Stopping corruption might seem impossible. But there are simple ways to fight it.

Every year, $3.5 trillion is paid in bribes or stolen by corrupt officials. That is a figure equal to 5 percent of the goods and services produced worldwide in a year.

What is corruption?

It’s the abuse of office for personal gain, and it takes many forms. It’s the politician taking a bribe before awarding a building contract to the briber. It’s the city council member paying for his family vacation with public funds. It’s the official demanding bribes from citizens in exchange for access to clean water.

Who does it affect?

Corruption affects everyone, especially minority and vulnerable populations. As the biggest obstacle to economic and social development it harms societies in these ways:

  • It undermines democracy and human rights by weakening governments.
  • It diverts funds from public services such as health care, education and sanitation.
  • It discourages foreign investment, leading to fewer jobs.

You can make a difference

Powerful people are often the ones taking bribes or making shady deals, and that discourages honest citizens with few resources. But thanks to new technologies, you don’t need a lot of money or power to fight corruption. For example, a couple started an anti-corruption website in India, where people can report instances when they have been asked for bribes.

Transparency International offers these ideas in its anti-corruption kit:

  • Organize a committee to count and keep track of public supplies, such as school textbooks.
  • Coordinate a sporting event that the community can participate in to raise awareness of corruption.
  • Create a petition and take it to the decision-makers.

The U.S. agenda to fight corruption and bribery is comprehensive. It includes promoting financial transparency and tightly restricting shell companies, as highlighted in this column by Tom Malinowski, assistant U.S. secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.