5th Pillar – Empowering Citizens to Tackle Corruption

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5th Pillar – Empowering Citizens to Tackle Corruption

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

5th Pillar’s anti corruption tools empower EVERY citizen to be a corruption buster!

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

A largely absent rule of law, ineffective enforcement of law, compromised judiciary, and general public complacency to corruption, have contributed to an entrenched culture of corruption in India – from delivery of basic public services to large-scale misappropriation of public funds for private use. The scale and magnitude of corruption (http://goo.gl/X3WQ2) provides context for current public anger around corruption. The recent non-violent protest against corruption led by a 74-year old Gandhian Anna Hazare, unleashed a spike in people’s emotional energy of unprecedented proportions, and jolted the nation out of decades of passive tolerance and apathy to systemic corruption. Significant work lies ahead to channel and transform citizen sentiment into more sustained, meaningful outcomes. The need of the hour is to harness the awakened national consciousness to sustained individual ACTION, empowering every citizen to be a change-agent/crusader against corruption in their personal & professional circumstances, and catalyzing sustained collective momentum against an entrenched malaise in the system.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

5th Pillar as a grass-roots citizens’ coalition works to empower citizens to seek transparency and accountability in governance, catalyze civic participation/pressure for a collective crusade against corruption. (http://goo.gl/NzoiP) With demonstrated success in its field-based anti-corruption work, complementary communication/media platforms that serve as a catalytic tool to extend its impact & reach nationally is a current imperative. Zero-Rupee Note (ZRN): a simple currency-like tool has the words ZERO RUPEES with the zero-corruption pledge “I will neither accept nor give bribe” on it. Citizens can use it at the point of bribery to access fundamental rights and public services without having to succumb to the act of bribery. It communicates to corrupt public officials that the citizen is not alone, but is backed by institutional support, that facilitates disciplinary proceedings against corrupt practices in public service delivery. We have seen demonstrated success, particularly in semi-urban & rural settings. ZRN triggers a sense of shame and fear in the minds of the corrupt official, reminding him/her of the legal implications of taking a bribe. 2) Corruption Reporting Platform: enabling citizens to be whistleblowers, and report incidents of corruption/bribery via phone, email, SMS or 5th Pillar’s Online Corruption Reporting Tool powered by Kiirti. Depending on the nature of the corruption report, the information processed through the online system flows to 5th Pillar’s relevant anti-corruption Vigilance Coordinators for support and/or remedial action.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

• Zero Rupee notes have been made available for download and printing in various Indian languages on http://india.5thpillar.org/ZRN so any citizen can download and produce at the locations where demand for bribes occur. An old lady was asked for a bribe by an official at the Tahsildar’s Office (State Revenue Department), to obtain her land title which in turn was required to secure an educational loan from a bank to be used to admit her grand-daughter in college. After more than 18 months of waiting for her land title document (since the bribe amount was unaffordable), she learnt about 5th Pillar’s ZRN and walked into the same corrupt official’s office with this tool. To her surprise, she was offered a seat to wait, with her land title deed processed in less than an hour. • A student who had attended 5th Pillar’s “Freedom from Corruption” campaign in her college, reported a corrupt policeman allowing private car-owners to park in ‘No Parking’ zones outside the Thanjavur Big Temple in Tamil Nadu, and collecting bribes for the same. The student uploaded a video containing footage of the traffic policeman receiving a bribe from one of the drivers. 5th Pillar forwarded the video to the appropriate officials in the Police Department accompanied by a complaint to initiate disciplinary action. The traffic constable was suspended, and no similar occurrences of bribery at that location have been reported.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Given the magnitude and systemic nature of the issue of corruption in India, 5th Pillar considers like-minded organizations as complementing (and not competing with) its own efforts in the war against corruption. Some of the peers working on an anti-corruption agenda are the Anti-Corruption Movement (an informal coalition of citizens against corruption), Transparency International (India chapter), ‘Lanjam Kodathor Eiyakkam’ (Association of Citizens who don’t pay bribes). While most of their work is targeted at an older demographic, 5th Pillar aggressively targets its structured programs to children in schools, youth in colleges and young professionals and entrepreneurs. The goal is to create a new generation of citizens who will be active role models as they enter the work force and become productive members of business, government and society without being active or passive participants in corruption.
About You
5th Pillar
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

5th Pillar

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Scaling (the next step will be growing impact on a regional or even global scale)

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Social Impact
FOUNDING STORY: We want to hear about your “Aha!” moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution’s potential to change the world.

In 2006, when I arrived at the Mumbai International airport, a customs official pulled me aside under the pretext that I had a ‘lot of electronics that were subject to customs duty’. When I explained that I was well within the ‘allowable’ limits that I could carry as a NRI, the official asked me to wait aside and informed me that I had to see his superior who was neither going to arrive at his desk, nor was there any effort to take me to him. I then pulled out a Zero Rupee Note which I was experimenting with at that time, and handed it out to the official who had originally stopped me, indicating that I had to leave as I had immediate official commitments after I exited the airport. I offered to come back, if I still had to meet with the superior official. After taking a detailed look at the ZRN, the official’s tone and body language changed dramatically to the extent of becoming over-friendly in his interactions, and seeing me off with much cordiality. This was the ‘Aha’ moment when I realized that the ZRN, if placed in the hands of a helpless citizen, can save him/her from being harassed by corrupt officials and could serve as an effective anti-corruption tool.

Specify both the depth and scale of your solution’s social impact to date

ZRN: The organization has distributed more than 2 million printed ZRNs since its introduction in 2007. Countries like Nepal, Ghana, Mexico, Argentina and Peru contacted 5th Pillar for consent to use the Zero Currency Note concept, and adopted it to fight corruption in their respective geographies.
Corruption Reporting Platform: We have received reports and helped resolve issues related to basic services such as securing birth/death certificates, ration card, voter ID card,etc. This platform has game-changing potential for the anti-corruption agenda to tackle large-scale corruption involving the nexus of politics and business.
5th Pillar’s anti-corruption initiatives such as 'FREEDOM from CORRUPTION' awareness & sensitization program for Youth, free training/workshops on the RTI ACT and practical tools to tackle corruption has penetrated over 1200 colleges and schools, reaching over 500,000 students, mobilizing them into the zero-corruption pledge “I PROMISE TO NEITHER ACCEPT NOR GIVE BRIBE”.
A cumulative total of 600,000 people have attended 5th Pillar’s anti-corruption awareness/training workshops.

What is your projected impact within the next 1-5 years? Is your idea replicable? If so, how?

• The plan is to replicate 5th Pillar’s program success in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to few other states in India – Karnataka, Rajasthan, Kerala, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana. Discussions and efforts are in progress to recruit Chapter Coordinators and Trainers in these geographies.
• We intend to increase citizen usage of the Online Corruption Reporting Tool beyond its current nature of usage to report bribery in public services delivery, to also serve whistle-blowing interests involving large-scale corruption.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and mark growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Launch Chapters in 3 of 6 targeted geographies; increase awareness & usage of the CRT to get citizens to be active participants

Six-Month Tasks
Task 1

Recruit 3 Chapter Coordinators (Delhi, Maharashtra & Karnataka) & train them on anti-corruption programs, tools and processes

Task 2

Identify a strong social media partner to help with campaigns

Task 3

Launch a social media campaign

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Build a network of 'nodal agents' to receive SMS corruption alerts from online-access-challenged & feed it into online CR Tool

12-Month Tasks
Task 1

Recruit remaining 3 Chapter Coordinators (Kerala, West Bengal, Rajasthan) and train them on 5th Pillar anti- corruption programs

Task 2

Recruit/train volunteers from our network to serve as ‘nodal agents’ to citizen-watchdogs on the wrong side of digital divide

Task 3

Make system adjustments to CRT to enable linking SMS alerts to ‘nodal agents’ assigned to specific departmental corruption cases

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

Explain how your company, program, service or product is structured


What barriers have hindered the success of your project to date? How do you plan to overcome these and other challenges as you grow your solution?

• Sustained funding. Unlike other social change activity where outcomes can be measured, anti-corruption work is one where the results are not easily measurable. Impact multiplication and expansion plans will remain a challenge in absence of sustained institutional support
• A majority of the older age-group who have been victims of corruption have lost faith in the system. These citizens dampen the spirits of youth during group discussions. Our strategy has been to drive our structured programs to school/college students & young professionals who we have seen to be very aspirational, motivated and passionate to drive positive systemic change
5th Pillar continues its communication with the older group (through newsletters, online groups) highlighting success stories as hope for change

How do you see the information-technology and media sectors shifting over the next decade? How will your solution adapt to and/or drive that changing environment?

Technology has democratized the creation, distribution and consumption of information. In countries like India where 70% of its population lives in its rural heartlands, the digital divide is glaring. However, with an agenda to connect 250,000 panchayats via fibre optics and broadband by 2012, much of India’s underserved communities will become a part of the information society. ICT injects greater transparency in public service delivery. Those that don't adapt to serving their constituencies with transparency and integrity will face natural extinction.

Failure is not always an option. If your solution fails to gain traction in the next two years, what other applications of the idea could you explore?

Having seen demonstrated success with the ZRN (including continued interest internationally), and early signs of meaningful adoption of the Online Corruption Reporting Tool, we are confident that these tools have potential to be game changers if proliferated and adopted on large scale. Platforms like WikiLeaks are a testament to demonstrated potential

Expand on your selections, explaining how you will sustain funding

Funding continues to be a challenge despite proof of impact and success we have seen on the ground as a direct result of our anti-corruption work. Many of our well-wishers who have who have helped sustain our efforts, have expressed a desire to maintain anonymity, symptomatic of fear of the forces within the system that could potentially implicate them for supporting the anti-corruption cause. While fund-raising still remains a fire-fighting activity, impact multiplication and expansion plans will remain a challenge without sustained institutional support.

Tell us about your partnerships

•Partnered with Transparency International to host the first anti-corruption Summit
•Partnered with Forum for Electoral Integrity/Election Commission of India to tackle electoral corruption, monitor code of conduct & ensure integrity in the process during the TN State Assembly Elections, April 2011. The ruling party was washed out of the elections by a clean sweep reflective of the people’s will against corruption expressed through their votes
•Continued partnership with UNCAC to facilitate implementation of the anti-corruption conventions in India

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section?

In each state where we intend to operate, we need 3 team leads to manage 1) the anti-corruption programs & initiatives 2) program management with colleges and schools and 3) Vigilance coordination efforts and a network of dedicated volunteers committed to the anti-corruption cause, to execute programs in the field
We need a dedicated resource to monitor and track online corruption complaints and see it through remedial action

Changemakers is a collaborative and supportive space. Please specify any community resources you would need to grow and sustain your initiative. Select all that apply

Investment, Human resources or talent, Marketing or media, Pro-bono help (legal, financial, etc.).

Specify any resources you might offer to support other initiatives. Select all that apply

Collaboration or networking, Innovation or ideas.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren’t specified within the list

5th Pillar is very interested in collaborating with individuals/ organizations that have an interest/expertise/resources that can be mutually leveraged for anti-corruption work in India. 5th Pillar is also keen to inject the anti-corruption agenda within the context of other NGOs/participating organizations of the Ashoka network, to cultivate an operating ethic and code of conduct that espouses zero-tolerance to corruption in the context of their individual missions being pursued.

Define your company, program, service or product in 1-2 short sentences

5th Pillar represents THE PEOPLE who seek freedom from corruption by transforming people power into 'social capital'.