The Human Toll of Corruption

Statistical portraits of commerce and economics are important, but big numbers gloss over the impact of economic trends and policies on individual lives and families.

The same occurs when talking about corruption, perhaps because it is so widespread. We talk about the global problem in abstract terms—about the amount of money siphoned away from economies—rather than in human terms.

Unemployed in Recife, Brazil. Photo by Tom McMahan

Unemployed in Recife, Brazil. Photo by Tom McMahan

So, here’s a human story. During a recent trip to Brazil, where corruption is creating social chaos and taking down high-level business and political leaders, I stopped in the northeastern coastal city of Recife. There I spoke with an executive of a private bus company that provides public transportation in this city of about four million people.

He told me that four years ago his company had close to 400 buses circulating through the city. Today, he said, the company is down to 80 buses. This number shocked me, because Brazilians are so dependent on public transportation. I asked him what accounted for the reduction.

“Corruption,” he said. “The federal corruption scandals have caused tens of thousands of people in this region to lose their jobs. With those job losses, there was a domino effect in other industries and even in small businesses. Fewer people are riding buses because they don’t have anywhere to work.”

No newspapers are paying attention to what’s happening in one bus company. But 300 idle buses sitting in a hot parking lot are tangible symbols of corruption's impact: people without jobs, families with no income, children who can’t get to school, a rise in emotional depression, and increased crime.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, we read that Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, has been formally charged with corruption. He could end up being the second Brazilian president forced out of office in 18 months. It’s estimated that 60 percent of Brazil’s lawmakers are either under suspicion of, being investigated for, or formally charged for corruption. The money lost from the economy is in the billions of dollars.

But it is in the homes of Brazilian families, in the lives of children, and in the stress of unemployed men and women that we see the full brunt of corruption.

At the core, corruption is a lack of love for fellow human beings. Without love in commerce, people suffer. Corruption dehumanizes economics and imposes suffering on people. 

For more on this topic, we encourage you to work through a book by Tom Petersen called The Economy of God, which can be purchased on Amazon in print or digital formats. 

A World of Corruption

During an election cycle in which cynicism about politics is increasing among most Americans, it is quite disturbing to see several recent academic books claim that the entire global economic system is based on corruption. These books are based on serious research and journalism.

Since the Panama Papers (11.5 million global financial documents) were leaked, more than 400 journalists have been working in a consortium on the documents to unveil what is happening in the global financial system. Here’s the conclusion of one correspondent for The Guardian:

“Previously, we thought that the offshore world was a shadowy, but minor, part of our economic system. What we learned from the Panama Papers is that it is the economic system (The New York Review of Books, October 27, 2016, p. 33).

Hopefully that is an overstatement, but for anyone interested in learning more, we encourage you to read these independent-minded books: The Panama Papers, by Basitan Obermayer and Fredrick Obermaier; The Offshore World, by Ronen Palan, Cornell University Press; The Hidden Wealth of Nations, by Teresa Lavender Fagan, University of Chicago Press.

The books show how the increase of globalized corruption continues to wreak havoc on ordinary people. Here's just one example: According to a report by Global Financial Integrity in 2010, “total illicit outflows from the African continent were anywhere between $854 billion and $1.8 trillion.” The consequences for national economies, jobs, education and healthcare are devastating. In Liberia, where Ebola devastated the nation, the Council on Foreign Relations says that there is only one doctor for every 75,000 people.

Commerce, like all of life, is essentially relational. And trust is the foundation for all relationships. Political and economic corruption erodes the trust that is necessary for commerce to function, including on a global scale. Austan Goolsbee, writing in Foreign Affairs (January/February 2013, p. 170), put it succinctly: “Capital markets can function only when people trust the system.”

Leadership and Pro Soccer, Part 3: The Power of Unity

In the months leading up to the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament, which was held in the United States, the Brazilian national soccer team played a friendship game in Paris. After the game, all the players went to the hotel. At about 11 p.m., hotel staff served a late snack to the Brazilian players in a hotel hallway. (Watch highlights of the 1994 World Cup Final here. At :36 seconds into the video, you'll see Moraci Sant'Anna seated third from the left.)

As the players stood talking and eating, the team’s physical trainer, Moraci Sant’Anna, participated in a conversation with about five of the players who had played in the 1990 World Cup. Brazil’s performance in that tournament was lackluster. They were eliminated in the second round by arch rival Argentina and thus took a beating in the press. Sant’Anna told me that he would never forget that hallway conversation.

“You could sense the strong commitment of those players,” Sant’Anna told me in a 2009 interview. “They were talking in the corridor, saying ‘We’re not going to let what happened in the last World Cup happen this time. We’re not going to let the marketing guys into our team meetings. We’re not going to allow friends in. No journalists. We are going there to win the Cup.’ It was there that I began to see the inner strength of that team, the strong sense of purpose, the commitment to arrive in the U.S. and win."

About two months later, as training sessions started, Sant’Anna saw that same determined attitude spreading among the other team members. On their own accord, the team decided to seal off all practices and team meetings from the public. No one was allowed in, accept one or two photographers who did no interviewing. The team agreed that players could no longer negotiate marketing contracts with companies like Nike and Adidas. They even decided to limit the free-time allotted to them during the month-long tournament, even though that provision had been written into their contracts.

“Nothing was going to distract that team,” Sant’Anna said. “Nothing.”

And nothing did. Brazil went on to win the final game (by penalty shots) against Italy in the Rose Bowl. It was Brazil’s third World Cup title and the first in 24 years. That 1994 Brazilian team, he said, had something unique.

That “something” had more to do with leadership, character, and attitude than with soccer skills. Playing skill was important, of course. But Brazil has always put players with incredible athletic talent on the field. It was the leadership qualities and relational unity that made the 1994 victory possible, he said.

Sant’Anna cited several players who, because of their personality, character and experience, naturally became the team’s motivational force. No one appointed them as the leaders. One was Dunga, the team captain who later became coach of the Brazilian national team. Another was Taffarel, the team’s brilliant goalkeeper who played in 101 games and three World Cup tournaments before he retired in 2003. There was also Jorginho, who is was Dunga’s assistant coach for Brazil’s national team, and Leonardo, who after three World Cup appearances became the head coach of the Italian team A.C. Milan.

I asked Sant’Anna to describe the specific leadership qualities that these players brought to the 1994 team. One factor, he said, was that these players had already played in at least one World Cup tournament; they were highly experienced and excellent professionals. But there was still something more.

“They all had a strong personality,” said Sant’Anna. “But they used this quality to benefit the group as a whole. They were committed to win the Cup and they were able to lead the entire team toward that goal. The team was extremely united. It didn’t matter to them who would be among the starting 11 players and who would be among the reserves. Everyone had the same thing in mind, to help make an important victory happen.”

Humility was one of the primary character traits that Sant’Anna saw among that core group of leaders. They had the ability to lead without being arrogant. They were humble, but not weak. They showed inner strength and perseverance, focusing on the needs of the team more than their own desires. The most experienced players were able to instruct other players without humiliating them. In this way they earned respect rather than contempt.

It’s often the case, Sant’Anna said, that reserve players often become a problem for the team because they’re upset about not playing as much as they’d like. But that never happened with the 1994 team. The reserve players sat on the bench encouraging the starting team. Then, when they were called to action, the reserve players gave 100 percent on the field. It’s almost as if the team had no individual ego problems, he said.

This unity, commitment and dedication made the work of the coaching staff much easier, said Sant’Anna. Coaches and physical trainers typically worry about team relationships during high-level international tournaments. Individualism and ego can easily destroy unity. But these problems were almost non-existent in the 1994 tournament, he said.

“When Brazilian players pull together like this—considering the athletic quality of the Brazilian national team—I won’t say that they’ll always win, but it’s a huge step toward winning,” Sant’Anna said.

Positive attitude, humility, dedication, commitment, inner strength—these factors are often neglected in discussions about business and professional success. When was the last time you saw a job listing looking for those qualities in a professional? It’s easy to focus on the technical capacity of people and the mechanics of running a business. But if business is anything like soccer, Sant’Anna’s observations about the 1994 Brazilian World Cup team should be taken to heart.

Leadership and Pro Soccer, Part 2: You Need an Ally

If you watch replays of professional soccer matches in the 60s and 70s, when Pelé was playing at his peak, and then compare those with today’s games, you’ll notice that the players of yesteryear often had more time and space to figure out what to do with the ball. Everything moved at a somewhat slower and less intense pace. By contrast, today’s offensive players, upon receiving the ball, immediately have two or three defenders attacking them. There is little time to think.

“If you look at the games in the 1970 World Cup, the one Brazil won in Mexico, you’ll see there are various circumstances in which a player stops, looks around, and thinks about what he’s going to do,” said Moraci Sant’Anna, the physical trainer for four Brazilian World Cup teams. “You’ll see that the nearest opposing player is about three or five meters away. Then after he thinks for a while, he makes his play with the ball. Today there is no time for that. Today the game is a lot more dynamic. The space of play has been reduced greatly. This is the result of the physical conditioning of the players today.”

If you think it was the soccer coaches who first decided to increase the speed of the game and then sought faster players to do the job, you would be wrong. It was the physical trainers who initiated this revolution in soccer. By implementing advances in technology and sports medicine, they were able to take the relatively thin-legged players of the past (some were chain smokers!) and turn them into powerhouse athletes. As the physical condition of the players improved, the coaches realized they could make strategic changes on the field.

By all accounts, Sant’Anna is responsible for some of the most innovative changes to physical conditioning within the international soccer world. In the early 1990s, when Sant’Anna was the trainer for the Brazilian team São Paulo Futebol Clube, he and a physiologist set up a conditioning laboratory. They brought in new technology and used it to run systematic evaluations of each player’s physical capacity and progress. With detailed information about each player, they could adapt the training program to fit individual needs. This individualized approach became a model for other teams around the world.

Sant’Anna brought other innovations to the world soccer stage. Due to the simultaneous scheduling of multiple tournaments and championships, players often had to play a game every 48 hours. So, Sant’Anna developed methods to help the players recover faster after each game. He started using hydro-gymnastics (not to be confused with hydrotherapy), a post-game exercise session in a warm pool with upbeat music, and cryotherapy, which involves a less pleasant experience of sitting in a tub of ice water for about 15 minutes. Both recovery techniques are now used by soccer teams worldwide.

Sant’Anna’s individualized approach enables him to not only help the player increase his strength, speed and resilience, he can also help the player rest and recover. He can arrive at a perfect balance between work and recuperation that enables the player to perform at optimal levels over a long period of time. That’s economically beneficial for both the player, who can extend his career, and for team owners, who want to get the most out of the millions of dollars they invest in today’s top players.

“The players treat us with great respect,” Sant’Anna told me about his work with players like Ronaldo, Kaká, Dunga and many other great names in the sport. “Those players who are considered to be the best in the world are the easiest to train. It’s not by chance that they have reached this level. The relationship has a personal side, but there is also a lot of mutual professional respect. There are no conflicts. They try to stick with our training decisions because they know that we are always thinking about what is best for them.”

The connections between what’s happened to the game of soccer (faster, more intense, more competitive) and the business world (ditto) are easy to see. But are today’s professionals better prepared emotionally and spiritually to handle the speed of the game?

As I listened to Sant’Anna talk about how he personally trains world-class soccer players, I wondered how many business professionals in this fast-paced economy receive some kind of personal care. Not many, I guess.

We at the Global Commerce Network believe in the scriptural principles of balancing work and rest, and going through life with a small group of close friends and allies. Perhaps more than ever, professionals in every field need someone to come alongside them, study their needs, build them up, help them run the race, help them rest and recover, encourage them daily, give them opportunities to grow. This is what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Why not become to your colleagues what Sant’Anna has been to his athletes? We all need a behind-the-scenes ally.

Good Work: A Woman Who Saved Millions of Lives

Among the dead in the devastating Haiti earthquake was a Brazilian pediatrician who since 1983 has saved millions of lives through a program she established to reduce infant mortality. Dr. Zilda Arns died on January 12, 2010 in Haiti while working to build her child healthcare program in that impoverished country. Most people outside Brazil don't know about this woman. In my opinion, she deserves a Nobel Prize.

A devout catholic, Dr. Arns decided that it was wrong to sit around and depend only on the government. She believed that a community effort could be very effective.

Her older brother, who was at the time the archbishop of São Paulo, had encouraged her to start a program to reduce infant mortality and had promised church support. With a small budget, and working out of her own home, she set off to the small town of Florestópolis in the northern part of Paraná state. At the time, Florestópolis had a very high rate of infant mortality and poverty. There she rounded up 76 volunteers, most of them public school teachers, and taught them the basics of infant nutrition and infant care.

Dr. Arns knew that most infant deaths could be avoided if mothers could learn simple infant nutrition, sanitation and health methods. The vast majority of children died because of dehydration from diarrhea. So she taught them how to make an inexpensive solution made with salt and sugar that replaced a sick child’s essential minerals and electrolytes. She also saw that mothers were putting their children to sleep facedown, which often led to asphyxiation, so she taught them to put the kids on their backs. She invented a simple scale that could be used to weigh the babies at home, and taught poor mothers how to buy and prepare the most nutritional foods with their limited incomes. She and the volunteers also helped pregnant women take care of themselves during the gestation period, thus increasing the health of babies at birth.

The program, which is now called Pastoral da Criança, was so successful in Florestópolis that it started spreading to other towns all over Brazil. The key to the program’s success was in Dr. Arns’ ability to multiply and train volunteers. Most of her work spread through Catholic community networks. The techniques were so simple and cheap, yet so effective, that Dr. Arns’ volunteers could not only teach the mothers (house to house) but also train more volunteers to do more of the same. There are now more than 262,000 volunteers who oversee the health of 1.9 million children and pregnant women in almost 4,100 Brazilian cities.

Without a doubt, Dr. Arns radically transformed many incorrect notions of infant nutrition and healthcare in the nation. The result: The infant mortality rate in these towns has dropped from 127 to 11 deaths per 1000 live births, a decrease of 91 percent. These results are so positive that over the years the Brazilian federal government has made the program part and parcel of its overall health programs.

Pastoral da Criança is now operating in 17 nations. In 2004, Dr. Arns also established the Pastoral do Idoso, a program designed to care for the elderly poor using the same volunteer and community networking principals as her program for children.

The entrepreneurial vision of Zilda Arns is a great inspiration and model for everyone in the workplace. We might not be called to slow infant mortality among the poor, but if we can bring this kind of passion, love and willingness to serve to our workplace and communities, we could make a great difference.