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.
When NDI opened its doors in 1983, democracy support work essentially did not exist. Given a mission but lacking a clear path forward, the Institute had to build its practice from scratch. Step by step it did so, over time becoming a leader in the democracy field by putting a premium on creativity, innovation, sensitive consideration of unique national contexts, and painstakingly building relationships of trust with government leaders and citizens worldwide.
The challenges of our time only reinforce why the work of NDI, and the founding spirit of innovation and creativity, remain as essential as ever. The siren song of autocrats will always find an audience, particularly during times of fear and insecurity. Autocrats have learned to appropriate democratic forms and exploit the dark edges of new technologies.
But democracy remains the only viable path to true peace and security. By granting free citizens the dignity that comes with agency, nations are more just and thus stable, less prone to violent disruptions that cross borders and undermine national development. At its best, democracy taps into and empowers all, equally – women, men, persons with disabilities, youth, everyone – to maximize a nation’s, and the globe’s, full potential.
Ultimately, we do this work because we believe in its affirmation of human dignity. But also because democracy delivers in very real and tangible ways. Because we recognize, as Martin Luther King said, that we are all "tied together in a single garment of destiny.
NDI has had a storied 35-year history. Energized by a distinguished board of directors under the indomitable Madeleine Albright, and led by the visionary leadership of my predecessors Brian Atwood and Ken Wollack, NDI’s success is ultimately a result of the hard work of some of the brightest, most talented, committed and creative professionals, top to bottom, that exist anywhere.
As critically, NDI is fortified by an unparalleled network of partnerships with courageous men and women in every corner of the globe. The effectiveness – and joy – of NDI’s work is and will always be built upon working alongside these extraordinary citizen-heroes who have endured much but are united in their commitment to advance the cause and practice of democracy.
I consider the task of leading NDI a sacred trust, and am honored to return after two decades to my old home to build on the Institute’s remarkable legacy. I am energized by the challenge of the moment and by the opportunity to think and work together creatively with all those of like mind around the world to consider how to strengthen the foundations of democracy – and thus peace and stability – worldwide. In short, at NDI, we will work to ensure that every day can be celebrated as a democracy day. I look forward to working with all of you to ensure NDI remains the gold standard for democracy work, and to fulfill the promise of justice and individual human dignity for all, equally, everywhere.