Democracy and Civil Society:
The United Nations Democracy Fund
The United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) supports projects that strengthen the voice of 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 500 projects in some 150 countries. In the Seventh Round of Funding, half of the new projects were in the area of rule of law, reflecting this as an increasing UN priority. 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 exist in developing countries, in societies in transition and in challenging environments. Projects are in six main areas:
- Tools for democratization
- Rule of law and human rights
- Community development
In 2012, UNDEF received over 3,000 project proposals. Grants average around USD 225,000, and applications are subject to a highly rigorous and competitive selection process. The Fund depends entirely on voluntary contributions from Member States. So far, it has been supported by over 40 Governments, who have contributed a cumulative amount of more than 145 million dollars. The biggest donors are the United States and India.
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
Democracy in Action I: Freedom Messengers take the stage in Jordan
UNDEF funds a project to empower Jordanian artists and journalists to act as "Freedom Messengers" -- catalysts and networkers for free speech and media. The project, focused on people under 35 and implemented by the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists in Jordan, held a public event at Amman's Royal Cultural Center in June featuring street theatre, rap music, short films and more, performed by artists in the Freedom Messengers Network.
Democracy in Action II: Holding Governorate Councils accountable in Iraq
An UNDEF-funded project in Iraq has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with six Governorate Councils as part of an effort to strengthen civil society participation in democratic processes and advance accountability in Government institutions.
The project, active in the Governorates of Baghdad, Babil, Karkuk, Najaf, Basrah and Karbala, works to make communities more aware of their rights to participation and basic services, as well as evaluate the performance of Governorate Councils to address citizens’ needs.Implemented by the Um-Alyateem Foundation, the project will train Governorate Councils in good governance and transparency, public policy and communication. A network of more than 20 civil society organizations will attend Governorate Council sessions regularly to monitor their performance. The results will be disseminated through a website and public reports.
Democracy in Action III: A Youth Parliament in Tajikistan
An UNDEF-financed project works to build confidence in democracy among Tajik youth near the Afghan border by creating a Youth Parliament. The project produces plans and implements practical activities through a small grants mechanism to meet the needs of disenfranchised youth from ethnic minorities in the Kuhistoni Badakshon province. Youth Parliament members share plans with Government, advocate changes in government policy and monitor implementation. A recent youth parliament meeting in the city of Khorog was dedicated to building photography and video skills as a tool to empower youth, addressing topics such as youth issues, healthy lifestyle and environmental protection. The project is implemented by the Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia.
Democracy in Action IV: Women take a public stand in Paraguay
UNDEF funds a project in Paraguay to strengthen women’s grassroots organizations, train women in leadership and political processes, and enable them to interact with government. Implemented by Sociedad de Estudios Rurales y Cultura Popular, the project also broadcasts radio programmes to give women experience in public speaking; holds forums to bring women together with political candidates and elected officials; engages local governments to hold participatory budget meetings and public hearings about plans and performance; and holds workshops with local officials on gender in local development.
Democracy in Action V: Developing democracy through community radio in Cameroon
An UNDEF-funded project in Cameroon works to promote a culture of democratic practices among young people, and to transform community radio into an effective tool towards this end. It gives rural, marginalized people an opportunity to make their voices heard and to participate in discussions, decisions and actions that affect their collective well-being. Implemented by Change Communications, a local civil society group, the project held training seminars for journalists in July 2013 on how to use radio specifically to advance democratic and civic awareness in rural communities. Establishing consistent programming of this type as a matter of best practice, and ensuring increasingly wide participation, is expected to build a sustainable model for democratic participation.
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