

5. Reflection for Self-Development

Natascha Meisler told us that the Nelson Mandela Champion Within program – which uses the life and writing of Nelson Mandela as a learning tool – was a powerful learning and reflection process. She noted that the program really helped her identify where she can lead a life of integrity in the work that she does, just like Nelson Mandela. She said that this has allowed her to reflect more on her work and her role as a teacher. Learn more about the Champion Within program here.

6. Work that Network

Some of the Idols observed that the Integrity Idol award has provided them with a new network as well as a new space to connect and share with colleagues who are similar to them. These spaces are few in public service. The Lab knows, through running this campaign in difficult contexts around the world, that intentional networks can facilitate an enabling environment to shift and create positive norms. The Idols said that it was useful to have a network of like-minded public servants around the country and that this network is something the Lab should strengthen and support over time.

7. Reigniting the Fire

Elizabeth Mkhondo told us that before the award she felt demoralized in her work space and that after winning the award she has a renewed sense of purpose. In a similar vein, Natascha Meisler has struggled with her work environment and is using the next two years as a break to develop her skills, so she can come back and continue to be an incredible teacher. The Integrity Idol award not only celebrated public servants, but also gave them a chance to celebrate themselves, the work they continue to do, and make them feel recognized for the work they have done.

8. Reframing Anti-Corruption

Something that has been noted by the Idols and our Partners is that this is a different spin on the more usual anti-corruption campaigns. Instead of naming and shaming, this campaign focused on naming and faming public servants who are pushing to change the environments in which they work. This approach to reframing anti-corruption motivates the Idols and helps us, as a country, take notice of the stories that we don’t read or hear often.

9. Integrity for Transformation

Many of the Idols commented that there needs to be more dialogue and training on integrity in their workplace and that such training is incredibly important for them to see real transformation thanks to their own work. Some also said that dialogue and training would help transform their work environment to promote honesty, accountability, and servant leadership. A suggestion by Jocelin Flank and Deon Easu was that there should be integrity and ethics training for the Firefighters and EMS services, which was echoed by Dr. Mirja Delport, who wants to set up an Ethics and Integrity Committee to facilitate integrity and ethics training at the hospital she works for.

10. Smile

Finally, on a lighter note, Dr. Mirja Delport says the one thing she has tried to personally implement in her life is smiling more to her colleagues and patients. She commented that setting a more positive tone in her work helps her to be more positive and open, which she says is part of living with integrity. I believe smiling is something we can all implement in our everyday life and work life too.