All posts by mariask88


Monday, April 24th, 2017 

3rd annual International Youth to Youth (Y2Y) Summit

General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare, Dubai, UAE 


Today, it is virtually impossible to speak about governance without the mention of information and communication technologies (ICTs). They are often the vehicle of innovation, the reason behind progress, and the generators of efficiency. Many governments have been working with software engineers and IT experts on improving the way they deliver services to their citizens and communicate with the electorate.

With academic background in political science and experience in non-profit and public governance, Y2Y gave me a wonderful opportunity to speak about my slightly unconventional and seemingly unexciting passion in the context of the Summit’s overarching theme of ICTs in social innovation.


Perhaps I underestimated the level of interestingness that the workshop would resonate with the conference’s participants because it was surprisingly well-attended. This gives me hope that more people out there realize how important and crucial governance is to carrying out the mission and vision of any organization, be it corporate, non-profit or public.

And because if there is anything I enjoy more than talking about governance it is writing about it, here is a recap for those who attended and an overview for those who missed it.


The first mention of governance as a concept or a coined term dates back to the 15th century Latin work The Difference between an Absolute and a Limited Monarchy of John Fortescue, the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in England. However, governance as we comprehend it today is only around 20 years old and stems from the context of institutions like the United Nations or World Bank.

Information and communication technologies as a term have been used in academia since the 1980s. It hasn’t caught on in its abbreviated form, ICTs, until 1997 in Dennis Stevenson’s – Baron Stevenson of Coddenham – report to the UK government and further on in the revised National Curriculum for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2000.

Strictly looking at the facts above, one is almost tempted to say that democracy originated in ancient Greece while governance in modern England; however, that conclusion would be flawed (for more than one reason) since the term governance itself comes from the Greek word ‘kubernao’ which means ‘to steer.’

GOV DEFdefinedef


  • Ensures sustainability
  • Is contextual
  • Articulates what the organization is accountable for
  • Makes it clear who the organization is accountable to
  • Aligns and prioritizes diverse and sometimes conflicting interests in order to avoid mission drift
  • Asks all the right questions
    • Who do we serve?
    • How do we ensure we deliver?


It is important to understand the distinction between ICT governance (governance of ICTs) and ICTs in governance (use of ICTs in governance). The former is a corporate term and it is around 20 years old. The focus here is on business strategies, on setting out the framework for the behaviour and on regulations around the use of IT in a corporation or institution. The latter (the topic of the workshop) has been widely applied in the last decade and represents the variety of ways in which ICTs are used to enhance governance mechanisms and improve government services. 

The goal of my workshop was to get the audience to look at governance as something evolving and constantly developing and to think about how ICTs can enhance and positively contribute to this growth. Governance is naturally contextual, it differs from from one institutional context to the next and it depends largely on the goals and mission of the organization. To ensure one’s governance framework is up to date and conducive to goal achievement, it needs to accept change, adapt and most importantly innovate.


DIGITIZATION has inevitably made our society more fluid and penetrated virtually (pun intended) every aspect of our lives, from education to security and healthcare. The world of work, for instance, has forever been transformed by the phenomenon of non-localization (enabled by digitalization) whereby working from one country for a company based in another country is becoming the new norm. Collaborating on online platforms and in online marketplaces is becoming a strain on national taxation policies and the relationship between corporations and governments has blurred significantly.

There is a logical tendency to consider the interconnectedness of people, workplaces, people and ideas as a phenomenon with a positive connotation. People can communicate more easily, ideas can spread faster, work-life balance is (or should be) easier to attain as working remotely is no longer an obstacle, etc. But does digitized interconnectedness necessarily mean increased efficiency, improved effectiveness, enhanced communication, positive impact, wider openness, more transparency and accountability, and ultimately better governance of people, resources, and services?

open data

One of government’s most straightforward ways to communicate with its citizens is making information openly accessible. In this digitized day and age there really is no obstacle to free release of data from public institutions, corporations, international organizations, civil society and NGOs. What’s often missing, however, is the willingness and desire to do so because opening one’s data inevitably means opening itself to greater scrutiny. A joint report by Transparency International and World Without Borders Foundation summed it up well: “Open data is an ingredient in accountability interventions.”

op gov

In a nutshell, open government is transparent, accountable, participative, and accessible. It is a government that makes all information and data publicly visible but most importantly comprehensible to a versatile and wide audience so that it enhances and improves the interaction and communication with the citizens. It is important to realize that an embrace of technology and of innovative ways in which information can be presented to the public does not necessarily equate government openness. The use of ICTs does not ensure but rather facilitate public engagement. Moreover, it is crucial to establish an information governance framework which will aim to present the data to the citizenry in a way that will lead and inform, not mislead and misinform.

Andrew Stott of the UK Transparency Board pointed out the importance of blending techniques with technologies, meaning to express that new technologies alone do not necessarily advance open government. Taryn Roch of the US Open Government 4 Us believes that it is all about citizen engagement and that while technology is a powerful facilitator, it is the mere beginning of open government.

Innovation plays an important role during and after the launch of open government efforts. If applied correctly and successfully, it has transformative effects on the system and citizens’ trust towards it. Similarly to any other sector or field, innovation in the government and public sector is about implementing a new idea, product or method; it needs to be considered carefully, it must be concrete, and it cannot be too broad. Vowing to make government more open is not sufficient; the team in place must outline specific ways in which this can be achieved. Innovation isn’t linear and while learning from successes as well as mistakes of other contexts is crucial, one will also soon recognize that one size won’t fit all.

Keeping up with the spirit of Microleaders, less is more and when it comes to public sector enhancements and progress, incremental steps are usually more viable and impactful than breakthrough innovations. In the end, as Frank Hebbert of Open Tools advises, it is all about building “tools that transform the experience of being an engaged citizen.”

In conclusion, let’s remember a few fundamental rules:

  • Applying ICTs in governance is not the end game; it is merely the beginning.
  • Technology facilitates.
  • Identify a need.
  • Innovate with impact in mind.
  • Fill a gap.
  • Observe and listen. Open government is citizen-centric.
  • Build a collective voice. Make citizens want to participate.
  • Less conversation (information), more action.
  • Accessibility + Awareness + Capacity + Interest + Usability = Impact 

Making democracy personal

Personal Democracy Forum Central and Eastern Europe 2017

April 6-7, 2017

European Solidarity Centre, Gdansk, Poland


Always eager to feed the governance geek in me, I have recently started re-watching The West Wing. In Season 1, one of the episodes takes the President and his White House staff to Virginia for a town hall meeting. In response to a student’s question regarding youth participation in politics, President Bartlet says: “A man once said this, ‘Decisions are made by those who show up.’ So are we failing you, or are you failing us? It’s a little of both.”

I couldn’t help but see a parallel between the scripted answer of the American President and the question that resonated with the audience during the opening remarks of the Personal Democracy Forum Central and Eastern Europe and became an imaginary ‘thorn in the side’ of its attendees: “Has democracy failed us or have we failed democracy?” I think it could be a little of both.

Constant influx of new social innovations makes governments more accountable, allows for more openness and enables citizen engagement. It is logical to claim and believe that openness is a weapon of democracy. But it is also important to note the disillusionment and revolt among citizens. These are caused by corruption scandals, unexplained budgetary discrepancies and other democratic failures brought to light precisely because of this increasing openness and access to more information and data.

One would argue that discontent of the general public with seeming betrayals of their governments to hold themselves accountable for their decisions is undoubtedly a good thing. After all, a citizen aware of governmental wrongdoing or abuse of one’s political power for personal gain perpetually widening the socioeconomic inequality gap is a citizen empowered to seek justice and right a wrong. Unfortunately, what we are witnessing instead are citizens being radicalized and turning to desperate measures: putting all their trust in emerging populist nationalist leaders who, in the grand scheme of things, have the potential to do even more harm.

Fear of the perceivably unstoppable wave of refugees and immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa and scepticism of current governments’ ability and capacity to effectively address this issue lead the electorate to turn away from the neoliberal promise of socioeconomic prosperity which they now view as a failed dream and to turn towards much more radical and disconcerting solutions of populist political leaders: hostility, suspicion, protectionism, and propaganda.

Pawel Adamowicz, the Mayor of the City of Gdansk – an incredibly tolerant and open city – called on the need to ‘reboot’ democracy and immigrant policy. The latter is currently less of a policy and more of a struggle for reconciliation between a democratic local policy of integration and anti-immigrant sentiments of many central governments in the EU. Another reason why a ‘reboot’ of democracy is necessary is the fact that, as Andrew Rasiej from The Civic Hall community centre in New York, USA pointed out, we are still following the industrial-age model of what democracy should be and it no longer works.

According to Elena Calistru of Funky Citizens Romania, the reason people have begun to look up to populists is because in their eyes these address the real needs and fears of the citizens who are feeling marginalized and economically disadvantaged. They are convinced the current establishment refuses to acknowledge their concerns and are seeking alternative solutions. After all, the financial sector was bailed out at the expense of ordinary people; which only reinforced the frustrated feelings of dislocation and discomfort with the current system (Stephen King, Omidyar Network).

Hera Hussain of CHAYN said that the undeniable failure of our democracies is the inevitable aftermath of the failed promises of neoliberalism. Populists are benefiting from this by tapping into people’s fears. Ironically, transparency that should logically be enhancing democracy is actually reinforcing the rise of populism and radicalism because it reveals the scandals and corruption of the current system. One of the reasons for this is the asymmetry between how much we now know and to what extent we can act and change the situation for the better (Sandor Ledered, K-Monitor).

Thus, people are crying for a new social contract (Zuzana Wienk, Aliancia Fair Play), but at the same time they are disinterested in politics. It is hard to blame them since basic institutions and pillars of democracy are being dismantled and it is virtually impossible for them to gauge where to direct their hopes and trust. So they run around with new projects but they forget that progress begins by fixing themselves on the inside. “It’s an illusion that we can change the world. [In fact], we can’t reboot democracy without rebooting ourselves [first],” said Zuzana.

I myself am an advocate of the so-called ‘less is more’ life philosophy so I will close this article with a reflection on what Zuzana above said during the Forum for it has truly resonated with me. Actually, her thoughts inspired the title of this piece as well. It is only when we make the change that needs to happen personal that we have a capacity to bring about positive impact on the world and people around us.

Sustainability of the future of European integration depends not just on rebooting democracy but on adapting everything it represents: accountable governments, accessible information and involved citizenry. So I urge us now to individually think about the meaning of democracy in the context of the constantly evolving and rapidly technologically developing society.

Let us consider not only what democracy is but also what it needs to be so it can adequately respond to the new demands of its citizens and to properly react to the increasing radicalization tendencies of local governments and their electorates.

TAQANU: Banking accessible to all

Imagine watching with despair your home being destroyed, unwillingly placing the bare necessities in a small bag and slinging it hurriedly over your shoulder leaving the place that once represented safety and security for the unknown and uncertain. You set out on a life-threatening voyage across the ocean with nothing more than hope for a brighter future for you and your loved ones and suddenly find yourself in a foreign country, facing distrust of the new system where you are desperately trying to blend in.

You want to join the local labour force but are lacking the necessary paperwork that would allow for it. Without a permanent address, no bank will permit you to open an account; without a bank account, legally signing a job contract is not an option. You are stuck in a vicious cycle of rejection, ridicule and regret.


Committed to constructively addressing this ongoing struggle of many refugees, in 2016 Balázs Némethi, an architect by profession and social entrepreneur by design, founded Taqanu, a bank for refugees and people without a fixed address. He has been dedicating his energy, passion and resources to fuelling its vision and mission since.

In his native Hungary, talking about refugees is almost a political act against the government; the country has virtually no refugee support organizations. Living and working in a more socially responsible Norway at the time he wanted to help these people whose human rights were being violated. He was also curious about how one can open a bank account when they are a refugee and realized that it is a one-way street: they don’t.

We first met in September 2016 in the beautiful historic Greek capital of Athens at the annual European gathering of World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers and I was immediately inspired by his dedication to the project. A few weeks ago, Balázs who currently resides in Berlin agreed to sacrifice one of his lunch breaks to a skype call and talk to me about Taqanu, his aspirations and motivations.

  1. Could you walk me through the basics of Taqanu?   

Taqanu is a word that comes from Akkadian, now an extinct East Semitic language spoken by Hammurabi, the sixth king of the First Babylonian Dynasty and author of the Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest surviving codes of law in recorded history. It means ‘to be safe.’

Taqanu’s vision is to solve financial inclusion for disenfranchised people with an initial goal to serve refugees globally, to have one solution accessible anywhere and by anyone without dealing with the problem of needing a government ID to obtain banking services.

I started working on my own. I applied for an accelerator programme in Switzerland and my project got accepted. The most important part was to research the incendiary, understand the problem and the technology that would resolve it: blockchain.

  1. What were you doing prior to founding Taqanu and what motivated you to leave a permanent job and move to Berlin?

I was living in Norway and working as an architect. I moved to Berlin because Germany has the most open Know Your Customer (KYC) regulation and also because of its dense intake of refugees. They of course need a bank account but unfortunately, the way regulatory entities are set up this is not possible. There has been a regulatory change but banks have been unable or unwilling to serve the newcomers. Unless a shift in willingness of banks occurs, refugees won’t have access to their own bank accounts and as a result to jobs.

Here in Berlin, I have the opportunity to work with relevant organizations on the ground, steadily building a network in refugee circles and fostering connections with organizations that are working directly with refugees to sustain Taqanu’s market growth. Taqanu is now officially endorsed by the German Development Bank and is also part of a working group within the The German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) as a result of the support of Deloitte in Frankfurt.

  1. What have been the biggest challenges in the process of managing a financial intermediary?

As I have mentioned before, regulation is challenge number one. It is a steady but slow progress towards more flexibility. The second and an even bigger issue I dare say is, understandably, fundraising.  The ratio of success is somewhere around 1:60 whereby one successful investor is gained after sixty encounters.

  1. What is Taqanu’s greatest achievement to date? 

The greatest achievement has definitely been the official endorsement from the German Development Bank (KfW). This is something that no other start-up can show for itself because it has actually never happened before. I am especially proud of this because, historically speaking, the KfW was created within the Marshall Plan to rebuild Germany after the Second World War and is today one of seven biggest development banks in the world.

  1. What skills and experience gained in school and previous jobs have been the most valuable in your work at Taqanu? 

As strange as it may sound, having studied architecture and worked in the field for some time has been extremely useful. It helps to be able to think of the larger picture while at the same time focus on the details without getting overwhelmed by the scale of it all.

  1. What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is the capacity to not just show direction but also to move in that direction and to inspire others to go there with you.

  1. Do you see yourself as a leader or entrepreneur?

I don’t see myself as a leader yet. I do, however, think I am an entrepreneur. I may eventually fall into a situation where I have to act as a leader but more as a role that needs to be fulfilled. I realize I have a lot to learn still but I do have a strong enough willpower and other capacities that give me confidence in achieving my goals.

  1. What is the best aspect of having founded Taqanu?

The fact that there is a good chance of this idea taking off, that there is a noble goal behind my work. It is empowering to be the initiator but in the end it doesn’t matter if I am the founder of something unless it succeeds and makes an impact.

  1. What would you say to someone who has an idea for a project or an organization but is afraid of failure, humiliation, insecurity, uncertainty, instability, or lack of followers?

Do you believe this is actually something good? If the answer is no, don’t pursued it. The truth is that the amount of obstacles and hurdles you have to go through is unbearable unless you are overcoming them with passion that can only come from the strength of your belief in the idea itself. Without conviction, you will be the first one to quit. If you believe that what you want to do is going to be awesome, make it happen! If you can make something even 70%, do it because it is a lot more than 0%; then do the fine tuning as you go.

  1. What is your favourite quote?

Definitely this one passage from the book “The subtle art of not giving a f..k” by Mark Manson: “It is not about giving a f..k about everything your partner gives a f..k about; it’s about giving a f..k about your partner regardless of the f…s he/she gives. That’s unconditional love, baby.”

And on a more serious note, Albert Einstein is a true inspiration:

“The role of local and regional authorities in preventing corruption and promoting good governance”

Committee of the Regions (CoR), Brussels, Belgium

February 28th, 2017

10am – 5pm



According to an old Slovak saying, ‘a fish stinks from the head.’ However, when it comes to state governance and a country’s progressive democratic growth, it is more effective and feasible to address the deficiencies and fill the gaps at the bottom, at local and regional levels.

On Tuesday, February 28th a Joint Conference of the Committee of the Regions and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities brought together MEPs, experts, practitioners and academics from across Europe involved in the sphere of anti-corruption and good governance. They presented varying viewpoints and multiple perspectives but they all agreed on the fundamentals:

Corruption is a transnational phenomenon; it is a systemic, complex and multifaceted problem hurting the stability and success of any government, causing voters’ distrust in their highest officials and posing a viable threat to the principles of decentralization and democracy. Its cost is extremely high in that it significantly decreases the quality of services provided to citizens. In his opening remarks, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, the President of the Socialist Group at the Congress of the Council of Europe, reiterated the importance of perpetuating the fight against corruption and promotion of good governance in ensuring survival of democracy and consolidation of the rule of law.

Most importantly, however, if the ultimate goal is a strong, trustworthy and transparent national and European governance framework, the fight against corruption must begin at lower levels with the commitment and dedication of local and regional authorities to do everything in their capacity to strengthen the core of established governance mechanisms. Gudrun Mosler-Törnström, the President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities reminded the plenary that the local and regional authorities manage the highest share of public expenditure and European funds. In fact, “32% of EU public expenditure is managed by regional authorities [and] a large share of structural funds [is] managed by regions,” added Carl Dolan, Director of Transparency International EU.

This is why “repression isn’t enough,” said Laura Ferrara, Vice Chair of the European Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs and Rapporteur on the Fight Against Corruption. “ To recognize and address systemic corruption, it is necessary to act early, to focus on prevention and monitoring, and to “mainstream the culture of legality in schools and among youth.” Otherwise, the lines between what is normal and legal, and what is an unacceptable exception, i.e. corruption, will become indefinable.


Among some of the possible and already applied solutions and preventive practices mentioned at the conference were the following:

  • Holders of public office are to set an example to their citizens;
  • Public officials should rotate in and out of their public roles regularly to promote independence and merit in local administrations;
  • Implement control mechanisms to monitor the transfer of money between different levels of government and the close administration of the rule of law;
  • Work diligently to make local and regional offices more effective and less bureaucratic because “the more complex the bureaucracy, the easier it is for corruption to infiltrate,” asserted Laura Ferrara;
  • Municipalities, local and regional governments should be encouraged to be involved in experience-sharing and information-exchange programs, including the Anti-corruption experience sharing programme launched in 2015 by the European Commission;
  • Reinforce checks and balances at the local level. According to information from the 2014 Anti-Corruption report mentioned by Irina Steruriuc, European Commission Team Leader in the Fight Against Corruption the checks and balances at local levels are less strict than at national levels which allows those with discretionary powers to avoid accountability and control mechanisms;
  • Establish a legislation universally protecting investigative journalists and primarily whistleblowers in the European Union, on local, regional, national as well as European levels.

The second half of Tuesday’s enriching discussions opened with Christoph Demmke of the College of Europe identifying codes of ethics and codes of conduct as essential components of governance and effective instruments in preventing corruption at all levels. Patrick von Maravić, Chair of the Advisory Group on revising Congress Code of Conduct highlighted the role that codes play in fostering ethical decision-making processes and harmonizing standards in heterogeneous highly decentralized settings. Without undermining the significance of such codes, Gjalt de Graaf of Vrije University underscored the weight carried by the process of drafting codes versus the existence of codes themselves when he stated that “code is nothing, coding is everything.” Good moral leadership is more than a good code of conduct because what matters the most is how you as a leader deal with drafting the code and subsequently the code itself.

Markku Markkula, the President of the Committee of the Regions reassured his colleagues and peers that anti-corruption is a thematic priority for the Committee and one of many reasons to further cooperate with the Congress to maximize impact.

In the end, however, “there is no one [clear] recipe that always works, [but] there is one ingredient that predetermines success, [namely] general political will to fight corruption” (Irina Steruriuc).

Microleadership: Coining a new term?

Leadership through micro-actions

In light of the disconcerting state in which the world finds itself as the wheel of time brings us into 2017, emphasis needs to be placed on the expansion of the meaning of leadership, rather than its redefinition – which, in commercial and scientific literature, has been done ad nauseum in recent years. It is, therefore, my intention to focus on empowering so-called micro-leaders and thus improving the state of the world one micro-action at a time.

Rediscovering leadership

Leadership is a demonstration of integrity and dignity through one’s acts, ideas, thoughts and initiatives that encourage others to follow in their footsteps. Responsive leadership resonates with the needs and wants of the community and society; it listens carefully, reflects thoughtfully and acts passionately resulting in enthusiastic followership and more importantly, a legacy.

I believe that societies have underestimated leaders’ incredible potential to bring about more leaders. We have failed to perceive leadership as an echo. A leader’s actions, often without him or her realizing so, have a unique opportunity to inspire others to spread their own echoes and multiply them – perhaps on a smaller scale, but with an equally potent impact.

Sustainably resolving the most puzzling of riddles of today should not be the sole responsibility of incumbent political, scientific, academic, military, or corporate leaders. Yet citizens look up to them expectantly to find unique, relevant and consequential solutions to the world’s most complex and urgent problems as they meet during international summits and conferences; at the United Nations headquarters; or at the exclusive WEF’s annual meetings in Davos, Klosters. It is this rhetoric that needs to shift in order for the scale of responsibilities to balance. It is now time to truly empower all citizens to partake in the process and thus change the prevailing paradigm.

 Can anyone be a leader then?

Making the world a better place and leaving a mark as a leader can be very overwhelming. However, when broken down into smaller steps – micro-actions – impactful leadership becomes more achievable. Micro-actions are projects run locally by micro-leaders – community experts and organizers – who have identified a gap in their community, decided to use their abilities to fill it and thus addressed and eliminated a given issue. When our current leaders embrace the concept of micro-leadership, encourage people to look for the gaps, and give them the right means and opportunities to seal them the impact can be far-reaching.

One example would be a nutritionist in Geneva, Diane F. who runs workshops on seasonal use of fruits/vegetables, explaining the detrimental effects their artificial out-of-season growth has on our ecosystem. This is a micro-leader with a great potential for a loud echo. Another example is a Slovak NGO, Youth Politics Education that connects students and recent graduates with internships in the public sector, thus addressing the issue of youth under-employment.

Essentially, the first step is to realize that none of us has less or more responsibility to lead the way or help others. In fact, when even the greatest of leaders among us endorse the idea of micro-actions we will find out that we all have an equal and a very manageable share of responsibility.

Consequently, step two is for our most powerful leaders to commit themselves to micro-action based leadership. This entails openly, publicly and actively using the resources at their disposal to support small-scale initiatives and results-oriented projects spear-headed and led by local community members that oftentimes go underrated and underfunded. Let’s not write off ‘less is more’ as a global leadership philosophy; it could secure a more caring and sustainable world.

 My micro message

It is imperative that our current leaders lead their teams, departments, ministries, institutions, organizations, companies and countries with an eager focus on collective actions and outcomes. The recurrence of civil strife, intercultural and religious conflicts and natural disasters clearly demonstrates that treaty-based and promise-based leadership is insufficient.

Action-based leadership is inclusive; it unites, inspires, awakens, shakes up, motivates, initiates, creates and innovates. Most of all, it begins with the admittance that the few (s)elected leaders cannot be expected to help restore the world on their own. Their primary mission should be to create an echo resonating with so many other micro-leaders that a change for the better will not remain a mere option; it will become the inevitable consequence.

Where do I fit in?

Formerly Vice Curator of Ottawa Global Shapers Hub and Curator of Bratislava Global Shapers Hub, I strive to be a micro-leader by example. I constantly encourage the Shapers to look for gaps and to channel their skills and passions towards meeting demand.

It is through small and local initiatives that we have the greatest capacity to make an impact on the world we live in. In the new year I have launched a global journalistic project Micro-Leaders; its aim is to recognize existing micro-leaders and subsequently motivate others to join the micro-actions movement within their capacities and resources.

“Understanding the Implications of corruption, transparency and accountability on our lives”

2nd Annual International Youth-To-Youth Summit

April 21-25th, 2016

Krakow, Poland


The Youth-To-Youth Initiative (Y2Y) was founded on the belief that inspired action leads to change and with a mission to empower young people to be the change makers. In addition to providing around-the-clock support in project management and development of socially beneficial ideas through the ACTION HUB, Y2Y fosters information and experience sharing through their annual international summits bringing together young change makers from around the world. Having lived in Canada at the time of the first annual international Y2Y summit in Vilnius, Lithuania and thus unable to participate in 2015 I was extremely glad to have found myself in the heart of Europe, in Bratislava in 2016  and a mere overnight train ride away from beautiful historical Krakow in neighbouring Poland. Fittingly, I had already had the pleasure to meet and get to know the Co-Founder of Y2Y and Summit Coordinator, Ania Ankowska as well as several of the Summit’s panel moderators , speakers and workshop facilitators in 2013 at the Transparency International Summer School on Integrity  (TISI) in Vilnius.

Thus, in addition to the 2016 Summit being an invaluable experience to learn from anti-corruption and governance experts, academics and practitioners from across Europe and beyond; to meet likeminded young professionals working in, involved in or simply interested in the betterment of the world and society we live in; and exponentially broadening my horizons in the topic area of transparency and public affairs, it also made for a wonderful opportunity to reunite with old friends and alumni from TISI 2013.

Educational highlights (my personal) and some disconcerting facts from the Summit, or in other words some interesting food for thought: 

  • Around the world, $20-40 billion is stolen by cryptocrats (WBG)
  • “Corruption is almost a human tendency.”(Iason O’Dunnin, ACI, Ireland)
  • Unfortunately, most government systems are set up in a way that encourages corruption (Mark Vlasic, Georgetown University)
  • Fortunately, globalization and technological advances help reveal more instances of corruption (Kryszstof Izdebski, Fundacja ePaństwo (EPF))
  • “Fifa is ruled by a culture of silos and intimidation.” (Bonita Mersiadez, Australian whistleblower commenting on the FIFA scandal)
  • Whistleblowers have nothing to gain and everything to lose yet they are instrumental to identifying instances of corruption
  • Matchfixing in soccer in Poland is not an uncommon phenomenon; quite the opposite (Benjamin Wheatland)
  • “Youth mustn’t wait till it is their time to lead [and wear] the grey suits, [but rather] push themselves into positions of impact and action.” (Iason O’Dunnin, ACI, Ireland)
  • Avoid negativistic wording and rephrase fighting corruption into “making the society more open [or] enhancing transparency”(Karolina Mazetyte, Y2Y)
  • In the past in Zimbabwe corruption was unknown because people were taught from an early age that “the best values are honesty and ubuntu = I am because of you. But today the society has completely changed [whereby] absolute power corrupts absolutely.”(Dumisani Mthombeni, lawyer and activist)
  • “Corruption comes down to the system, not the goodness of evil of people.” (Michal Klusek, Fundacia Stańczyka)
  • “Anti-corruption is not glamorous. It has been reactive till now but needs to be proactive and create systems which will prevent the abuse of the system.” (Elena Panfilova, Vice Chair at TI)
  • Corruption cannot be eliminated but rather minimized to a socially acceptable level. (Elena Panfilova, Vice Chair at TI)

To sum up, the thoughts that resonated the most strongly with my philosophy of less is more, microleadership, and leading by example are the three below:

  1. “Corruption is a virus and we must decide about what we can do ourselves on a small scale and locally.” (Karolis Granickas, Open Contracting Partnership)
  2. If not you, then who? What I do every day matters.” (Ingrida Palamaite, TI Lithuania)
  3. Where is my own personal place in the future of anti-corruption?” (Elena Panfilova, Vice Chair at TI)



Inspired by all these powerful ideas and equipped with much new knowledge, I was invited to deliver a series of interactive and deliverables-oriented workshops on youth engagement in civic, public and eventually political life.

The purpose of the workshop was to recapitulate some of the main ideas expressed during the Summit regarding the importance of good governance and open responsive governments and to brainstorm meaningful ways in which to engage our youth in activities (not necessarily only government or politics related) that could and would engrave in them the qualities and values that would facilitate their development into responsible citizens of integrity and honesty.

The first part of the workshop looked at some of the key buzzwords associated with youth engagement, i.e. youth involvement, youth voice, youth in governance, and youth participation and included a discussion about the importance of actively engaging youth in volunteering, civic life and politics.

Before diving into the more practical hands-on portion of the workshop, we listed some already existing  and mostly free initiatives on a global scale in which youth can participate such as World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community, the World Bank Group Youth Summit(s) as well as various international summer school programs.

Brainstorming session:

  • What are effective forms of engaging youth?
  • What are the themes that resonate with youth within the scope of the Y2Y Summit’s thematic focus?
  • What motivates youth?

Based on the answers to the three questions above, what are some concrete project ideas you think would have the potential to involve youth effectively?

From hosting interactive and engaging sessions at their school to raise awareness about the impact lack of civic participation has on the growth and development of democracy through blending music and story-telling to get the key messages across to our youth to encouraging young people to volunteer at the polls in their districts and regions during local or national elections, the discussions that ensued brought about stimulating and actionable ideas and (hopefully) in a small (micro) way set the stage for a brighter, more accountable and participatory tomorrow.


Leading through microactions

Making the world a better place, one micro action at a time

Wanting to make the world a better place and to leave a mark is a noble and admirable approach to life; nevertheless, it is also an aspiration that can be very overwhelming. This doesn’t mean it is impossible; it simply needs to be broken down into more manageable and realistic steps – micro actions. Sometimes, less is more and many have embraced the concept. I have spoken to some of them and here are three simple ways in which a big difference can be made on a small scale. Reading through it you might even discover you have made one already and haven’t even realized it.

  1. Donate time

When a friend is running a half-marathon to raise money for cancer or biking across town in support of a local children’s hospital and you receive an email or a Facebook prompt to donate money to help them achieve their fundraising goals, you may not always be able to do so. Perhaps you are saving up to go back to school or you simply don’t have any extra cash to give away. This doesn’t mean you can’t help make a difference.

Instead of donating money, consider donating your time and energy. In essence, time is much more valuable because you can never get it back. Be there on the finish line to cheer them on with a customized homemade T-shirt. Take the time to tell others about your friend’s efforts. Or better yet, find a cause you are passionate about and get involved, too. Participation in living-on-a-dollar-a-day campaign by Results Canada or volunteering at a local food drive are just a couple of examples of donating your time to a great cause.

  1. Random acts of kindness

In order to inspire this section, I asked some of my friends what they’ve done to make a difference and this is what they said:

“I gave a 5-year old kid a balloon once in Strasbourg.”

“I just saw a lady picking out of our garbage can and I stopped to invite her for dinner. I even gave her desserts to take home.”

“Always be nice and polite to strangers.”

“I often pick up someone’s tab at a coffee shop. It always makes their day.”

“Give out at least one compliment per day. It should be sincere and ideally delivered in person. For an added challenge, try to compliment a stranger who you have only fleeting contact with, like a cashier or server. It is an easy way to brighten someone’s day.”

  1. Channel your strengths into local initiatives

If you have a special skill, interest, hobby, or passion and can find a way to align it with initiatives that already exist you don’t have to go too far to find a way to contribute. I dare to use myself as an example in this case.

I am a Zumba Fitness instructor and often teach free demo classes at local charitable events, including the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario’s annual Dance Marathon and Ottawa’s Scoliosis Awareness Walk. At last year’s Walk I gave a little girl a promotional rubber Zumba bracelet for doing her best dancing even with a back brace. It was such a simple thing to do but it was obvious how much it made her day.

Are you really good in maths, science or another subject? Find out if there are any charities or not-for-profit organizations that work with socially weaker families whose children you could tutor in your spare time.

The list could go on and on. So find out what drives and motivates you, and channel that into the world. More often than not, it is through small and local initiatives that we have the greatest capacity to make an impact on the world we live in. Less is more.

So, what will be your micro-idea, how will you channel it into a micro-action and where can it transform the world?

THINKING GLOBALLY, CREATED LOCALLY – A Night with Ottawa’s documentaries

The Global Shapers Ottawa Hub was proud to support and promote the screening of three Ottawa-produced documentaries presented at the Mayfair Theatre on Wednesday, March 4th. There is a strong belief in our Hub that local action can have global impact, and so the idea behind ‘Thinking globally, created locally’ truly resonated with the Ottawa Shapers.


The first film, titled Sacred River brought us far away from Ottawa to meet Pratik Mahant who shared his love for the Ganga River, referred to as the “lifeline of India.” Realizing that the future of nature is under an imminent threat, directors Jennifer Macklem and Sajan Sindhu wanted to make a film about the sacred versus the profane. In the sixteen days that it took to make the documentary, their dedicated team discovered that the Ganga River, while under a serious threat of industrial pollution, also has a unique self-purifying capacity thanks to the high dissolved oxygen levels in the water.

Through the second documentary film, Secret War directed by students from the Carleton University Journalism program, the audience travelled for a brief visit to Afghanistan where the war that had lasted thirteen years left many Canadians struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) upon their return home. With memories of seeing children set on fire by their dads, piercing screams for help, loud explosions, and the unbearable loss of comrades, these soldiers come back in need of understanding and patience, but often find only ignorance and rejection. They are forced to resort to denial, ineffective self-medication and desperate calls for assistance that keep going unanswered. Shannon Gray, who worked in Afghanistan as a medic, returned home from the war only to realize that the symptoms she had been trained to recognize in others were her own, too. That is when she found out about the War Horse Project in Pembroke, which uses horse therapy to help PTSD patients face their fears and anxieties and rediscover their sense of self without judgment.

This inspiring evening ended right with the film, Turning the Page at the H’Art of Ottawa. The H’Art of Ottawa is an art studio managed by Lin Rowsell that encourages and celebrates self-expression of people with developmental disabilities and where “art is made of heart.” The film showcased last year’s project which the studio organized to help its members explore different ways of making music. Using a variety of objects, including goat’s toenails as instruments, they learned to appreciate sound, listen to each other and take turns. Conducted by Ottawa’s composer, percussionist and artist Jesse Stewart, on April 30, 2014, they had a unique opportunity to showcase their connection with music and one another on the fourth stage at the National Arts Centre (NAC). The studio organizes regular exhibitions in a range of venues and is a place where creativity meets dreams.

thinking globally created locally

This fascinating trio of films reminded us that there are wonderful people doing wonderful things for others and that inspiration is closer than we think. We just have to take the time to look for it. More often than not, we don’t even have to stray too far away from our backyard.


Note: Originally written for for the Global Shapers Ottawa Hub and published at

Youth Advocates for Open and Responsive Government

Author: Maria Habanikova, Former Research Officer at the Institute on Governance

On October 7th, 2014 the World Bank Group (WBG) opened its doors on the renown Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. to over 300 ambitious civically-minded young professionals from all around the world to connect and network at the Youth Summit titled ‘The Need for Open and Responsive Governments.’ It was a unique opportunity blending policy dialogue and tool-focused workshops to explore different ways in which global youth, having at their disposal mediums not available even a decade ago, can collaborate and get involved in their governments’ decision making process, enhance transparency, and assure accountability in the governance contexts they interact with daily, be it locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally.

Just as there is no clear-cut definition of good governance, the interpretation of open government is always contextual. The value of the Summit was precisely in the intertwining of perspectives and experiences from a variety of political and socio-economic backgrounds that showed the challenges faced but also successes enjoyed by different countries.

An effective way to learn about and from other national contexts is through case studies. One was presented at the Summit in a panel discussion with Erion Veliaj, the Albanian Minister for Social Welfare and Youth. Mr. Veliaj introduced the idea of a subcontracted government, which means a government that encourages its youth (and citizenry in general) to be guardians of their own taxes. In Albania, applying this in practice has reduced fraud by 20%. A subcontracted government invites people to do things in their own communities and to report back on their contributions as well as inappropriate behavior. Actions speak louder than words so governments need to lead by example instead of giving orders; when they are at the frontlines of action, people will be more motivated to get involved as well.

Mr Veliaj claimed, “governance is politics”. At first, I disagreed because as a governance consultant and former public policy student, I comprehend governance in a very different way. I interpret it as the ‘relationship between those who govern and those who are governed’; a relationship that enhances open government but that is not government in and of itself. However, after Mr. Veliaj linked governance to the way political parties behave and engage with their voters, his definition didn’t seem so farfetched. Demonstrations and tangible promises of good governance, he stated, are in parties’ best interest because their existence in their respective parliaments – wherever in the world those may be – depends on the inclination of citizens to vote in their favor. Therefore, open government becomes a self-serving prophecy.

What struck me the most about the Youth Summit was the professional affiliation of its attendees. None of them came from the political sphere, public sector or government. For instance, none of the 70 participants of ‘#OpenGovNow: Innovations on Gathering Citizen Feedback’ session worked for their respective government. This was shocking to me because while governance may not be the same as government, the two undoubtedly go hand in hand; they are two sides of the same coin. Undoubtedly, the need for open government and good governance is bigger today than ever before and even though governance is definitely not government, we definitely require more government present in governance discussions.

Canada’s membership in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is commendable and necessary. Having submitted its second Action Plan on Open Government in October this year, Canadian government, among other goals, committed to ‘consult, engage and empower.’ It is clear it realizes that ‘open dialogue’ is necessary to improve services and make them more accessible to the citizens.

The 11-hour day of plenary sessions, workshops, and discussions at the WBG demonstrated that it is important to recognize that “[while] technology is driving disruptive change (applications, social media, etc.) it has not yet replaced the more traditional means of governance (policy, voting, etc.); therefore, the two need to learn how to coexist. We are not in an era of “business as usual,” Viva Dadwal, a member of the Young Diplomats Canada delegation shared her insights after the Summit. Furthermore, this particular Youth Summit confirmed what research and statistics have shown, as revealed during the introductory remarks by Nicholas Bian, the Summit’s Chair: that youth supports open government and is interested in pursuing tangible action-oriented solutions.

Note: Originally written for and published in the Canadian Government Executive (CGE) magazine in January 2015





Escape from Tibet: A journey of determination and search for freedom

The screen above the stage showed the audience a picture of a little eleven-year old boy dressed modestly, crying tears of exhaustion, hopelessness and fear. Sitting in a comfortable chair on the stage in a suit and tie was Tenzin, a student of translation and political studies at the University of Westminster in London, England remembering the moment depicted in the photograph when his and his older brother Pasang’s quest for freedom had run into a cruel impasse. “Look at Tenzin, [only] 11 on the screen and he is now [here with us]; he’s wonderful,” said Nick Gray, an award-winning documentary-maker and now first-time author of A True Story: Escape from Tibet,  encouraging a warm round of applause echoing through Knox Presbyterian Church on a soggy Saturday afternoon.


Prompted by the host, his sister Charlotte Gray , Nick read a short passage from the book which he wrote several years after the documentary had been made as it is “the only book of its kind,” taking the reader on a long tiring journey through the most daunting escape route in the world, the Himalayas. The passage Nick shared described an encounter of Tenzin and Pasang with the Chinese guards. Soaked, beaten, distressed, hungry and frightened, Tenzin was losing every hope of ever achieving freedom. At that moment he wished to go back to their village to live with their mother and work in the fields but Pasang offered an alternative: they were going to persist and pursue studies in a monastery in Lhasa. Thus, the treacherous journey continued.

Nick met them on the top of a mountain pass after the boys had already spent over three months climbing through an extremely difficult terrain struggling to reach safety and freedom. Sadly, this was nothing unusual; in fact, one third of Tibetan escapees are children who set out on a hike across the mountains wearing pathetic shoes, suffering from snow blindness, and often perishing during their brave flight from Chinese oppression. Having listened to the story from both Nick and Tenzin’s perspectives, it became hard to believe that the well-educated multilingual young man sitting before us had endured so much in his childhood. It took Tenzin and Pasang months to get to India only to find out Tenzin was going to have to return and face all the embarrassment and abuse on Chinese hands again due to inadequate paperwork. Finally, an audience with Dalai Lama allowed both brothers to stay in India as refugees. Tenzin wiped the tears of despair for “the sun came out, our mood suddenly lifted and we saw a new frontier.”

 The production of this documentary was unlike any other. In order to be able to show people’s faces without shading them and exposing them to the possibility and danger of execution, abuse or exile, the filming took place outside of Tibet. Tenzin and Pasang, while sensing the involvement of some Westerners in their journey, were not aware of being showcased in a documentary. As a matter of fact, when they first came across Nick, they didn’t recognize the video camera; they did, however, notice a ‘weapon’ on a tripod. It wasn’t until a copy of the video was sent to the monastery through Pasang’s friend in 1996 that Tenzin watched himself on TV for the very first time. The powerful message of the film was spreading through the UK as well as the United States; the documentary was shown repeatedly, including at the State Department and the White House where Hillary Clinton had watched it before her visit to Nepal. Suddenly, the boys began receiving letters, money and even chocolates. Eventually, they were sponsored to come live in England and arrived to London on one cold November afternoon.

 The brothers still live there, Pasang working and Tenzin studying, and have visited their mother in Tibet many times since their escape. “She is an amazing, remarkably resilient woman,” says Nick who fondly recalls their first encounter. He smuggled a photograph of him and the Dalai Lama into Tibet. When she saw the picture, she grabbed it and “put it on her head as a blessing.”

What impressed me the most about Tenzin is how sincere, humble and grateful he is – for the crowded subway he has to take to school every day, for the enriching experience the University of Westminster has provided him with, for the opportunities that have been presented to him. While it is important his communication with Tibetan support groups remains limited, I am so glad that he and Nick came to speak to us openly about the difficult destiny of the Tibetan refugees and let us be part of this incredibly touching story of courage, resilience, hope, and friendship.

Note: Originally written for The Ottawa International Writers Festival 2014 at