Does ‘democracy aid’ really promote democracy?


Does democracy assistance really help advance democracy? And, if so, what forms of aid are most effective?

Employing the Varieties of Democracy Index, and OECD/DAC aid data from all donors since 2002, “I find that, while overall ‘democracy aid’ appears to promote democracy, the positive effect is associated with aid targeted towards governance-related issues,” analyst Yoonbin Ha writes in Does ‘Democracy Aid’ Promote Democracy? What Works and What Does Not. “Conversely, aid provided to support election and democratic institutions, which involve the embedding of norms, are not yielding the desired results.” RTWT

But “traditional tools” of democracy assistance, such as programs designed to promote civic awareness and engagement, “remain useful components of the toolbox,” research in Cambodia suggests.

Human Rights Watch

Despite the difficulties of working in autocratic environments and the broader challenges democracy faces globally—democracy promotion is still both possible and beneficial in electoral authoritarian regimes, according to Oren Samet and Susan D. Hyde of the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation Future of Democracy initiative.

When carried out effectively, its ability to foster a more engaged and informed citizenry does not necessarily come at the expense of a public blind to the autocratic nature of its government or the need for democratic change. This represents a potentially hopeful sign for policymakers and practitioners, they assert.

In a 2021 speech, USAID Administrator Samantha Power highlighted the need to “reinvent” the playbook on democracy promotion globally, Samet and Hyde add in Political Violence at a Glance. But while a rethink is certainly in order given worldwide shifts, traditional tools, including programs designed to promote civic awareness and engagement, remain useful components of the toolbox.

A new paper from International IDEA – Summit for Democracy Cohorts: Advancing Democracy through Collaboration – gives an overview of the purpose, work and outputs of the Summit for Democracy’s 16 Democracy Cohorts.

Democracy … and its opposites.

This year’s Lund Critical Debate at Cornell University’s Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies features Thomas Garrett of the Community of Democracies and Damon Wilson of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on democratic backsliding, strategies for resilience, and the conditions and practices that undermine democracy. RSVP

Mon, Apr 24, 2023. 5 PM – 7:30 PM EDT (GMT-4) Add to Calendar

Credit: NDI

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