Jun 27, 2023 Article

A Conversation with Carnegie Ethics Fellow Ebuka Okoli

In a new interview series, Carnegie Council editor Alex Woodson speaks with members of the inaugural Carnegie Ethics Fellows cohort.

ALEX WOODSON: Was there a moment for you that made you interested in ethics in your professional life?

EBUKA OKOLI: Throughout my career, I have understood the importance of ethics from two significant experiences. As an operations agent at the UK Visa Application Center in Abuja, I was expected to adhere to strict standard operating procedures. Although I made a few errors, I owned up to them and notified my supervisors immediately. They appreciated my honesty and encouraged me to see my mistakes as learning opportunities.

Secondly, my experience as an employee of the Federal Inland Revenue Service in Nigeria showed me how implementing ethical practices can be challenging, especially in an environment without tight systems that can monitor and evaluate those practices effectively. Luckily, I worked with two exceptional bosses (Mrs. Junila N. Takon & Mrs. Martha Paul) who modeled personal and professional ethics. They strictly followed standard operating procedures, even when compromising would have been more convenient for them. Applying these lessons to my own work, I successfully contributed to developing and implementing strategies that have helped the organization exceed its annual tax revenue target.

ALEX WOODSON: How did you find out about Carnegie Ethics Fellows? Why did you think it would be a good fit for you?

EBUKA OKOLI: I was awarded an honorable mention in the 2013 Carnegie Council International Essay competition for my essay on "Moral Leadership.” In the essay, I discussed the importance of moral leadership as a solution to the global leadership problem. I cited examples of leaders from different countries who put their lives on the line to fight against inequality, poverty, dictatorship, and oppression. Shortly after, I signed up for the Council’s newsletter and constantly kept abreast of events. I believe I came across the announcement for the Carnegie Ethics Fellow application in one of the newsletters.

Over the past 13 years, I have held various leadership positions and achieved success. However, my current goal is to emulate successful, ethical, and inspiring leadership on a global level. Carnegie Council has supported and collaborated with leaders from diverse backgrounds for over a century. The Council has shown outstanding proficiency and enthusiasm for ethical leadership. As I am now in the United States, the most prominent platform for global leadership, the Carnegie Ethics Fellowship program is the ideal place to acquire the skills necessary to achieve my aspirations.

ALEX WOODSON: How would you describe your current role at Illinois State? How does ethics fit in to your professional development?

EBUKA OKOLI: As a graduate teaching assistant, I am excited to gain my first job experience in the U.S. My main goal is to help my students learn in the most effective ways that cater to their unique learning needs. I pay attention to each individual and offer office hours to discuss and resolve any challenges they may face. Additionally, I volunteer as a mentor and coach in the Transformers program at the School of Communication, where I assist junior high students in improving their academic performance. I have been selected as a peer mentor for the upcoming school year in recognition of my outstanding teaching methods and exemplary leadership skills. Applying the ethical values I am learning as a Carnegie Ethics Fellow, I will be able to do a great job mentoring the new graduate teaching assistants joining the School of Communication in the fall of 2023.

I have developed a deep interest in organizational and business ethics because I am passionate about excellence. My Master's thesis will explore the topic of organizational ethics, and I hope to apply my knowledge in various industries to promote organizational excellence by improving systems, structures, and processes. I firmly believe that ethics plays a vital role in any organization's success, sustainability, and innovation.

ALEX WOODSON: Coming from Nigeria to the United States, have you seen a difference in the ethical debates and challenges between the two countries?

There are noticeable differences concerning ethical debates and challenges between Nigeria and the United States. This emanates from the fact that while Nigeria is a collectivistic culture with a high-power distance, where people are treated based on status, further encouraging inequality, the United States is an individualistic culture that practices a low power distance or egalitarianism.

Nigeria's business, organizational, institutional, and political practices are mixed with traditional/cultural methods. This further creates complexities involved in implementing ethics. It is commonplace to be torn between adopting global best practices and resorting to societal norms. Due to Nigeria's diverse cultural background, ethical standards may vary from one culture to another. In collectivistic cultures like Nigeria, status holds significant value, and people often turn to leaders or influential figures to determine what is considered right or wrong. However, this can become problematic when ethical leadership and practices are lacking.

On the other hand, the U.S. models an egalitarian society because of the individualistic culture. An advantage of this practice is that there is a standard code of conduct in most organizations that everyone must comply with. Furthermore, leaders are held to a higher level of accountability, which checks and balances their power/influence. There are systems and structures in the U.S. that encourage and promote ethical leadership, which is very important for continuous and progressive development.

"As responsible members of society, it is our duty to continuously educate and intervene to ensure that ethical principles remain the foundation of our society."
Ebuka Okoli

ALEX WOODSON: What do you see as some of the key challenges in ethics and international affairs?

EBUKA OKOLI: The crux of the matter is that no universally accepted code of ethics exists. Ethics is rooted in norms, values, cultural beliefs, and practices of people worldwide. So, most times, the main challenge is to have people adopt the ethical rules of outsiders.

There is a notable lack of institutions prioritizing ethical practices in the sphere of ethics and international affairs. Additionally, many organizations tend to prioritize profit over ethics. Most organizations rely on revenues and profits as their primary indicators of performance. However, these metrics do not always reflect the practices that led to those results. Furthermore, the concept of ethics can seem abstract and disconnected from real-world situations. As responsible members of society, it is our duty to continuously educate and intervene to ensure that ethical principles remain the foundation of our society.

Ebuka Okoli is a member of the inaugural cohort of Carnegie Ethics Fellows and a graduate student and teaching assistant at the School of Communication at Illinois State University.

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is an independent and nonpartisan nonprofit. The views expressed within this article are those of the Fellow and do not necessarily reflect the position of Carnegie Council.

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