New Report Shows that the Roots of Democracy Are Deepening

January 6, 2015

John Coonrod, Executive Vice President, The Hunger Project

Click to download the report. Courtesy: The Hunger Project

Click to download the report. Courtesy: The Hunger Project

The Hunger Project, in partnership with the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), recently launched the 2014 State of Participatory Democracy Report. You may be wondering – why is a group called “The Hunger Project” working so hard for participatory local democracy? There are two reasons: first, because we believe it is absolutely critical for ending hunger, and second, because it is not getting enough attention.

People are hungry when they are denied the political power to improve their own lives. And the first place they have to gain that power is in local government.  The issues that really matter in people’s daily lives – water, sanitation, primary health care, primary education, year-round access to affordable nutrition food, basic safety and social justices – must all be resolved locally. Ensuring such services is never simply an administrative matter, rather an exercise in ensuring human rights.

Central governments can have big programs and mobilize big resources, but as the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on said in their 2013 report on the post-2015 agenda: “local authorities form a vital bridge between national governments, communities and citizens.” And, that bridge has long been washed out.

Courtesy: The Hunger Project

Courtesy: The Hunger Project

Throughout 2014, The Hunger Project, in partnership with UNDEF, consulted with pioneering civil society organizations and other stakeholders that have invested decades in shifting their countries’ policies towards greater citizen engagement and local democracy. This included areas where democracy is most fragile in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans and Central Asia – and of the first time – Middle East and North Africa, Arab countries and Western Asia.

These discussions and a widely implemented survey culminated in the 2014 report, which ranks 52 countries on five key dimensions of participatory democracy: active citizenry, political decentralization, administrative decentralization, fiscal decentralization and multi-sectoral planning.

Photo: Paul Voorthuis - The Hunger Project

Photo: Paul Voorthuis – The Hunger Project

The main lesson of the report is that in many countries where national-level democracy and respect for human rights may be fragile, the roots of democratic values are being deepened through people’s engagement in local democracy. This expansion of participatory local democracy has yielded improvement of public services and inclusion of an active civil society in the formation of new laws.

In the 17,000 villages where The Hunger Project operates, we work to repair the bridge between local and central governments – to forge a strong partnership between people and their local government. One year from today the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be final. And we will work with many others to ensure that the final SDGs will empower women and men around the world to have local governments that work.

Download the report.