Trustees of transformation

EITI’s intern Lyydia Kilpi tells how her view of reform has changed since joining the International Secretariat.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." 
- Margaret Mead, writer and cultural anthropologist.

There is something very appealing about revolutions. Masses take over the streets to demand change, power is being reshuffled, and the making of history is in the air.

However, my first months as an intern at the EITI International Secretariat have shifted my interest to subtler and less romanticised drivers of reform.

The above quote by Margaret Mead reminds us that often change results from the silent work of devoted individuals. Rather than a storm that swipes over society, it may resemble a light breeze.

Sudden and radical changes can cause sudden and radical resistance from those who benefitted from the status quo. The best of causes and the most justified of demands may result in conflict if the toes of wrong people get stepped on.

Nevertheless, the EITI builds on the principle that citizens have the right to know how resources are governed and the right to demand change. Stepping on toes cannot be completely avoided.

If corrupt practices in managing revenues are tackled, someone is bound to lose out. However, how the problem is confronted can make a difference. Working from the inside by supporting key actors may be a good way to promote reform without causing excess stir.

As Dr Dominik Zaum has stated about tackling the political economy of corruption, support to institutions and actors that can demand reforms and challenge the political elite is important. These reformers can gradually empower marginalised groups and provide focal points for action. Little by little they can engage with other actors and spread the message of better governance.

The multi-sectorial groups in the 41 countries implementing the EITI bring together reformers from all stakeholder groups: public officials who want to fight corrupt practises, private sector representatives who are keen to see the industry work in a responsible manner, and civil society activists eager to ensure that revenues are substantial and benefit the people.

The EITI provides these reformers with a platform for dialogue. It also creates a basis for building trust among groups that have competing interests. Myanmar has initiated a national EITI process as part of a wider move towards openness.

EITI Chair Clare Short commented on the progress made in Myanmar: “I am impressed by the commitment of the government, civil society and industry to work together for better management of Myanmar’s natural resources. This first multi-stakeholder meeting is an important milestone for the EITI process in Myanmar and the openness of the discussions is a reflection that the transition towards democracy has come a long way”.

Transparency does not automatically bring about peaceful development, but opacity generates distrust. Undoubtedly, trust among different sectors of society is a prerequisite for peace and development. And building that trust requires openness, patience and dialogue.

The EITI is hardly a quick fix trust-builder, and the role of the International Secretariat is even more modest: to support the devoted individuals who seek reform through national EITI processes. Nevertheless, it’s a cause I’m looking forward to working for during the coming months. After all, small streams make big rivers.