Transparency and businesses? In Lebanon?

Lebanon, February 22, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps Lebanon  </span>
    Fouad Zmokhol (right) gave a really good speech at the Transparency and Accountability conference we co-sponsored. As you can tell by the look on my face, it was a little intimidating to follow his talk. Photo: Mercy Corps Lebanon

I hate microphones. It generally means I am speaking to so many people that it too impersonal or too important.

My most recent adventure with a microphone was a conference about transparency and accountability, primarily in the private sector — a major obstacle to development in Lebanon. Mercy Corps’ Vision for Change emphasizes the requirement that public, private and civil society sectors work together for communities to develop into more secure, just, and productive societies. Nowhere could this be more true than in Lebanon, where a strong business community and struggling central government make corporate buy-in to change essential. The unfortunate reality of Lebanon is that its system of corruption actually functions, but also functions to exclude a large number of the nation’s population from the opportunities of its active and vibrant enterprises.

So comes the big question — how do you convince those who have been successful in the existing system that it is in their interest to change the system? That’s exactly what we tried to do in coordination with the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce with a conference on Transparency and Accountability: Key Factors in Development.

My role along with my co-panelist, Fouad Zmokhol, was to give examples of success stories where civil society and private sector tackled corruption together. Mr. Zmokhol, a successful Lebanese businessman and active board member of the Lebanese Transparency Association, started us off with the hard truth — there are no success stories.

We both brought some optimism to the bleak past however, with the idea that the formula for success is out there somewhere — and our collective minds will find it, but in order for a sustainable program to work, civil society organizations and for-profit businesses need to look for areas of mission convergence. That means we need to find a program that is not only mutually beneficial to both partners, but also meets the social mission of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the profit mission of the company.

Impossible? Not really.

Our Guatemala team found an innovative way to connect small farmers to a huge market in collaboration with mega-store Walmart while providing Walmart to a more efficient local source of produce. Locally, here in Lebanon, we designed a (yet unfunded) program in coordination with local businesses, including HSBC Bank, which would expand our current program for integrating people with disabilities into the job market through directed job training programs. Our mission of greater inclusion meets human resources managers’ mission of finding qualified new team members.

What the successful model will be for collaboration on transparency will be, I don’t know — but the conference gave all of the parties interested in finding a solution the chance to meet and begin to exchange ideas. And, with people like Fouad Zmokhol looking for answers with Mercy Corps, I have no doubt we’ll find it.