“Let us now begin a major effort to secure the best -- a crusade for freedom that will engage the faith and fortitude of the next generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny.” These words by President Ronald Reagan in a 1982 speech before the British Parliament were the inspiration that led to the establishment of IRI.
In his historic speech, President Reagan set America on a course of assisting those who wanted freedom and democracy around the world. Quoting the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he stated “we must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings.”
Congress responded to President Reagan’s call in 1983 when it created the National Endowment for Democracy to support aspiring democrats worldwide. Four nonprofit, nonpartisan democracy institutes were formed to carry out this work – IRI, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Center for International Private Enterprise and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity.
In its infancy, IRI focused on planting the seeds of democracy in Latin America. Since the end of the Cold War, IRI has broadened its reach to support democracy and freedom around the globe. IRI has conducted programs in more than 100 countries.
IRI’s board of directors is chaired by U.S. Senator John McCain and includes former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Constance Berry Newman, former Presidential Envoy to Sudan Richard S. Williamson, former Chairman of the Republican Party Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, and individuals from the private sector with backgrounds in international relations, business and government.
IRI’s president, Lorne W. Craner, assumed leadership on August 2, 2004. From 2001 to 2004, Craner served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Craner previously served as IRI's president from 1995 to 2001, during which he led IRI to new levels of achievement.