Diogenes the Cynic once remarked that the “foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” More than 2,300 years later, cynical was an accurate description of the 27 teenagers who were rolling their eyes at me in an overheated classroom. My lesson that day was on the importance of civic engagement, but these young people had been taught their entire lives that young voices do not matter in politics.
Youth from Albania develop action plans to address issues in their local communities during an NDI skills-building workshop in Durres on June 29, 2018. Credit: Dana Radojevic
It is easy to get lost in the details of one’s work. This happens in every field ranging from the neverending rounds made by a nurse to the countless strokes of an artist’s paintbrush. Supporting democracy and good governance is no different – thousands of dedicated activists across the world spend their days, nights and weekends lost in paperwork, meetings and strategy sessions, working to create a more inclusive, just and democratic world.
NDI’s staff in DC, Silicon Valley, and 50+ offices around the world represent a deep repository of expertise and practical experience in the areas of democracy and international affairs. We promise to keep bringing you their insights and analysis through this platform, and to increasingly include the voices expert guest bloggers from our partner organizations. Here’s the list of DemWorks’ most read blog posts from 2018.
As 2018 draws to a close, I want to express my gratitude for your support in my transition back to NDI as its president – a true homecoming. Democracy faces serious challenges with the rise of new technologies and the resurgence of authoritarianism. While some may fall into fatalism, that is not NDI's way, and it is unworthy of those who have fought for freedom and democracy over many decades. NDI will continue to meet this moment head-on with innovative approaches that maximize potential opportunities as well as mitigate challenges, just as we did throughout 2018.
As part of a series of events organized by NDI’s Jordan youth political participation program Ana Usharek and the Al-Hayat Center for Civil Society Development – NDI’s local partner – 60 Ana Usharek students participated in a networking and coalition-building event on December 5 with 43 local civil society organizations in Zarqa, Jordan. Photo Credit: NDI Jordan
It is important to remember the task of safeguarding democracy at home, and encouraging and supporting democracy abroad is an unending one. There is no such thing as a fully consolidated democracy. Various shocks and strains, whether internal or exogenous, will constantly test the resilience of democratic institutions. Likewise, there is no such thing as a “graduated” emerging democracy.
A man smiles as he uses the Braille ballot guide in Osun state, Nigeria.
In advocating for strong democratic institutions around the world, it is easy to overlook the rich diversity of democratic traditions across nations. In the United States, presidential hopefuls descend on Iowa every four years to grill steaks for eager caucus-goers. In London, commuters tune to BBC Radio to hear the prime minister and opposition leader spar on issues of the day. And in Nigeria, voters press their thumbs into ink pads, locate the name and party of their chosen candidate, and leave a thumbprint to mark their democratic choice.
A woman participates in voter card reader test exercise in Nigeria. Credit: Sarah Cooper
In countries and communities around the world, defenders of democracy are working to understand and respond to the ways that technology is impacting political and electoral processes. With every election or political event, democracy’s defenders are capturing new lessons on how democracy can weather evolving threats and even thrive in the digital age. Despite this growing body of projects and the commitment of local actors in countries around the world, responses to evolving digital challenges to date often lack coordination. But both globally and regionally, key democracy stakeholders haven’t had a proper channel for information-sharing, research coordination, and advancing shared priorities at the intersection of tech and democracy. So we’re building one, as a community.
Brazilians take to the streets to protest rampant government corruption on March 13, 2016. Photo by Agencia Brazil (CC BY 3.0 BR)
What do Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez have in common? They’ve all been branded as populists, both celebratorily and scathingly. As Brazil heads to elections on October 7, all eyes are on ultra-conservative candidate Jair Bolsonaro – who brazenly rejects political correctness, defends Brazil’s authoritarian past and promises to upend the establishment – as the latest in a line of political strongmen turning citizen malaise into electoral success. Charismatic populist leaders present society as divided into two separate and homogeneous entities: the corrupt elite, and the pure people who the corrupt have oppressed. Proclaiming their direct link to the people (often enabled by social networks), they tend to eschew representative institutions and checks and balances. While left-wing populists take a class-based approach pitting working and middle-class people against a greedy economic elite, right-wing populists typically define the people as an exclusive group along ethnic, racial or national lines.
On September 4, I became NDI's third president. I do so with humility, at a time when democracy around the world faces its most serious challenge in memory. While the United Nations' theme for this year's International Day of Democracy is "democracy under strain," let us honor the day not just by reflecting on challenges but also how far we’ve come.
It’s amazing what humanity can do with the right tools. If you’ve ever looked up the work of Marshall McLuhan, he talks about how even the basic things we create change our outlook on life, politics and society. He’s also often attributed to having said, "We shape our tools and, thereafter our tools shape us…". The light bulb, for example, changed what time of day we can commune with each other.
I have been developing and designing software for close to twenty years. Since joining NDI, I’ve been thinking about the tools we build and how those tools, in turn, shape the lives of beneficiaries around the world. Human-centered design is the process of designing technology with and around the humans who use it. This process is analogous to building a bridge to connect two worlds. Just like civil engineers, practitioners of human-centered design at NDI must connect technology to the needs of citizens.