Africa will be home to about 40% of the world’s workforce by 2050. Will the working population in Africa amplify the corruption challenges their countries face, or will they push for a better society?

In a Transparency International report on corruption across the continent, it was disclosed that of the 47,000 citizens in the 35 African countries surveyed, many feel corruption has increased in their country. Yet, more than half (53%) of those interviewed are optimistic that citizens can make a difference in the fight against corruption. There’s hope for positive change if people choose to speak up and act in ethical dilemmas.

Echoing the Global Corruption Barometer report, there is no doubt corruption is slowing down economic, political, and social development on the continent. Companies often design compliance policies, codes of conduct or offer ethics training, hoping it will elicit a sense of responsibility for employees to speak up and act when they witness wrong behavior or face ethical dilemmas. The hard truth is these interventions on their own do not inspire people to speak up. Research findings from the University of North Colorado Social Research lab show that one of the top reasons people do not speak up is because they do not have the courage to do so. There are invisible losses to an organization each time an employee chooses silence over speaking up because they were afraid to speak up.

At the heart of the Giving Voice to Values (GVV) approach is building skill, confidence and increasing the chances to act on your values in ethical dilemmas. GVV is a case-based curriculum created by Dr Mary Gentile, professor of practice at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. It teaches skills in ethical action and addresses the questions: “What if I were going to act on my values? What would I say and do? How could I be most effective?”. The curriculum is based on research and practice, with over 1,000 pilots in educational settings and organizations across all seven continents.

Since 2011, the course has been built into the curriculum for first-year students at Ashesi University. “We’ve heard from our alumni who encounter tough situations of values conflict in the workplace,” shared Rebecca Awuah, faculty member at Ashesi University, who led the curriculum implementation process in 2011. “Alumni have found GVV as a useful tool to overcome these tough situations. It’s not necessarily a strategy that finds an answer for every problem. However, it helps you pause and strategize, because you have a greater toolset and access to the choice of speaking up.”

Moving beyond an undergraduate audience, The Education Collaborative at Ashesi University launched the Giving Voice to Values for Africa project to make the curriculum widely accessible to the African world of business. Rebecca Awuah is the lead on the project, and Mary Gentile is the project advisor. The goal is to support transformation within organizations, away from cultures that accept the status quo and toward cultures that thrive on ethical action and trust. Using cases and stories on familiar workplace and life values-conflicts, the GVV for Africa curriculum will give industry professionals the techniques to reframe and expand their range of possible actions to voice their values. The design encourages learning in cohorts and offers participants the tools to equip other people with the same ethical-action skills. “We designed GVV for Africa as a train-the-trainer course because we know the value in sharing the curriculum with other people,” said Rose Dodd, Director at the Education Collaborative. “You can take the course as an individual learner or as a trainer who will teach someone else.”   

Making people aware of ethics without giving them the tools to speak up and act in ethical dilemmas is often inspirational without enabling. Approaching ethical dilemmas with a set of tools, rehearsed responses and strategies to voice your values has proven to be an effective way to build the courage we need to make the change we desire to see. 

Like the 53% of interviewees in the Transparency International report, Mary Gentile shared with the GVV for Africa project team how optimistic she was about Africa becoming a shining example for upholding ethics. “As the Education Collaborative works on this project, it is my hope that the different countries you work with within Africa will become a beacon, and a positive example for other parts of the world to learn from,” she said. “I have much faith that it will happen.”

Anyone who will leave a lasting footprint on the world must have a strong ethical compass and voice their values. Do you have what it takes?

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