ETHICS: Let Us Stand Up and Stand Together

The article is the editorial in the Globethics.net Newsletter Jan. 2018

Let me start the first editorial of the New Year by wishing everyone in the Globethics.net community a values-driven year for 2018!

In a time of technological disruptions, public figures promoting vices instead of virtues, an increase in the number of natural disasters as a result of climate change and of volatile financial markets, we need benchmarks, guidelines and values more than ever in our societies.

Globethics.net is now focused on Ethics in Higher Education, as a way to meet this need, by equipping students through their teachers and institutions to address ethical problems with the tools, resources and knowledge that they need to make responsible choices and to recognise and live with the consequences of their decisions as citizens and as future leaders.

Our watchword and method is ETHICS, which stands for ‘Empowerment’, ‘Transformation’, ‘Holistic’, ‘Integrity’, ‘Competence’ and ‘Sustainability’. By promoting ETHICS in higher education, we aim to achieve our vision to build sustainable, just and peaceful societies. I will explain each of these concepts individually and why we chose ETHICS as the way:
Empowerment: Those who resist unethical practices in higher education often feel isolated and find themselves among a small minority of people who are concerned and want to act. Knowledge, wisdom, character education and mutual support is empowering.
Transformation: Higher education is not a goal in itself. It has to serve in transforming human beings and societies towards a life of dignity, justice, equality, peace and ecological sustainability for all.
Holistic: The current high level of specialization is a necessity and a danger for effective transformation. Higher education has to become more holistic. The Fourth Industrial Revolution shows that the border between humans and machines is questioned and biology, chemistry and the humanities become very interdependent. Science and the humanities have to interact and ethics is a benchmark for both.
Integrity: The findings of the latest trust barometer shows a marked decline in trust in leaders in all sectors. Only around half of the government, non-governmental organizations, the media and business institutions across the world are trusted by the public. A key priority of higher education must be to build leaders in which people can trust. Integrity character education is the answer!
Competence: Professional, social, emotional, intercultural and religious competence – as a holistic set of competencies – is key for performance, integrity and sustainable transformation. It is better to have a competent person with integrity than a crooked graduate student or teacher with a fake certificate.
Sustainability: The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are built on clear SDG core values. Ethics in higher education directly contributes to the implementation of these SDGs, which are so vital for humanity.
In order to bring ETHICS to teachers and students, we support higher education institutions in their efforts to ensure that they have good, credible standards and rigorous ethical practices. Many institutions of higher education are affected by unfair fees policies, absenteeism of teachers, plagiarism, nepotism in the selection of leadership, teaching and administrative staff, bullying, financial or sexual corruption and pressure from politicians when selecting students or from investors to maximize profits, sometimes at the expense of quality education. We provide support, materials and training for teachers, who bear the responsibility of imparting ethical values, practice and knowledge to their students in their particular disciplines.

We invite you to be a part of this endeavor, to demand that ethics be taught, that ethical values be lived and developed in a life-long process of growth. Join our network of nearly 193’000 registered participants around the world, with over 40’000 teachers, 60’000 students and 66’000 researchers, not to mention those who are registered as public officials, private sector workers, policy makers, advocates and others.

Let us stand up and stand together for values transformation!

Stop Fake Certificates! 

“Opportunity to obtain an Honorary Doctoral Degree and Professorship Award.” This was the subject line of an email that I received recently. Wow! Wonderful; the fifteen years of hard work that I dedicated to obtain my PhD, Postdoctoral Habilitation and Professorship and three decades of work for African development recognized by the award of my honorary doctoral degree by an African university were not needed it seems. Now anyone can just buy the title ‘Dr. h.c.’ in a short time from an American university, one that is “recognized by the Confederation of International Accreditation Commission CIAC” and sold at “affordable costs”. Wow! Wow?

Instead of forwarding this ‘good news’ to our sons (working hard for their PhDs) and my younger friends (longing for their professorships), I started crying: Stop Fake Certificates! Over 200 million students in higher education worldwide (a number that has doubled since 2000) are awarded tens of millions of certificates every year. A simple Google search for “fake certificates” offers numerous websites such as “Best Place to Buy a Fake Diploma”. How many hundreds of thousands, even millions of diplomas are bought, received as a result of favouritism, nepotism, special or sexual services or simple online shopping? Most universities know of such cases, but it is high time to do some serious research about the practice with figures that show the scale of the problem.

Educational institutions have to increase sanctions for the issue of fraudulent certificates. Courts have to sentence companies and individuals selling fake diplomas and recognise that it is a very serious crime. Websites that provide certificates for sale should be investigated. Fake certificates are not just a minor moral problem, they destroy lives! A medical doctor in Asia told me that he would never allow his son, also a medical doctor, to treat him. When I asked him with no small amount of surprise “Why?” he answered “Because I know how he got his degree”! A bridge built by an engineer who has not actually studied for or understands his profession can lead to fatalities. The human resources director of a company in Africa recently told me that he no longer looks at certificates when he is recruiting because he does not know which certificates are real; he relies rather on interviews and practical tests to judge whether candidates are suitable, capable and knowledgeable enough for the job.

The reasons for the production, sale and award of fake certificates are well-known: temptation to engage in corrupt practices can be high when teaching salaries are low; simple greed; economic competition (among other factors) between private higher education institutions competing for students; corrupt practices in accreditation and supervisory bodies, etc. Fake certificates undermine and destroy in a serious way the credibility of higher education institutions and by extension the qualifications that so many students have worked so hard to earn.

Just as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has made large strides in fighting money laundering and black markets, so universities, governments and accreditation organisations must increase and accelerate their efforts to combat fake, falsified certificates. The Globethics Consortium for Ethics in Higher Education, established in June 2017 is a coalition of institutions in higher education that is willing to work on this. Join us! Students, teachers, parents, accreditation and supervisory authorities, ministries of education and UNESCO can together increase their joint efforts to ensure the award of certificates that are based on hard work, competence, performance and values such as integrity, honesty and truthfulness.

Let us campaign together to “Stop Fake Certificates!” Students and teachers, start with yourselves: the job market thirsts for people with integrity. It is better to be a person without a certificate and a title than one with a falsified certificate. Before your conscience and your God you know that: My integrity is my diploma!

Law and Love: Competitors or Twins?

Christoph Stückelberger, Geneva Agape Foundation Newsletter No. 1

Compliance Officers have nowadays very powerful positions in banks and companies. They have to check the activities of business whether they are compliant with national and international laws, rules and regulations as well as internal standards and control mechanisms. As the Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) of the OECD http://www.oecd.org/tax/transparency/automaticexchangeofinformation.htm) , the new transparency standard for the finance sector and especially on tax matters, came into effect on 1 January 2017 in many countries, the finance sector is quit nervous to comply with new standards and avoid any mistake. Around 50 countries will have soon, in September 2017, the first information exchange about tax matters. China and Switzerland are among those countries who will implement the standard as of January 2018. This standard leads to the understandable attitude of banks and especially compliance officers: “Better cautious than courageous”. This is the new policy. One reason for this is that compliance officers as well as leaders in companies are more personally liable than before and the chance/danger to detect tax evasion will clearly increase. This is a good and needed development as part of the strategies to reduce tax evasion, to overcome corruption, fraud, money laundering, terrorism financing, cybercrime and other ethically and economically destructive business transactions. Expanded IT technologies, data collection, big data and AEOI go hand in hand.

Laws and regulations from local to national and international level are important and force human beings to behave more ethically since based on free will it often does not happen. Law is so to say the implementing and enforcing arm and hand of ethics.

But since human beings have (normally) to arms and hands, the other arm and hand has to be mentioned: love (in Greek Agape, the keyword in the name of Geneva Agape Foundation). Law is empty and short-sighted if it is not combined with love. Law can degrade to a mechanical mechanism like a machine which fulfils its task in a schematic way. Love on the other side always puts the human being, the other in the centre of consideration. Love wants to do not only the things right, but the right things. Love is combined with compassion, care and – in Christian understanding – also with forgiveness, which means offering a second chance after failure. “Better courageous than cautious” is the motto of love. Love takes risks, because it wants to improve lives and cares for the weaker.

Love therefore is key for human activities, even in overcoming tax evasion, fraud and crime. Love is the soft power of ethics. It brings a deep and long term, sustainable motivation to do the right things and do them right. But love needs law for enforcing and implementing love in a binding, reliable and not only subjective, spontaneous way.

Law and Love compete with each other to have the better, more effective and more sustainable way to overcome unethical behaviour. But more than competitors, Law and Love are twins: they need each other, they are from the same family (of values to improve the world). They have different roles but they need each other. Only with love, law becomes human. Only with law, love becomes binding.

This is the commitment of the Geneva Agape Foundation: to strengthen values-driven entrepreneurship, philanthropy and investments by acting out of love while respecting and strengthening the law and rule of law.