The role citizens play in transforming societies during significant, critical junctures, are analyzed, debated, and studied years later and accordingly, have a coveted space in the annals of history. When historians think back on the COVID-19 pandemic, they will surely include an assessment of the impact of human behavior on mitigating and/or worsening the spread of the virus.

No recommendations from international organizations, nor government policies would be effective if we did not confront prevention measures or mitigation protocols. Yet did societies and peoples in all parts of the world react in the same way to the pandemic? The answer is no, and for various reasons. One vital factor is trust. Societies that trust their institutions and elected officials are better equipped to respond to crises and more likely to comply with measures imposed by the government.

Consider countries whose governments have been suspected of fabricating COVID-19 infection statistics or managing vaccine rollout in arbitrary ways. What value does the word of authorities hold for these societies? What reason do citizens have to follow rules they see their own governments breaking? Governments are responsible for promoting trust and one way to achieve this is through transparent policies. Moreover, complying with government rules and protocols should not be limited to times of crisis. Faced with an unpopular political decision, citizens must take initiative and step out of their comfort zones to drive necessary change. In Argentina, for example, it was civil society that demanded schools reopen, pressuring the government to overturn their decision.

It is therefore important for citizens to have the necessary tools, skills, and spaces for political action. At the International Republican Institute (IRI), we support an open dialogue initiative recognizing and emphasizing the needs of citizens in fostering participation processes. We bring civic actors together to engage in dialogue with diverse political leaders and voices. We connect civil society organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean with others around the world to provide opportunities to share experiences, best practices, and lessons learned in order to amplify their collective capacity for impact.

Citizens are an integral part in finding solutions to issues and policies that affect their societies at the local, regional, and national levels. Whether they are protagonists or not depends as much on them as it does on the governments and organizations that support efforts at strengthening democratic governance practices

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