Vietnam: Who are the corruption game changers?

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Two members of the Black and White club join an arm-wrestling competition with the slogan 'Arm-wrestling to blow away corruption' at a youth event in Hanoi in November 2012 to promote fair education environment.

I often hear that corruption is everywhere and nothing can be done about it. I used to believe it. I still hear people saying the work on anticorruption is a waste of time. I disregard these cynical statements now.  Who made me change my attitude? The youth.

I started being inspired several years ago when a group of young women from the Vietnamese NGO Live and Learn (L&L) developed the idea of ‘a sustainable and transparent society in the hands of youth’. As clear as the idea tells, these young women wanted to engage more with youth, educate them about sustainable and transparent development and how young people can become catalysts for change and for a less corruption-prone country. The idea was among winning initiatives of the Vietnam Innovation Day (VID) 2009 More Transparency and Accountability, Less Corruption, which was co-organized by the World Bank and the Government Inspectorate.[1]

As part of the project idea, L&L would help connect and create a network of student and youth groups (Green Generation network, volunteer clubs, youth organizations, Be Change Agents, etc.) in Hanoi. These groups would be more informed of development issues such as sustainable development, corruption, and their responsibilities, and eventually would act together to build a corruption-free society. The journey was not without difficulties. During the first six months of the project, L&L was not able to get into many universities to talk with students about transparency nor integrity, let alone corruption. Even if universities were open to the idea, not many students showed interest. Some events attracted only 8 young people.

Nevertheless, those young people who participated in any workshops and meetings organized by L&L on a sustainable and transparent society showed their great impression. They continued their activities of transplanting transparency and planting integrity seeds in universities after. They shared the topic to classmates and club members. More universities picked up the idea and more youth clubs were established. The momentum really spurred in 2011 when a number of Be Change Agent members in Hanoi teamed up to start “Black or White” group (BOW) to raise awareness on honesty and integrity. Together with L&L, they connected youth organizations in other cities to run a campaign on ‘Living Truthfully’. And the activities reached out to over 7,000 young people in different regions of the country. From only a few Be Change Agents clubs in Hanoi that engaged in transparency and integrity actions, the network now has over 80 clubs in 35 out of Vietnam’s 63 provinces, from the North, Central and to the South, of the country. Using interactive learning methods and particularly social media, these clubs organize regular talks, online forums and dialogues on transparency, integrity, and living a true life not only among students themselves, but also with teachers, educators and local policy makers.

It is fantastic to see that those students and clubs mentored by L&L have also joined forces with other similar activities, such as the School is Beautiful project, supported by the bi-annual Vietnam Anticorruption Initiative Program (VACI, the successor initiative of the VID 2009) or the Youth Box Channel  which are both promoting a transparent and fair education environment.  As the network expands, more and more students and youth started talking and engaging in anticorruption efforts. And thousands of them have actively participated and committed to living with integrity. From giving envelopes to teachers prior to exams ‘because others have done the same’, they have stopped doing it now. From violating traffic law and bribing traffic police to avoid being fined, they now understand their responsibilities and follow traffic rules.

“Change starts from yourself and one can start with small things – be honest to yourself and others,” said Bui Thi My Yen, a member of the Black or White group. 

With those under the age of 30 accounting for 54% percent of the population, indeed the youth are our game changers for a less corrupt society if they start saying no to corruption. According to the recent corruption surveys carried out the World Bank, the Government Inspectorate and other development partners, too often, the majority of firms and citizens that paid bribes did so without being asked. If the culture of integrity is nurtured by today’s youth, corruption will not be fed in the future.

Anticorruption is not only about hunting after corrupt people for which the anticorruption agencies are charged. It’s also about developing a culture of zero tolerance to corruption and everyone has a role to play. It is fascinating to see youth desire, act and demand for a clean and fair society, and thus inspire not-so-young people to do the same.  ‘We have support from our families, and society, will in, turn support us’, said Khong Thuy My, a Be Change Agent club member. 

I, inspired by the youth, therefore have a dream. The dream of a transparent Vietnam!

Related: Watch a video showing more than 100 students in Hanoi in a flash mob to show their support for transparency.

[1] Vietnam Innovation Day is a competitive grant program in Vietnam that identifies and funds innovative, early stage development projects that are scalable and/or replicable, while also having high potential for development impact. It is held every two year with different themes. It was adopted from the World Bank’s global development marketplace which aims at turning innovative ideas into actions.


Huong Thi Lan Tran

Senior Public Sector Specialist - World Bank Vietnam country office

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