Role of Community-Based Organization to Combat Corruption

  • Nurul Huda SakibEmail author
Living reference work entry


Defining Community-Based Organization

The term “community” could be defined as a group of people who are living in the same place and participate in achieving their common interests. What it suggests is that community is developed by a systematic, interactive, and interdependent relationship with each other. It also heavily relies on shared history, mutual expectations, predictable roles, values, norms, and patterns of status differentiation (Brager et al. 1987). The sense of a community then leads to community organizing. Therefore, community-based organizations (CBOs) are defined as an organized community group that is directed by some goal/s (social, political, economic development) to serve the common interest of the community. They may be nonprofit or volunteer-based, but they can be formed to achieve direct profit as a community. Either way, the goal of the CBOs is to preserve community interests.

Why is the CBOs Role in Anti-Corruption?

Community engagement in public affairs has made a significant contribution to public service delivery and on local issues through leadership and decision making. The past few decades have seen tremendous growth in citizens’ engagement through community development committees, citizen satisfaction surveys, public consultations, participatory planning, budget consultations, and social audits (UNDP 2016). Citizens’ engagement involves citizens in the form of individual or collective action (including that in civil society organizations) (Joshi 2007). Considering the modern governance regime, Putnam et al. (1994) argued that if citizens in a “civic community” demand better public services and collaboration, public sector officials become more aware of their responsibility for civic duties. Conversely, in less open societies, people do nothing to create a civic community and instead become isolated and suspicious.

Similarly, Sen (1999) argued that citizens’ engagement provides people with the opportunity to speak up against injustices and discrimination. Citizen engagement fosters human capabilities, promotes fundamental freedoms, and contributes to people’s well-being and quality of life. For example, Achwan and Ganie-Rochman (2009) suggest that the aim of community organizing is doing something beneficial for the citizens of the locality. Therefore, the trend has also become popular in anti-corruption in modern days. At the same time, there are few separate reasons to gain popularity of CBOs in anti-corruption.

First, it has been a common trend all over the world that there have been few successful efforts in combating corruption via existing institutions, such as the anti-corruption agencies and other watchdog agencies through a top-down approach. Indeed, in some cases, these institutions have been used to institutionalize corruption. Overall public trust in these institutional initiatives is shallow, so they have little legitimacy. These institutions often encouraged ceremonial displays of anti-corruption activity, while program overreach relative to available resources has created state capability traps.

Second, in many developing countries, the necessity for petty corruption has gained societal acceptance. This necessity has been reinforced by cultural influences in schools and social groups, particularly in rural areas. Community engagement in anti-corruption initiatives to end or reduce societal acceptance of corruption is thus a critical step in breaking the corruption chain.

Third, community engagement has been very successful over the years in various other sectors. Traditionally, countries have strong cultural bonding, in which relatives, neighbors, and friends share and help each other worked as a force to protect themselves against natural disasters like floods, cyclones, and river erosion. These countries might have the potential for community engagement that could support anti-corruption efforts as well.

Fourth, policies to encourage these community efforts must draw on existing social institutions like the family, educational institutions, and religious institutions, rather than trying to create new bases for community action. These existing social institutions draw our attention to the often-neglected base of Jeremy Pope’s “Greek Temple” (Pope 2000). Empowering them will strengthen support for the pillars of the national integrity systems of any country.

CBOs in Combating Corruption: Early Development

Community engagement in anti-corruption measures, which has gained success worldwide, is an approach borrowed from the well-known US civic education system. This approach continues to be very influential since the nineteenth century. It has been packaged and “sold” to other countries through the Centre for Civic Education’s CIVITAS program (Marquette 2007). Similarly, since October 2002, the World Bank Institute’s pilot-based Youth for Good Governance Learning Program, which was designed to engage the younger generations, has operated in several countries (Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Russia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, and the USA), to highlight the vital role young people can play in improving the quality of governance in their countries (The World Bank Institute 2002).

Additionally, the immense success of the Community Relations Department of Hong Kong’s ICAC, which is responsible for the education, publicity, and moral leadership, has also contributed to the spread of community engagement in anti-corruption efforts (Marquette 2007; Quah 1994). Hong Kong community leaders play an advisory role to the Chief Executive, who is head of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) (Huberts et al. 2008). The Citizens Advisory Committee has a crucial role in the content of films, billboards, and other forms of advertising to educate the public on corruption issues (Heilbrunn 2004). Experiences from these initiatives suggest that creating a social movement involving citizens’ engagement is one fruitful mechanism for fighting corruption. Furthermore, the World Bank has acknowledged the relationship between anti-corruption measures and citizens (as individuals or as members of civil society) in preventing corruption. Both the UN and the OECD emphasize the broad participation of citizens in decision-making (Verdenicci and Hough 2015). Therefore, the citizens’ engagement process through CBOs and other organizational forms motivate donors to promote frequently. Having been developed by following such examples, community-driven anti-corruption initiatives in many countries have become not only widespread but are increasing.

Types of Community Organizing to Combat Corruption

The brisk development of CBOs to prevent corruption has made various government and nongovernment agencies to take initiatives. These ingenuities come through many forms which can be categorized as a) government-driven, b) nongovernment driven, and c) spontaneous community participation.

Government agencies or institutions mainly operate government-driven CBOs to prevent corruption through engaging citizens. Following the development of the Community Relations Department of Hong Kong’s ICAC, many government agencies are likely to initiate CBO activities to prevent corruption. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) passed in 2005 also plays a significant role to promote CBO activities through ACAs around the world. Countries, after signing the UNCAC ratification, must initiate preventative activities. Therefore, these agencies, along with local government, ran anti-corruption preventative activities through CBOs. These agencies mainly helped to form CBOs at the municipal, regional, and subregional level. For example, in Bangladesh, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has a preventative unit to aware and educate citizens about corruption. The ACC also formed the Corruption Prevention Committee (CPC) in every district and subdistrict (local level) to perform their preventative activities with the help of mass people. These committees mainly performed ACC’s prescribed program regularly.

Nongovernment-driven CBOs are mainly funded and operated by NGOs through donors funding. Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Union, many international NGOs, and government operate their corruption prevention activities through national and local NGOs. These NGOs mainly worked to fulfill donors’ expectation and worked on their prescribed format to prevent corruption. Corruption prevention through NGOs is common and most frequent among these three types. Many NGOs worked together with the local NGOs to form these CBOs to raise their voice against corruption. At the same time, international NGOs also form CBOs through their country office. Among those Transparency International is well known for its CBO activities, forming citizen-led committees in many countries. These committees try to engage and aware citizens against corruption.

Spontaneous community participation in combating corruption means preventing corruption without impulse or inclination and premeditation or external stimulus or growing naturally. Generally, spontaneous participation grows naturally and arise suddenly to address problems faced by citizens. The fundamental difference between spontaneous participation and other forms of community action is that the former grow naturally. No one initiates them form outside, sets their rules, or supports them by funding. These initiatives represent a bottom-up approach that develops from self-driven initiatives, self-funding, and creative strategies. These efforts come in different forms in different circumstances. Perhaps Anna Hazare’s protest on the anti-corruption movement is a well-known example of spontaneous participation. Spontaneous participation is result-oriented, and therefore it has a massive risk to become successful.

Activities and Effectiveness of CBOs to Combat Corruption: Compared

The government and nongovernment CBOs operate an almost similar type of activities to prevent corruption. However, spontaneous participation activities are someway different and known for their unique approach. Both government and nongovernment CBOs activities are more isomorphic and copy each other. They sometimes cooperate and operate joint initiatives to prevent corruption. Government-driven initiatives are mainly limited to preventative activities, for example, discussion meetings, seminars, workshops, public hearing, rallies, community consultation, street, and drama throughout the year. Their approach is more creating awareness and educating citizens to prevent corruption. Nongovernment initiatives also follow a similar method. Additionally, they also organize advocacy program and occasionally worked as a bridge between service holder and service receiver. Despite that, Carr and Outhwaite (2011) found that people in nongovernment community activities often focus on information-sharing, networking, and communicating in a restricted sense (Table 1).
Table 1

Summary comparison of three types of community engagement







NGOs from the donor funding

Self/some income-generating activities

Official legitimacy




Clear strategy

Prescribed format: coercive, mimetic, and normative isomorphism

Prescribed format: both coercive, mimetic, and normative isomorphism in practice fulfilling KPIs

Problem-driven initiatives

Code of conduct





Awareness campaigns, mobilizing people, advocacy. Information fairs, etc.

Awareness campaigns, mobilizing people, advocacy. Information fairs, etc.

The direct protest, movement, organized people to get a result immediately.

Source: Author

Spontaneous participation in CBOs is more likely to be problem-driven and more productive from other forms of CBOs activities. Spontaneous participation activities depend on the nature of the problem. For example, Anna Hazare made a hunger strike for passing Lokpal Bill in India, an old farmer in Bangladesh moved around the entire village to make a protest against the local land office. It may come as an individual, organizational, or a combination but always looks for a solution. It also organizes formal program such as discussion meetings, seminars, workshops, rallies, community consultation, and street drama in a limited number depending on the situation.

All types of CBOs are successful in corruption prevention through various mechanisms. Many countries have succeeded in preventing corruption through CBOs. However, different forms of community organizing have a different level of success. However, donor-assisted program (government and nongovernment), in most cases, do not or have less success (Andrews 2013). In the developing countries government and nongovernment approaches to engaging citizens generated by donor funding have minimal impact on combating corruption. Although these initiatives have official legitimacy and robust constitutional frameworks, they remain less effective. Compared with bottom-up approaches, they lack urgency, intensity, and commitment, with most of the officials serving to fulfill key performance indicators. They measure success by numbers rather than real impact in society. Therefore, many researchers prefer bottom-up anti-corruption efforts to prevent corruption. For example, Andrews (2013) emphasizes a problem-driven learning approach to gain state capability. He suggests that donor-assisted program might stick the states in a position where they could not implement any policy. He contextualizes this situation as isomorphic mimicry. Therefore, donor-supported isomorphic mimicry took countries nowhere, and they fall in capability trap. He further emphasized that developing countries should give priority to the local context. Andrews et al. (2013) have suggested a “Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation” (PDIA) model escape capability trap. Instead of the application of “best practice,” PDIA encourages viable and relevant interventions based on specific problems.

For example, citizens’ participation through a bottom-up approach has achieved some outstanding results in several countries. In the case of India, Webb (2012) showed that poor people in Delhi obtained services from public institutions through a collective approach and the use of the Right to Information Act 2005. Similarly, leading examples of community organizing and citizens’ engagement are Residents’ Committees in Singapore, Neighbourhood Associations in Japan (Read and Pekkanen 2009), and Civic Organisations in Indonesia (Achwan and Ganie-Rochman 2009). In other research based on 60 case studies, Goetz and Gaventa (2001) found that citizens’ engagement and civil society initiatives have fostered public services; participatory budget monitoring in Brazil (Touchton and Wampler 2014), social audit hearings in India (Pande 2014) are some other successful cases of preventing corruption through bottom-up community-led efforts. These initiatives not only encourage local development but also reduce opportunities for corruption by engaging citizens in the process.

Challenges of CBOs in Combating Corruption

Translating this consensus into the formation of effective CBOs to combat corruption is, however, far from easy. The experiences of forming such oversight bodies in the local government sector are not promising. According to one case study, community participation in the local governance process has been an “inchoate and piecemeal affair” due to political manipulation, clientelism, inadequate governance structure, and the need for greater awareness and participation (Waheduzzaman and As-Saber 2015). Therefore, CBOs worldwide face someway few similar challenges like these:
  • First, since political interference is a crucial problem in other civic organizations, there is a strong possibility that the same thing could occur in CBOs. The main dangers here are the development of patron-client linkages between CBO members and influential political figures. At the same time, it is impossible to succeed and create an anti-corruption framework without the support of the party in power, and many CBOs in other countries do develop productive connections with political parties.

  • Second, the donor’s driven approach, as well as a spontaneous participation, needs uninterrupted funding to remain active. The survival of the CBOs depends on managing the stream of supplies, autonomy, and external groups. The concentration and provided resource importance increase the dependencies. Thus the organization faces more significant constraining influences from their environment if they depend heavily on one or very few resource providers (Verbruggen et al. 2011). Even if some types of movement arise due to self-driven and self-funded initiatives, they often need stable sources of funding to make them successful in the longer term.

  • Third, initiatives like anti-corruption movements need strong leadership capabilities. It is often hard to find people who are brave and have leadership capabilities. Some leaders are challenging to replace, and leadership transitions are often complicated. Some CBO activities often face challenges of fear of physical or mental threats. People who are engaged in anti-corruption movements have received threats to their lives by powerful forces.

  • Fourth, the experience of engaging citizens in various committees is often hampered by the presence of local patrons, syndicates, and clients, who create conflicts, suspicion, and even corruption within groups. Group members who are solely committed to the anti-corruption cause and not joining for ulterior motives are a significant challenge.

  • Fifth, CBOs often require support from different stakeholders, which is sometimes lacking in many countries. There are problems within the CBOs forming committees and personal interest. Even, they may not get proper support from the government and agencies.

  • Finally, volunteerism needs extended time, and when it comes to anti-corruption, the task is much difficult. CBO members (especially the leaders) are most often busy with their other responsibilities. Therefore, CBOs in many countries failed to engage people in the movement with real passion.


The role of CBOs in combating corruption is challenging but not impossible. All forms of CBOs might have more success if they overcome the known challenges. Evidence suggests that political will can enforce CBOs in anti-corruption as it creates an environment for reforms and policy implementation (Brinkerhoff 2000).



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Government and PoliticsJahangirnagar UniversityDhakaBangladesh