*Scott Warren is a Fellow at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, focusing on building pro-democracy coalitions in the US, and around the world. Otto Saki, is a global program officer with the Ford Foundation focusing on civic engagement and government, and writes in his individual capacity.
The Biden Administration recently held its second “Summit for Democracy,” bringing together governments, civil society leaders, and the private sector in late March in an attempt to demonstrate how democratic governance can deliver for citizens across the world. Alongside co-hosts of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Zambia, the United States attempted to broaden the first iteration of the Summit, held in December 2021, by elevating country-specific commitments, and subsequent progress, on issues like election integrity and combatting transparency. The Summit also aimed to foster collaboration with civil society through thematic cohorts on issues like youth political engagement and combating the closure of civic space.
At a time in which the concept of democracy around the world is at a precipice moment, the energy behind the initiative is welcomed. At the same time, the Summit received some criticism for its lack of focus and the challenge of determining which countries were actually invited, with concerns of potentially dubious invitations.
As a grantmaker and practitioner in the democracy space, our objective in this piece is not to add to the criticism of the Summit itself, which has arguably provided needed momentum and energy into the democracy field. We believe, at a moment in time in which alternative government forms are gaining traction, that the Summit has served as a useful, necessary catalyst in spurring a conversation on the importance of democracy as a system of government that is best at guaranteeing freedom and rights for individuals. At the same time, itt goes without saying that general summits, whether they be the UN General Assembly Meetings or other global convenings, as stand-alone events are insufficient to stem the democratic regression tide. Too much energy should not be spent from governments and civil society alike, on a singular event……