Inclusive democracy learnings & innovations: Webinar highlights

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To discuss this, we organized a learning webinar on Inclusive Democracy together with Open Government Partnership, and Trust, Accountability, and Inclusion Collaborative (TAI) and brought together representatives from governments, civil society organizations, and philanthropies to find solutions to common challenges to inclusion. 



Here are lessons on inclusion from the webinar:

1. It’s now more accessible for civil society organizations and governments to access resources on inclusive democracy

Through our work on supporting our members, we saw the persistent difficulty of engaging marginalized groups across different contexts. Through the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), we embarked on an ambitious journey together with 13 member organizations from the Global South on a project to make democracy more inclusive of youth, women, and displaced people (including refugees, immigrants, and internally displaced people).

We were proud to unveil one of the biggest products of the research and co-creation process of the project at the webinar – new online courses to guide governments and civil society organizations on the best practices for improving the engagement of marginalized communities in the program. 

2. People Powered members are at the forefront of the inclusion of marginalized communities in participatory programs


We invited Maria Solar of Ollin A.C. from Mexico City, one of the organizations whose expertise contributed to shaping the online courses to share their experiences. 

She shared a case study of their success in including indigenous women and youth in a participatory budgeting project Hildago, a village in Mexico. Once traditionally excluded from decision-making processes, the project surfaced innovative ideas by women and children including a reforestation project and public spaces for families, an additional impact is that the village saw the election of its first-ever female delegate. When women and youth are included in participation, ideas tend to respond to community needs that may be blind spots in decision-making spaces dominated by men.

What they did differently is that they ensured inclusion was prioritized from the design stage including doing outreach specifically to target girls and mothers, especially at schools, being sensitive to existing gender norms and sensitivities in the community, and having women lead and manage the program.

We also had Nyasha Frank Mpahlo from Green Governance Trust Zimbabwe, the winner of the best action plan award in the first cohort of the Climate Democracy Accelerator, sharing the challenges of including youth in Zimbabwe and their strategies to tackle this issue.

Their project ran in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, in response to the devastation brought on by Cyclone Idai which destroyed much of the village and its landscape, and left marginalized communities vulnerable to climate impacts. The most affected in the village were youth. There were limited avenues for youth to get involved in decision-making processes as they were excluded from leadership positions, and as such there was no youth representation in policy formulation and implementation. 

To overcome this challenge, Green Governance used the innovative technique of legislative theatre to build a bridge between youth and policymakers and bring them together in the same space. It allowed community members to express their needs and for policymakers to understand the impact of climate policy on people on the ground. This also resulted in youths participating in parliamentary consultation processes and directly influencing policy through parliamentary submissions for the first time

3. Governments hold the key to including marginalized communities in participation

Our next speaker was Miren Martiarena Barkaiztegi, the Director of Open Government of the Basque Country, who shared the challenges they faced in managing a society that is at the same time aging and digitilizing. Namely, the need to bridge the digital divide so that elders can access services and resources online.

The solution implemented was inter-administrative cooperation with citizens including civil society groups that focused not only on the elderly but also on women, youth, children, ethnic minorities, and from different municipalities. A commission for the elderly of the Basque Country in the civil dialogue table was also established so that elders could share more about their needs and co-create projects to serve them,

4. International organizations and foundations are charting the path to supporting inclusion on a larger scale

Through a focused discussion between three of our panelists: Blair Glencourse, Co-CEO of the Accountability Lab; Elisa Peter, Director of Civitates; and Enrique Bravo-Escobar, Senior Program Officer at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) we honed in on the ecosystem of inclusive practices.

From his work with Accountability Lab, Blair shared a major learning experience, which is that trust is foundational to building inclusive democracy and governance. He talked about how there is so much suspicion of these processes as 

“many of them have been extractive in the past… Collectively as organizations that are trying to gather inputs take the information and don’t create feedback loops that are needed to more meaningfully engage people over time”. 

Accountability Lab creates these feedback loops through Civic Action Teams – groups of communities that gather information and work with power holders to solve problems. This continued engagement (while making it fun through music, film and more) has been pivotal to trust-building.

Blair also shared the three major levels of intervention in the system to make processes more inclusive: local, national, and international, highlighting the key role that OGP plays in allowing civil society to coordinate with and across governments and institutions to advance inclusive practices. One important way that OGP is doing this is with the Open Gov Challenge.

He also highlighted the need to make connections with broader movements and the importance of prioritizing the measurement of the engagement of inclusive practices.

Elisa Peter then shared learnings from Civitates, the grant-making organization, that the biggest threats to democracy and inclusion are systemic failures including socio-economic inequalities, exclusion, deteriorating electoral integrity and more. Civitates overcomes this through building bridges with organizations and coalitions that address these root causes with an intersectional lens.

 To support chance at a large scale, Elisa argues that we need to recognize that closed democratic space is a root cause of closed civic space shows; inclusion is intrinsically political – power and resources need to be redistributed to the most marginalized communities so that they can lead inclusive democracy programs (with Multitudes Foundation being one of the leading organizations supporting this); and the importance of providing long-term unrestricted support to civil society – as inclusion is a long-term goal, not something that can be achieved in one or two grant cycles.

Lastly, Enrique Bravo-Escobar re-emphasizes the problem of the decline of democracy globally, including the rise of authoritarianism, the decline of the trust of citizens, and the opportunity for citizen engagement, participation, and deliberation to rebuild trust and stronger democratic systems. This is the main point of intervention that NED seeks to make, with the belief that to make democracy stronger, it needs to be inclusive, but donors aren’t necessarily prioritizing this as illustrated by an illustration he shares.

“When the house is on fire, we don’t want inclusivity to be seen as the empty cardboard boxes that are inside in case we need them one day”

To do this, from a donor perspective, Enrique believes we need to tell better stories; find multipliers to shift practices of larger institutions that are implementing governance approaches that can be more inclusive and influence multiple levels, such as the World Bank; and find windows of opportunity and engage willing counterparts in governance, which is a gap in Global South contexts.

Next steps:

Catch up on the event

  1. Watch the webinar recording (and interpretations in Spanish, Portuguese, and French)

  2. Read the slide deck






Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good