Unfortunately, Ukraine has been in the news recently for some of the wrong reasons- including corruption. But as we’ve learned elsewhere, there are always incredible people doing the right thing, even when no-one is watching and within systems where graft might be entrenched. Part of the solution is to support and lift up these heroes to help build support for their work and model the kind of behaviors that are needed. So, in early 2020, Accountability Lab and the Center for Cultural Management teamed up to launch Integrity Icon in Ukraine- an effort to “name and fame” the country’s most honest government officials. What happened next continues to fill us with hope and inspiration. Written by Ihor Savchak

 

Ukraine was a challenging context to try a campaign like this for a few reasons. There is a degree of apathy among citizens who have seen too many failed anti-corruption efforts; there is a mistrust not just of government but also of CSOs who have not managed to affect the status quo; citizens can feel that currently they have more pressing personal needs; and the civil society space can be competitive rather than collaborative. On the media side, it is also a challenging context because journalists largely follow the line of the owners of media outlets, who prefer efforts to name and shame (often for political ends) rather than “name and fame” as we are trying to do. Finally, we found government officials themselves were often reluctant to be featured in the spotlight – given other commitments and the attention they might receive.

We did not receive as many nominations as we hoped from sectors (such as the judiciary or customs) that are perceived to be most corrupt – which may be because it is thought to be “safer” on both the part of the nominator and the nominee to avoid a campaign like this. We need to dig deeper on that issue – but have found elsewhere that as Integrity Icon grows it brings in a greater diversity of nominees. We did receive nominations from all over Ukraine for Integrity Icons – which included a variety of civil servants – from teachers and health workers, to administrators.

We made videos about the issues early on during the outreach period which were widely watched and shared; and there was some excellent outreach on local radio and through social media. Feedback we received indicated that a positive approach of this kind was welcome – and provided hope and inspiration to those that were nominated; and there was a strong understanding of the correlation between the idea of integrity and the issue of corruption.

We also managed to bring new kinds of people into conversations about this work through the campaign and to begin to shift understandings of the issues. For example, we managed to support some CSOs to work with the campaign that are not usually considered “anti corruption” groups, including cultural bodies, cartoonists, filmmakers, universities and some think-tanks. This has opened up these kinds of approaches to new audiences and built what we like to call “unlikely networks” which we hope will endure over time.

Finally, after an in-depth selection process, we found and have begun to support 5 incredible Icons: Victoria Baltser, Secretary of the Voznesensk municipality in Mykolayiv; Nina Vorokh, head of the Mykhailo-Kotsyubynsk local government in Chernihiv; Volodymyr Huslyakov, Deputy Chief Physician of the Nemyriv City Center for Primary Healthcare in Vinnytsya; Dmytro Koshka, Senior Lecturer of the Department of Ecology at the Dnipro Polytechnic University in Dnipro; and Diana Taranyuk, a family doctor of the State Medical Center for Primary Health Care in Kyiv. We were particularly excited that 3 of the top 5 Icons this year were women – as we know that women face different pressures than men within corrupt systems and need different kinds of support to build integrity.

Next steps for the campaign include a focus on the winners at the upcoming Festival of Lawfulness in June; and the launch of Integrity Icon Ukraine 2021 – nominations are now open online on the website here! We are organizing a global Integrity Icon Summit soon through which we are also connecting the Ukrainian Icons to other honest government officials from elsewhere, to share ideas, learn from each other and celebrate honesty. These are the kinds of networks that evolve over time into tight communities that push back against corruption and ensure that citizens receive the governance they deserve.

There is no doubt that Ukraine faces integrity challenges – but the perception in the press that the entire system is corrupt is wrong, as this campaign has proven. The more we catch people doing the right thing, the more we can help to shift both perceptions and norms towards those that support accountability over time. If you would like to be involved in the campaign, let us know at [email protected]

Ihor Savchak is the Director of the Center for Cultural Management, Accountability Lab’s partner for Integrity Icon Ukraine.