Tackling Corruption with People-Powered Data

Sandra Prüfer at Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth: “Informal fees plague India’s “free” maternal health services. In Nigeria, village households don’t receive the clean cookstoves their government paid for. Around the world, corruption – coupled with the inability to find and share information about it – stymies development in low-income communities.

Now, digital transparency platforms – supplemented with features illiterate and rural populations can use – make it possible for traditionally excluded groups to make their voices heard and access tools they need to grow.

Mapping Corruption Hot Spots in India

One of the problems surrounding access to information is the lack of reliable information in the first place: a popular method to create knowledge is crowdsourcing and enlisting the public to monitor and report on certain issues.

The Mera Swasthya Meri Aawaz platform, which means “Our Health, Our Voice”, is an interactive map in Uttar Pradesh launched by the Indian non-profit organization SAHAYOG. It enables women to anonymously report illicit fees charged for services at maternal health clinics using their mobile phones.

To reduce infant mortality and deaths in childbirth, the Indian government provides free prenatal care and cash incentives to use maternal health clinics, but many charge illegal fees anyway – cutting mothers off from lifesaving healthcare and inhibiting communities’ growth. An estimated 45,000 women in India died in 2015 from complications of pregnancy and childbirth – one of the highest rates of any country in the world; low-income women are disproportionately affected….“Documenting illegal payment demands in real time and aggregating the data online increased governmental willingness to listen,” Sandhya says. “Because the data is linked to technology, its authenticity is not questioned.”

Following the Money in Nigeria

In Nigeria, Connected Development (CODE) also champions open data to combat corruption in infrastructure building, health and education projects. Its mission is to improve access to information and empower local communities to share data that can expose financial irregularities. Since 2012, the Abuja-based watchdog group has investigated twelve capital projects, successfully pressuring the government to release funds including $5.3 million to treat 1,500 lead-poisoned children.

“People activate us: if they know about any project that is supposed to be in their community, but isn’t, they tell us they want us to follow the money – and we’ll take it from there,” says CODE co-founder Oludotun Babayemi.

Users alert the watchdog group directly through its webpage, which publishes open-source data about development projects that are supposed to be happening, based on reports from freedom of information requests to Nigeria’s federal minister of environment, World Bank data and government press releases.

Last year, as part of their #WomenCookstoves reporting campaign, CODE revealed an apparent scam by tracking a $49.8 million government project that was supposed to purchase 750,000 clean cookstoves for rural women. Smoke inhalation diseases disproportionately affect women who spend time cooking over wood fires; according to the World Health Organization, almost 100,000 people die yearly in Nigeria from inhaling wood smoke, the country’s third biggest killer after malaria and AIDS.

“After three months, we found out that only 15 percent of the $48 million was given to the contractor – meaning there were only 45,000 cook stoves out of 750,000 in the county,” Babayemi says….(More)”