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Lesson 10. Sowing Seeds of Compliance around the World

Come to Sarajevo.

Help me sow the seeds of compliance in the region.

This short email appeared in my inbox on December 22, 2015, at 8:20 a.m. It was from someone I had never met before, someone living more than 5,000 miles away from where I was sitting at that moment. That email was from Bojan Bajić—a compliance guy from Bosnia and Herzegovina, an eastern European country once part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Bojan wanted my help. He wanted to use compliance programs to fight corruption in the Sarajevo Canton—a sector of the country where he lived.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a long history of corruption. Bribery, money laundering, and organized crime are commonplace. Political corruption exists at all levels of their government. People there lack civil and political rights. There’s a social stigma against reporting corruption too. Most believe it won’t do any good and, worse, they’ll suffer from life-threatening retaliation if they do report the wrongdoing they see. They’re right, not much happens when corruption is exposed. Most corruption cases are largely ignored by law enforcement and the courts. The country’s corruption is not just embedded in their government, law enforcement, and judicial systems; it’s also embedded in their businesses, many of which are still government-owned holdovers from the region’s communist days.[1] This post-communist, transitional country was trying to find its way in a freer world. Bojan was part of that change. What he was trying to do there was not just unusual, it was radical—and he wanted me to help.

“Sure,” I replied, and pressed send.

Few, if any, folks at the top of the compliance food chain would have said “yes” to traveling across the world and meeting someone they did not know, and some wouldn’t have even answered. Yet, when I read Bojan’s email, I thought: these are my people. I like to help the people nobody else seems interested in helping. I had no idea what was to come, but I’m glad I agreed to help. It turned out that my experience in the Sarajevo Canton was the most meaningful experience of my career.