Published in the peer-reviewed journal Governance, this paper interprets informal networks as investments made by citizens and business people to cope with the public sphere. Informal networks often orchestrate corruption, connecting public and private actors. The paper aims to understand their key characteristics, scopes, and functional roles.

Corruption is frequently associated with money alone and the behaviours of a few individual “bad apples” operating in otherwise healthy governance systems. This is too simplistic. As the latest research shows, including research in Tanzania and Uganda on which this Policy Brief is based, corruption is a networked phenomenon. This Policy Brief explains what this means and its implications for anti-corruption practice.

Bila watu hufiki popote. “Without people or connections you won’t reach anywhere,” said a Tanzanian businessman participating in our recently completed research project on informal networks and corruption.

His words encapsulate something we see time and again in our research on corruption: that bribery is far more than just a brute monetary transaction.

Often more important, and far less studied, are the informal social networks that connect private individuals and public officials.

What does the web of connections look like that underlies grand corruption and money laundering schemes and the abuse of offshore financial centres? Who are the people involved, how do they interact and what do they do?

And what insights can we draw by looking at complex corruption and money laundering schemes from the perspective of social networks, rather than solely individuals?

These questions are at the heart of a new analysis of the so-called Lava Jato or Odebrecht scandal that has engulfed Latin America.