New Training Helps Front-line Aid Workers Reduce Corruption

In a significant milestone to educate humanitarian aid workers on corruption risks, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) launched a pilot anti-corruption training program in March 2021. 

The need for innovative approaches to address corruption in humanitarian aid has been crystal clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres, operating in over 60 countries, received more than 1500 reports on corruption and irregularities related to the pandemic. In February 2021, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Volkan Bozkır, warned that corruption during the pandemic has “caused thousands of extra lives to be lost…[and] led to scarcity in essential protection, life-saving equipment…and the provision of vital services”.

The rising profile of corruption in aid has increased the need for better anti-corruption solutions. Perceptions that aid spending is often lost to corruption affects political support, and it is frequently brought up in aid debates in the United Kingdom and the United States

To address this growing problem, CIPE’s Anti-Corruption and Governance Center (ACGC) began a new training initiative entitled “Combating Corruption in Aid: Scenario-Based Training for Humanitarians,” and piloted with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), a global humanitarian organization. Led by ACGC Program Officer Michele Crymes and ACGC Consultant Sharon Kimel, the training was delivered remotely over two days to ADRA staff stationed in the Philippines. 

Scenario-Based Training for Relief Workers

In four 75-minute sessions, ADRA’s front-line relief workers were instructed on common corruption issues in the aid sector. Although precise measurement is difficult, an estimated 5-10% of annual humanitarian aid spending is lost to corruption. Most global humanitarian assistance provided during the pandemic has been related to the health sector, which is particularly prone to corruption. In 2014, a large study estimated that at least 7% of global spending on health, or almost $500 billion USD, is lost each year to corruption.

These losses can increase dramatically during humanitarian crises. For example, U4 recently noted that “16%…of payments made by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during and after the hurricanes Katrina and Rita was ‘improperly distributed and potentially fraudulently obtained’”. The good news is that evidence shows efforts to combat corruption in humanitarian assistance can be effective. Following the steep losses in FEMA’s response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, concerted efforts to improve detection of potentially fraudulent payments reduced estimated losses to 2.7% during and after Hurricane Sandy.

Consequently, it is imperative for front-line workers to be better equipped to detect and respond to corruption challenges during humanitarian emergencies around the world. To prepare ADRA’s relief workers, CIPE’s facilitators introduced a variety of real-world situations that arise in humanitarian missions where anti-corruption laws can be violated. These include fundraising mistakes, facilitation payments, receiving and giving gifts, the use and misuse of company resources, and hiring practices. 

In each scenario, participants were asked to make decisions and were given opportunities to explain and discuss their choices as a group. During and following each scenario, participants were encouraged to discuss how their organization would guard against and eliminate these corrupt activities if they were discovered while operating in the field.

Next Steps

CIPE’s new training provides a ready-made approach for preparing humanitarian aid workers to identify and reduce corruption risks. By training front-line workers before they enter the field, CIPE’s new program is a low-risk anti-corruption intervention that has the potential to increase the impact of every dollar spent on aid. 

Designed for small to medium-sized NGOs, the training is suitable for virtual, hybrid, or in-person work environments. CIPE is also conducting focus group discussions to evaluate and measure the impact of the training, identify future training needs, and make improvements. CIPE hopes to continue refining its approach and expand its use to other relevant relief organizations. 

CIPE is currently preparing a second pilot training and looks forward to engaging other interested organizations in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia in coming months.

Note: If you or your colleagues would like to participate in this initiative, please contact Michele Crymes, Program Officer (ACGC), at

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