Since its founding in 1983, NDI has worked with local partners in 156 countries and territories, bringing together individuals and groups to share ideas, knowledge, experiences and expertise. Partners receive broad exposure to best practices in international democratic development that can be adapted to the needs of their own countries. NDI’s multinational approach reinforces the message that while there is no single democratic model, certain core principles are shared by all democracies.
The Institute’s work upholds the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also promotes the development of institutionalized channels of communications among citizens, political institutions and elected officials, and strengthens their ability to improve the quality of life for all citizens.
The Work of the Institute
Making democracy work requires informed and active citizens who understand how to voice their interests, act collectively and hold public officials accountable. Through the years the Institute has worked with more than 15,000 civic groups. NDI’s civic programs — including civic and voter education, get out the vote efforts, issue organizing and advocacy, budget oversight and government monitoring — help citizens engage actively in the political process and serve as a link between citizens and elected officials.
The Institute partners with politically marginalized and socially excluded groups, such as Roma in Eastern Europe and indigenous people in Latin America, helping them build awareness and influence around their priorities. In this way, the Institute helps give a voice to citizens who traditionally have no access to government decision-making.
Democracy and Technology
The Internet, mobile phones and social media are helping citizens engage in politics in increasingly innovative and participatory ways. NDI has been a pioneer in the use of technology as an integral component of democratic development. The Institute has helped citizens create and refine tools to advocate, organize and mobilize in ways that encourage governments to be more accountable and create opportunities for citizen-led social and political change. The Institute also works with governments to find better technological solutions for constituent services, bill tracking and outreach, as well as with political parties on technological tools for outreach, targeting, fundraising and resource allocation.
NDI views the development of effective, democratic, public-sector institutions as a critical component of its mission. It is through improved governance that the benefits of democratic development most directly impact the lives of citizens. Conversely, the inability of public sector institutions to function effectively and democratically undermines the sustainability of democratic reform.
In a rapidly changing world, democratic institutions must become more innovative in adapting to new technology and evolving citizens expectations. Working with legislatures, executive offices, local governments, and good governance advocates, NDI’s governance programs seek to promote effective, 21st century public-sector institutions and processes that operate in a manner consistent with democratic values of transparency, representation, pluralism, and accountability.
NDI’s approach to election-related programming seeks to maximize the opportunities presented by elections to help advance democratic progress. NDI programs promote the integrity of electoral and political processes based on international standards and the practicalities of mobilizing citizen participation. NDI’s election-related activities are tailored to the broader political process in each country to promote citizen action as electors and as electoral candidates to achieve democratic governance, mitigate potentials for political violence, and improve the lives of people. The Institute has more than 25 years of experience in international election observation. It also assists the electoral integrity efforts of political parties and nonpartisan citizen (domestic) election monitoring organizations, which have included large numbers of women and youth in more than 90 countries and territories.
Gender, Women and Democracy
Women have made significant strides in girls’ education, maternal health and labor force participation – and in politics as well. In the past 20 years, women have doubled their global numbers in parliaments, from 11 to 22 percent. Seventeen percent of ministers globally are women, and in 2015, there were 18 women as heads of state or government. Women’s participation in politics is socially transformative. Research shows that women in politics raise issues that others overlook, pass bills that others oppose, invest in projects others dismiss and seek to end abuses that others ignore. Where women are able to participate in peace processes, the chances of reaching an agreement at all improve, and the peace is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years. Yet women face many barriers to their political participation. At current rates of progress, political parity will not be reached until 2080, making equality in politics the highest hurdle women face. NDI works to accelerate progress toward gender parity on an individual, institutional, socio-cultural level.
Political parties are essential institutions of democracy. By competing in elections parties offer citizens a choice in governance, and while in opposition they can hold governments accountable. When citizens join political parties, volunteer their time, donate money and vote for their leaders, they are exercising their basic democratic rights. Participation of citizens in political parties offers unique benefits, including opportunities to influence policy choices, choose and engage political leaders, and run for office. However, in some countries political parties do not respect the rights of citizens to participate and are not accountable to voters. NDI supports the development of vibrant, accountable and inclusive multiparty systems that offer citizens meaningful choices and opportunities for political participation. The Institute is the only organization to have official standing in the three largest international groupings of political parties: Centrist Democrat International, Liberal International and Socialist International. Through these networks, NDI fosters peer-to-peer exchanges and consultations. The Institute also facilitates constructive engagement between political parties and other institutions, such as civil society, the media and election management bodies.