Democracy and Civil Society:
The United Nations Democracy Fund
The United Nations Democracy Fund supports projects that strengthen civil society, promote human rights, and encourage the participation of all groups in democratic processes. It is the only UN entity that has the word “democracy” in its name; the only UN body with the primary purpose of supporting democracy through empowering civil society; and one of the youngest entities in the UN system.
Since Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan created UNDEF as a UN General Trust Fund in 2005, it has funded close to 400 projects in some 150 countries. Around 70 more projects will be funded by the end of the 2012 cycle, bringing total disbursement to some US$ 125 million. The large majority of funds go to local civil society groups. In this way, UNDEF plays a new and unique role, complementing the UN's traditional work with governments to strengthen democratic governance around the world. It targets the demand side of democracy, rather than the supply side.
UNDEF projects are implemented in developing countries, in societies in transition and in challenging environments. Projects are in six main areas:
- Community development
- Rule of law and human rights
- Tools for democratization
Grants average around US$ 225,000, and applications are subject to a highly rigorous and competitive selection process. In 2011, UNDEF received more than 2,800 project proposals. The Fund depends entirely on voluntary contributions from Member States. So far, it has been supported by 40 Governments, who have contributed a cumulative amount of more than US$ 130 million dollars.
UNDEF is committed to transparency and knowledge-sharing. External evaluations of completed projects are available on the UNDEF website.
The following are some examples of UNDEF projects around the world:
Democracy in Action
Building integrity in public administration in Egypt
An UNDEF-funded initiative works to support transparency and integrity in the administrative apparatus of Egypt's ministries of interior, housing, health, social solidarity, education and justice. It trains employees on the UN Convention Against Corruption, holding workshops and roundtables with journalists and lawyers, producing an annual report on the principles and status of transparency in Egypt. It also works to establish a hotline for complaints on corruption and provision of legal advice to women, shanty town dwellers, street children, and persons with special needs. The project is implemented by the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists.
Advancing village-level governance by rural women in China
An UNDEF-funded project in rural China works to empower marginalized women in areas where patriarchal values are still dominant. The initiative engages rural women in village-level governance and helps raise their awareness of democratic participation; seeks to mobilize them to participate in village elections; strengthens their decision-making skills; and trains them to monitor public affairs at the village level. The project has formed a task force to support women’s participation in several provinces and held extensive training sessions. The project is implemented by Women’s Watch China, a local NGO. It is one of three projects funded by UNDEF in China.
Strengthening indigenous people's democratic participation in Russia
In the Russian Federation, UNDEF funds a project to strengthen democratic participation of indigenous peoples in decision-making processes. Implemented by the Centre for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North, the initiative focuses on the regions of Kamchatka and Yakutia. It aims to create better-functioning legal relationships between indigenous peoples, business and the state through the elaboration of draft legislation, a code of conduct and a manual, while informing indigenous peoples of their civic rights and guiding them through the process of democratic decision-making. With vast natural resources and a thriving extractive industry, Russia’s northern regions are also home to vast numbers of indigenous peoples striving to maintain their livelihoods and traditional way of life.
Empowering Somaliland's youth and women
In Somaliland, Somalia, UNDEF funds two projects -- one focusing on youth, the other on women. One works to establish young voters’ leagues for civic education, mobilize young voters, and strengthen collaboration between the government and youth civil society organizations. The other empowers women engaged in traditional livelihoods of shepherding and market trading. The projects are implemented by the Somaliland National Youth Organization and the Women's Integrated Network.
Training human rights defenders in Latin America
UNDEF funds a regional project in Latin America to train justice professionals in advocacy litigation before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Implemented by the Human Rights Centre of the Law School at the University of Chile, the project offers training, procedural manuals and ongoing support to justice professionals, and enables them to act as Inter-American defenders on behalf of those without access to legal representation.
For more information: