Working in the Civil Service exposes you to all sorts of different high profile political issues on a daily basis, however I did not expect to be at the heart of May’s anti-corruption efforts while on my secondment to Thomson Reuters. Participating in the planning and execution of the ‘Tackling Corruption Together’ conference gave me unique insight into how to organise a high profile event while working with a range of different organisations across Government, business and civil society.
You might not have heard about Thomson Reuters (I hadn’t before a friend spent her secondment there!), but they are a global professional information services firm with their headquarters in Canary Wharf. Not necessarily the kind of organisation that immediately springs to mind when you think of efforts to combat corruption!
However, Thomson Reuters are in actual fact enthusiastic players in this area. They co-chair the international Partnering Against Corruption Initiative, as well as the B20 working group on beneficial ownership. Beneficial ownership was a key theme at this year’s event following the leak of the Panama Papers. It was that leak, as well as the PM’s remarks at Buckingham Palace two days before the summit, which really put the spotlight on the day itself.
My role was principally one of coordinating and supporting Thomson Reuters’ contribution to a planning group of a number of organisations across Government, business and civil society. I worked closely with Government departments, the Cabinet Office and DFID (which in fact had another fast streamer), as well as the Commonwealth Secretariat who was hosting the event. We were the principal business contributor, and there was a large contingent from civil society with organisations including Transparency International and the B Team*.
Coming to an agreement with various partners is a key skill you need to have in working in government, and this was put to the test while planning the event – many times. The range of organisations working on this created a number of challenges. Firstly, there was balancing the aspirations of the group against what was practical and affordable. Then, there was ensuring a balance between Government, business and civil society on speakers and content, as well as agreeing roles and contributions on the day.
Alongside these situations, I was faced with the additional challenge of coordinating Thomson Reuters’ internal contribution to the event. Navigating a large organisation is never easy, particularly when you’ve only been there for a month! I worked closely with event professionals, who, despite having to deliver an international conference for upwards of 300 people in the space of 7 weeks, were never fazed or daunted by the challenge we faced. ‘Delivering at pace’ is a central Civil Service competency and refers not just to delivering quickly, but also prioritising effectively. Working on an event where it felt like every day was spent keeping spinning plates in the air, I certainly put those words into practice!
The day itself was a real success. We were lucky to have some exceptional speakers, real leaders in the world of anti-corruption, as well as some extremely high profile figures from governments all over the world. President Buhari of Nigeria gave a terrific keynote speech, and in response to questions from the compere, Axel Threlfall, produced the soundbite to the PM’s remarks that kept the media’s attention throughout the week. As well as Buhari, the conference heard from Dr. Joseph Muscat, PM of Malta, and two UK Government Secretaries of State – Justine Greening and Matt Hancock.
Above and beyond the delivery of the event, the real success was in the energy and passion of the attendees at the conference. Gathering leaders in anticorruption from across the world is no easy feat, but there was a renewed sense of optimism in the room. Corruption blights the lives of millions, hinders growth and opportunity for the most vulnerable populations, and creates instability and fear within societies. However, after the events of ‘Tackling Corruption Together’, I am optimistic that there will be a renewed focus on efforts to combat corruption, particularly by employing new technological and data-focussed initiatives around the world.
I am definitely fortunate that through my secondment while on the Fast Stream, I was able to actively participate in some of these efforts firsthand.
*A full list of partner organisations can be found here: http://thecommonwealth.org/tacklingcorruptiontogether