Statement on the 20th Anniversary of the founding of the World Movement for Democracy

February 6, 2019

Twenty years ago, 400 of democrats from nearly 80 countries gathered at the inaugural Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy in New Delhi, India, to rejoice in the wave of democratization that had swept the world in the second part of the century. The Assembly was the first step to celebrate the diversity of transitions, movements, and activists that made this moment a reality and to take the next leap forward. With hope and optimism, we founded the World Movement for Democracy believing that “the continued durability and dynamism of democracy globally requires a worldwide community of democrats . . . who are united by shared democratic values and a commitment to mutual support and solidarity.”

Despite not knowing what the future would hold for the world at large, our founders understood the fragility of transitioning democracies and the potential of democratic backsliding in countries where democracy had long taken hold. The World Movement was designed to be responsive and flexible to emerging challenges our network has faced over the years. Supporting the development of regional networks, such as the African Democracy Forum, the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, and the Asia Democracy Network, among others, helped coordinate campaigns for regional and global solidarity in support of shared democratic norms and human rights.

As regimes became more inventive with their strategies to shrink democratic space, we launched the Defending Civil Society initiative in 2007 to develop multifaceted strategies to push back against these restrictions imposed on civil society. When governments became more brazen with their attacks on civil society, we launched the Set Them Free campaign to draw the international community’s attention to imprisoned activists and advocate for their release. And as a new generation joined the fight, we launched the World Youth Movement for Democracy and the Hurford Youth Fellowship, to empower these future leaders.

At this inflection point, we look ahead and ask how democratic values and institutions will evolve in the next twenty years. How can we nurture emerging and new voices for democracy while keeping current democratic forces strong? How can we build more responsive and trusted political institutions? Will technological advances like the nascent artificial intelligence develop into a positive or negative force in the fight against resurgent authoritarianism? Can established democracies return to the forefront of the international liberal order while finding new inspiration from today’s emerging democracies? Finally, how should the World Movement evolve to help our network better navigate these emerging challenges?

We believe that whatever future challenges we face, strong civil society will be essential in defending democratic institutions. Technology, business, our environment – these are all neutral forces, easily manipulated by good or bad actors. Civil society is the conscience of each country – one that authoritarians may attempt to silence, but stubborn in our determination to fight for the dignity and rights of citizens. In the age of historic levels of distrust in liberal democratic values, fueled by malicious disinformation campaigns, civil society voices need to be heard and trusted.

The World Movement is working on facilitating partnerships between civil society and influencers – religious leaders, leaders of political society, public intellectuals, and artists – who can bridge societies’ social cleavages and wear down entrenched cynicism. Successful overtures will provide much-needed allies as civil society is facing increased crackdowns and marginalization. In addition to partnerships, we will develop resources assisting democrats who are interested in running for elected office or working in an appointed position for the government. By bringing their expertise and reputation to legislative institutions, civil society can be instrumental in fighting entrenched corruption and enacting democratic reforms. To learn more about our activities, read our annual letter to our network.

Today, just like twenty years ago, “a great task” awaits us. Our twenty-year experience taught us that we sometimes triumph, sometimes despair – but we will also learn from our mistakes, rebuild, and support each other along the way.

So we ask you, how do we prepare for the biggest threats to democracy in the coming years? And more importantly, how can the World Movement help you navigate those challenges? Fill out our survey here.


In solidarity,
Zainab Hawa Bangura
Chairperson, World Movement for Democracy