05 Aug 2015
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Mobilizing the Public to Fight Bribery

Philippines startup uses education and technology to tip the balance against government corruption
by Constantine von Hoffman

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“Corruption is a great untapped market,” Henry Motte-Munoz (MBA 2013) says with a laugh. “Not many competitors and customer interest is quite high.”

It’s a market he’s helping to disrupt using Bantay, an NGO he cofounded while at HBS, that uses technology—specifically the website bantay.ph—to help citizens, businesses, and the government fight corruption and bribery in the Philippines.

Motte-Munoz, who is half-Filipino and half-French, grew up in London, Paris, and Zurich, but spent up to four months each year with his family visiting relatives in the Philippines. He had done philanthropic work there before launching Bantay—raising funds for education and rural health care. “It’s good, but not very scalable,” he says. “And also, I’m not a great fundraiser. So it would be a lot of work just to send one kid to college.”

Prior to HBS, Motte-Munoz attended the London School of Economics, worked for Goldman Sachs for two years, took a six-month backpacking sabbatical, and in 2009 landed an associate’s position with Bain Capital in London. Although he hadn’t really thought about getting an MBA, colleagues at Bain pointed out the company’s long history with HBS and told him it would be an interesting career step to take.

“I wasn’t too sure what to expect. A couple of friends who’d done it before me said it was transformational and I just thought, ‘They’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.’ But actually that’s true,” says Motte-Munoz, who returned to work at Bain in London following graduation. “You meet people from very different backgrounds. It actually does broaden your horizon and gives you free time to think about all the interactions you’re having, all the ideas.”

During his first year at HBS, Motte-Munoz noticed articles in the media about the Indian website ipaidabribe.com, which lets people report on the nature, number, pattern, types, location, frequency, and values of bribes and then uses that data to lobby the government.

He initially wanted to franchise the site for use in the Philippines, but during a summer fellowship through the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative, he spent time in Manila and met people who had experience fighting corruption there. He realized that the unstructured complaining being done in India wouldn’t work in the Philippines.

“Every country that’s corrupt is corrupt in a different way,” he says.

In the Philippines, corruption is pervasive and somewhat accepted, Motte-Munoz says. “The people who are corrupt, you know that they’re corrupt. They don’t really hide it. They have official jobs, which pay them $1,000 a month, but they drive a Mercedes.” The corruption is so endemic in government, he says, that many people think it’s just how government operates.

These insights led Motte-Munoz and his co-founder, Happy Feraren, to focus initially on the little, routine corruption that comes along with accessing basic government services, since that has the most direct impact on the largest number of people, including those who can afford it least.

He also realized that a large part of the problem was information asymmetry—the government agents are able to get bribes because they know how government works, while the people paying bribes don’t.

And there was another, more subtle type of information asymmetry, he says, caused by citizens not knowing which offices are the most honest.

To address that, Bantay has three main initiatives:

City Watch recruits students and volunteers to grade government offices on everything from their air conditioning to the prices of bribes. To accomplish this, Bantay has partnered with the Civil Service Commission, the government’s understaffed anti-corruption agency, to give the group’s volunteers official authorization to examine government office. Motte-Munoz hopes this will allow Bantay to “create a Yelp of government services.”

A second initiative, called Integrity Schools, holds classes at local universities to teach students and others how to identify and fight corruption, to know their rights and get involved, and to use government hotlines to lodge complaints about bribery.

The third program, Grassroots Governance, works with the second-largest micro-lending agency in the Philippines to educate its 300,000 members about which government services customers shouldn’t be forced to pay for, such as health care and education.

Bantay is also looking to widen its impact by reaching out to lower income people via SMS and creating a mobile app. “It’s good governance in your pocket. Very consumer focused,” says Motte-Munoz. “Say you need a driver’s license; the app will tell you where all the DMV offices are and tell you their rating on a corruption basis.”

“People know there’s corruption,” Motte-Munoz adds. “We’re interested in the situations where you can actually tip the balance in favor of citizens.”

Photo by Douglas Fry

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