Ethics & Compliance professionals as agents of change: The hero’s journey, words and actions

When I look back over the past twenty years since I started working in compliance as a senior university student, I have noticed that what we do, how we do it, and why we do it has noticeably changed over time. Being a compliance professional has evolved from a position that was so uncommon that required explanation to my friends, to one that has gained not only representation within organizations but is, in many cases required by regulators, expected by Board members and even stakeholders.

The evolution of the profession has gone hand in hand with a more empowered society that distinguishes and observes more clearly the existence of abuses of power in different spheres such as businesses and organizations, just to mention a few. Studies have shown that fairness is a powerful emotion, even among animals. Scientists discovered that when capuchin monkeys see that their reward from same tasks is unequal, they would rebel. The internet and social media have helped expose corruption and the profound inequalities it still generates across the globe, even in the face of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is in this space where our work as compliance experts gains strength, with institutions such as IACA helping us to improve our knowledge, skills and perspectives as anti-corruption and compliance professionals around the world.

Personally, I have been lucky enough to work in different industries including banking, mining, and consulting, in compliance roles that over time evolved to add the ethics component into the function, and nowadays it’s also integrity. There is no doubt it is a pivotal change towards integrity. On the one hand, ethics involves the moral values that govern any person’s behavior including the daily interactions of a group of people, while compliance, on the other, focuses on the expected standards of conduct in the group. Both are equally important. We can say that ethics refers to the “principles”, and compliance to the “form”, in relation to the way in which the organization behaves, and most importantly how it aspires to be a good corporate citizen.

But if you have undergone any IACA training, you are already familiar with this distinction. IACA not only provides us with technical tools but most importantly, with a sense of purpose as global agents of change in the fight against corruption, each with our own role. In my opinion, this by far is the most powerful tool you can use either as an anti-corruption or compliance professional. I believe this is true too for every committed citizen, who cares for equality, integrity, transparency, and fairness in their community. When we partner with an organization towards the right actions and a more ethical and unbiased culture, we are agents of change. When we conduct anti-corruption training, we are agents of change by making it harder for a bribe to be requested. If every training session has made one person reflect on the effects of corruption or misconduct on society, then we have made an impact and contributed to the fight against corruption.

As agents of change we are on a hero’s journey. Just as the myth narrative introduced by the American writer Joseph Campbell, the universal myth of the hero’s journey has direct applicability to compliance professionals when introducing a culture of integrity in their organizations. Campbell describes the hero’s journey as follows: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”[1] By connecting the challenges we face with the perspective of the hero’s journey, we can inspire the required commitments for fearless action from the individuals, groups and organizations. Inspiration and purpose are powerful tools of change. Being fueled by our feelings of fairness they can spark action and, as agents of change, we can join forces in the fight against corruption.

Being global agents of change requires the belief that you can make a difference no matter the size or structure of your organization, institution or classroom, and that we all can help change the world, even with small actions and contributions. This is the message that I convey in my daily work, but also in my personal life and particularly as a mother. Today, when I explain to my children why I do what I do, it is with the absolute certainty that we can all contribute, at least to question and require more transparency to expose discriminatory and abusive practices, either in business or in general. But more importantly, because we can help achieve a fairer society through our words and actions. We are agents of change, and we are not alone.

[1] Joseph Campbell. El Héroe de las mil caras. Psicoanálisis del Mito. Fondo de Cultura Económica. México Primera Edición 1959, p. 25

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