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ISU graduate student brings awareness to Global Ethics Day

Ebuka Okoli is giving a presentation in front of a group of people. There is a poster board behind him with post it notes across different countries.
Ebuka Okoli
Illinois State University graduate student Ebuka Okoli giving a presentation at the inaugural dinner of the Carnegie Ethics Fellowship.

An Illinois State University graduate student is drawing attention to Global Ethics Day (which is Wednesday) with a video project that centers women’s voices across many cultures.

Second-year graduate student in communication Ebuka Okoli is a Carnegie Ethics Fellow who has been researching the ethics of diversity in the workplace. Fellows like Okoli collaborate on projects curated by Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

“The core essence of Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is to ensure that ethics is a global practice, to ensure that in different ways of life, whether in politics, or in the private sector, or as individuals, we are ethically empowered to make ethical decisions,” Okoli said.

Carnegie Council was formed in 1914 by Andrew Carnegie, who was an immigrant to the United States from Scotland. The original intention of Carnegie was to avert wars, said Okoli.

Ethics Awareness

To raise awareness about ethics, said Okoli, the Carnegie Council started Global Ethics Day 10 years ago.

“Every year, around October, a lot of awareness goes out in different parts of the world, telling people more about ethics, how they can contribute to the discussion of ethics and the practice of ethics,” he said.

Okoli said he recalled one of his earliest exposure to ethics was through his dad.

“My late dad was an ethical businessman whose business model inspired many of his associates and mentees,” he said.

Now, Okoli has contributed to the discussion of ethics by directing a short video for Global Ethics Day, shot by Emily Bollinger (who reported this story). The video shows six women speaking six different languages describing what ethics means to them.

Okoli said he chose only women for his Global Ethics Day video intentionally.

“[While researching] I tried to look for more ethical frameworks that are not male dominant voices, and I didn't find much,” he said.

Another intentional choice Okoli said he made with his video was choosing people from different cultures.

“What an American considers ethics might be different from what a South African or a Kenyan or Cameroonian considers as ethics, but there's always a point where they intersect, because at the end of the day you are looking at doing good,” he said.

Researching Ethics

Along with directing a video about ethics, Okoli’s research is centered in ethics. He said it’s focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. DEI programs and policies encourage representation of diverse groups of people, including people of different genders, races and ethnicities, abilities and disabilities, religions, cultures, ages, and sexual orientations.

“Many businesses have a code of ethics and all of that, but it's more like a legal document most times. It has a lot of legality and all of that, but we can make it even more of something that can be lived through our daily lives and we can measure that with how well we live,” Okoli said.

There are challenges in researching ethics, said Okoli.

“Most works, or studies on ethics, are Western articles or studies around Western culture or community,” Okoli added. “All of the scholarship on ethics is one sided in terms of gender.”

Ethics is a big deal, said Okoli, “because there are researchers that show that diversity in organizations leads to higher performance, because you have more ideas from different sources, different people, and it helps in organizational performance.”

Caring about ethics

“Young people today will occupy strategic positions tomorrow,” Okoli said. “And if they don't start understanding the importance of ethics from a very young age, or from a very easy, simplistic way, it's going to be a problem because it gets to a point where nobody knows what is right anymore.”

Okoli said there is a danger in not caring about the ethics of diversity.

“If you do [diversity hires] based off compliance, you could just have this blanket approach where you just bring in people from diverse cultures, underrepresented groups, whether they're good or not. Then tomorrow, when you're filing your report, you would say that the organization performance dropped because you brought in people from this particular group, so they're not really good. But did you bring the best from the best?”

Okoli said he understands that ethical decisions are tough.

“You have to make them when no one is watching, but you have to make them eventually.”

That is why, Okoli said, the call to action in his Global Ethics Day video is “Together we can make the world ethically empowered.”

Global Ethics Day is Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.

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Emily Bollinger is a graduate assistant at WGLT, focused on photography, videography and other digital content. They're also a graduate student at Illinois State University's School of Communication.
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