Transparency International founder and former World Bank employee Peter Eigen regaled student with stories of financial and political corruption on his Sept. 30 visit to campus.
“Corruption was so devastating, so deadly for millions that I decided I had to do something about it,” Eigen said.
Eigen spoke at three events on campus, part of the larger John Parke Young Initiative on the Global Economy organized by Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) Professor Sanjeev Khagram. Eigen and Khagram have long been close friends, and even taught an anti-corruption course together at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, according to Khagram.
During the presentation, Eigen recounted some of his early struggles in founding his non-governmental organization. He routinely fought with international leaders who insisted that their practices were normal, and even received pushback from his bosses at the World Bank. When one superior told Eigen that he would have to stop his activism or quit his day job, Eigen knew it was time to leave the organization.
“It was incredible to see such a strong leader take action.” audience member Cliff Cody (sophomore) said. “He wanted to see the change and made it happen.”
Eigen, however, was quick to say he does not consider himself a martyr. He had earned a pension and had the option to retire to a peaceful life in Germany when he was approached to start his non-governmental organization.
“You have to be lucky, persistent, stubborn, and self-righteous to pursue an agenda like that,” Eigen said.
Since then, Eigen has worked with heads of state and major oil companies to negotiate transparency agreements. He and his peers also worked to create an “Isle of Integrity,” wherein companies enter into a mutual agreement not to bribe their governments. Another project, which is still in the works, is to persuade large corporations—like those in oil and gas—to publish what they would pay to produce their product in a given host country.
Eigen emphasized that the work has not been easy. In Transparency International’s nascent stages, governments would often try to prevent the organization from meeting and companies would also lie to Eigen, violating their Isle of Integrity promises. Later on, Eigen faced the tragedy of the death of a Transparency International worker in Rwanda.
Despite these darker moments, students enjoyed hearing about Eigen’s experiences.
“I thought it was really cool that he changed the entire paradigm of international views towards corruption.” Matthew Riback (junior) said.