Two fallacies constrain learning across countries. “If it worked there, it will work here.” “This place is unique—we can’t learn from others.” To go beyond this polarity, Bob has developed convenings as a way to stimulate learning and problem solving. From outside come data, models, and case studies of success. From inside come local knowledge and problem solving. The result: solutions and collaborations that would not have happened otherwise.
Bob’s applications of this technique have included anti-corruption, public-private partnerships, decentralization and service delivery, environmental activism, and selection policies for universities. His partners have included governments, nonprofits, and businesses in more than 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Convenings also feature in Bob’s graduate courses and his lectures to audiences around the world.
Bob brings three pieces of news to practitioners fighting corruption. It’s not hopeless, even when corruption is pervasive. Corruption is not about ethics, it’s about equilibriums of incentives and information that need to be disrupted—and can be. Collaboration across the public-private divide is crucial.
Some of Bob’s phrases have become commonplace. Corruption is the misuse of public office for private gain. Fry big fish. Corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability.
Fighting corruption is hard. Tropical Gangsters, Bob’s award-winning, first-hand account of Equatorial Guinea, shows how politics can crumble even well-designed interventions. His Tropical Gangsters II shows the underbelly of underdevelopment in five inside stories that might have been subtitled “Five Frustrations.” But fortunately we can learn from cities, ministries, and countries that have reduced corruption. Several of Bob’s books provide case studies of success (Controlling Corruption; Addressing Corruption Together). His Corrupt Cities has been turned into a two-volume practical manual, adopted by 20 cities in 11 countries of central and eastern Europe.
Many of the big issues facing regions, countries, and the world cannot be solved by governments acting alone or by privatization. Instead, government, business, and civil society must work together to create new strategies, forge new methods of implementation, and evaluate together what works where.
Fortunately, success stories provide inspiration, though never blueprints. Economic principles apply: who is best at what, and how can information and incentives be aligned across different kinds of institutions? Bob’s work shows how hands-on training can propel innovation across the public-private divide