Getting everyone ‘on board’: the winning Ethics Initiative of 2019

by Tara Mousavi | Published on 25 October 2019 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

Today, the use of ‘gamification’ is expanding in business because it offers an opportunity to have fun and to learn in the workplace. Friendly competition gets people out of their usual ‘work mode’, boosts engagement and generates energy, all while teaching serious points via the game. For many people, this is the best way to learn, rather than through textbooks or formal training. As it is sometimes said, "what is learned through play will last longer".

MTN Irancell game

At MTN Irancell Telecommunication Company, we created the game "Ethical, are We All" from scratch.

It is an ethics-related board game with a twist – it is human-sized!

Before the game, the Ethics Office had been busy. The Code of Ethics and Announcement Campaign and E-Learning Courses had been communicated to staff over and over before, via regular channels such as email, meetings and formal sessions.

Yet, in such a fast-paced telecommunications company like ours, one can hardly expect busy colleagues to read all ethics emails or to attend all formal sessions. This is probably one of the most common challenges facing Ethics Offices in organisations – how to get the message out in a way that people want to engage with it? There was gap to find an innovative way to inform staff, vendors and other parties of the Ethics Office’s existence and its responsibilities and also about ethics-related Do's and Don'ts. This is where the idea for the game came from – to fill this gap.

Fortunately, MTN Irancell enjoys young human capital that is educated, agile, embraces change and looks for innovation. We took advantage of this precious opportunity to hold an entertaining event with a serious theme, and restricted the programme to a mere two hours’ of their time.

Generally, ethics-related issues are controversial and, at the workplace, they can be particularly difficult to tackle. Figuring out how to make sure people are able to recognise when something is unethical, and how to inspire them to be courageous to report it, are not easy tasks at all.

This is how it worked: there was a human-sized game set up in the company lobby, a purpose-built dice, a number of questions based on the Code of Ethics and awareness campaigns, and dilemmas for participants to puzzle over. It was a bit like snakes and ladders – one can progress or go backwards, depending on how one answers a question. And of course, the crowd can and did get involved.

The first winner was the one who reached the end point first. The second winner was the one who behaved most ethically during the game. The third winner (who was shocked by the experience!) was the one who tried hard to act unethically during the game by cheating, trying to violate the rules and so on. We intended to show that acting unethical is, unfortunately, very easy, whether in a game or in business. The more important lesson was this: one may be rewarded by unethical action or behavior in the short-term benefits thereof, but he/she won't be happy deep inside. It is not nice to be the ‘most unethical’ player. As it is said, "the most important critic whose judgement of one's actions matters is the conscience".

Leadership were very supportive of the initiative and heads of department came to watch the game. And indeed our very first winner was a senior manager.

In practical terms, the game can be played over and over with new participants, and therefore continues to add value over time. It is also very cost effective, costing less than $220 to create.

In conclusion: something about ‘making ethics public’, worked. Addressing such sensitive information in full view of all staff was fun, and somehow ‘demystified’ the ethics issues raised. We were thrilled with the response.

MTN Irancell were honoured to be chosen as a finalist for The Ethics Institute’s 2019 Ethics Initiative of the Year Awards, and to ultimately win the popular vote. We can say that this initiative supports TEI's vision of building an ethically responsible society, for sure. We believe it has the potential to go further to other organisations, and to take on other formats, using the idea of gamification as the base. This is the first time that our ethics-related communications worked so effectively, and we are happy to say we had a lot of fun along the way. One should never forget that people love to play!

Best Ethics Initiative 2019



Tara Mousavi is the Ethics Senior Specialist at MTN Irancell.

She is pictured here with (from left) Thobile Madonsela (TEI), Prof Deon Rossouw (TEI) and Stephan Bezuidenhout (EPA) following her success at the Ethics Initiative Awards held on 20 September 2019 as part of The Ethics Institute's Ethics Officer Learning Forum. 

Contributing this article is one part of the prize for first place. Congratulations, Tara, and the team at MTN Irancell!