The crowd was abuzz with chatter at the Crowning Ceremony of Integrity Idol 2018. Government officials, senior political representatives, foreign dignitaries and excited citizens had shown up to witness Shehryar Gul become the third Pakistani honored as the winner of Integrity Idol, a national movement aimed at identifying and celebrating honest government officials.

Gul, a Deputy Commissioner from Sindh, was awarded the prize for his honesty and dedication as a public servant, most recently exemplified when he successfully ensured fair and transparent elections in his district. He was chosen by a high-level panel from a selection of five finalists including Batool Asadi, the first female civil servant to serve as a field Assistant Commissioner in interior Balochistan; Aamir Shehzad who frequently refuses bribes as a Social Welfare Officer in Islamabad; Amjad Iqbal, a District Commander of the Elite Force in Shangla, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province who has survived several assassination attempts as a result of his efforts to fight corruption; and Azadi Fateh an Assistant Professor in Karachi who is supporting a new generation of student journalists to push for accountability through the media.

Combating corruption traditionally brings to mind the enforcement of rules, compliance with laws and imprisonment of offenders. This discourse is important, however, it is so abundant that there is growing public apathy surrounding it. As UNDP geared up to mark the last International Anti-Corruption Day, the need to be innovative and flip the traditional narrative seemed apparent. It was time to embrace positive reinforcement and move the conversation from being anti-corruption to pro-integrity. Instead of ‘naming and shaming’,  why not start “naming and faming”?

This is how UNDP Pakistan’s Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) partnered with Accountability Lab Pakistan on a special youth edition of Integrity Idol in 2018. YEP is multi-faceted strategy aimed at creating a conducive environment for youth to emerge as agents of positive change and development. In its efforts to achieve this goal, it seeks to explore innovative avenues and platforms for engaging and celebrating young people across the country. Partnering with Accountability Lab for Integrity Idol allowed for natural synergy behind a movement of active citizens and responsible leaders to uphold the concept of accountability and promote integrity. Moreover, Integrity Idol supported role-models for young-people and is now connecting and supporting the young winners to further foster youth leadership. In a country where 64 percent of the population is under the age of 30, providing such positive platforms for engagement are essential.

Thus, every province was scoured, looking for integrity heroes nominated by ordinary citizens. Young volunteers were mobilized and a robust social media campaign was run. The focus was particularly on young civil servants – those that have the potential to truly transform government systems over the next 30 years – and 300 nominees from over 50 districts across the country were received. The top five government officials shortlisted by a panel and films were made about their incredible work- with the nation then voting for their favorites online and through SMS and Whatsapp.

All the Idols were celebrated as national heroes at a large event in front of the media in the national capital, Islamabad. Now they are involved in engaging young people to build coalitions for integrity and push to change norms within government institutions. Previous winners have received mentorship from the Accountability Lab team, extensive media coverage and opportunities for promotions – all of which have encouraged them to continue their fight against corruption.

It has been well documented that corruption is sustained by social norms – the more people think that others are engaging in this kind of behavior, the more willing they are to do it themselves. The solution has to be to change the norms themselves – by celebrating those with integrity.

As the 2018 Integrity Idol winner, Shehryar Gul, said: “There is no need to for us to do anything extraordinary.  When you, me and officials working in various government departments continue to perform their duties in an ordinary way, it will become an extraordinary effort to solve the grievances of citizens.”

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Fayyaz Yaseen is Country Director of Accountability Lab Pakistan. You can follow the Accountability Lab on Twitter @accountlab and Integrity Idol Pakistan @integrityidolpk. Integrity Idol is a campaign developed with the support of UNDP Pakistan and in partnership with Hum News.

Fatima Ahmed is a Policy and Advocacy Officer for the Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) under the Crisis Prevention and Recovery Unit at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan. You can follow updates on the YEP at UNDP Pakistan at @UNDP_Pakistan.

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