Although nightlife, hugging, and even seeing grandparents dried up during pandemic lockdowns, democracy, of course, never went away. Though for a political system defined as “control of an organization or group by the majority of its members,” getting those members together to deliberate and communicate is key. Now the world is slowly beginning to open back up, and the International Republican Institute, IRI, is using its convening power to get people back together—in real life. This is a slow process, since of course much of the world, even parts of the U.S., are not yet living in a post-COVID world.

For IRI, signs of re-opening, of group activities and meetings are cropping up around the globe.  And as much of IRI’s work involves this straightforward, but important, task–getting disparate people, with differing ideologies but similar interests together– this is good news.

In Ukraine this June, the European Democracy Youth Network, or EDYN, held its first in-person strategic session since the beginning of the pandemic. People from EDYN’s Ukraine chapter gathered in-person just outside Kyiv after a year and a half of exclusively online communication. Topics of discussion ranged from network-building to EDYN’s national and global work.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, IRI trained ten journalists on proper sourcing and safety protocols, including ways to protect one’s sources and oneself. The training wrapped up with a simulation, testing participants’ security awareness and use of sources, who were played by IRI staff. 

Also in June, as Mongolians went to the polls, and IRI partner ran the country’s first-ever election observation team led entirely by people with disabilities, or PWD. The Parent Teacher Association of Mongolia trained 20 PWD community members to serve as election observers. The trained PWDs monitored 50 polling stations on Election Day.

In Ecuador, IRI worked with Wayusa Participativa to organize a discussion on the social and economic impacts of COVID and the challenges inherited from the previous government. Panelists offered their perspectives on how the impacts of COVID have led people to doubt whether the government can manage a successful economic recovery.

IRI has been providing a series of policy development and communications workshops in Tunisia to help democratic-minded political parties develop and promote citizen-responsive policies that address challenges related to the pandemic and Tunisia’s democratic transition. IRI is supporting established, independent, as well as nascent groups from across the political spectrum to help build a stronger and more citizen-responsive political system since the 2011 Arab Spring.

In North Macedonia, IRI brought together 23 parties spanning the country’s entire political spectrum to a  training session on new legal requirements for financial transparency and citizens’ right to access public information. Parties which ordinarily do not work together sat around a table and learned together, all part of IRI’s effort to help parties become more responsive and accountable to their constituents.

And in Sri Lanka, the Emerging Leaders Academy met to talk about youth-led responses to the pandemic. Several Members of Parliament joined the conversation, which also explored how underserved communities such as PWD, women, fishery and tea plantation communities, and migrant workers are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. 

These meetings, gatherings and discussions are a core part of IRI’s work. Time and time again, those who have participated in IRI’s programs have said that gathering and exchanging ideas is a vital part of the work of building democracies

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