NEW STRATEGY FOR DIPD
This photo was taken at a Constitution Day meeting outside Copenhagen in June 2014, with the then Social Democratic Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, as the keynote speaker. Here she is seen with a delegation of politicians from Bhutan. DIPD engagement with Bhutan started in 2012 with a focus on women in politics and support for civil society. A few years later the political parties were included.
Readers should know that I used to be the first Director of the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD) 2011-16. In that position, together with the Board, I was responsible for the development of the first strategies for the institute. Commenting on the new DIPD 2021-25 strategy might therefore be considered a sensitive matter by some. “Former directors should be quiet!” I am often told. But my intention is to contribute to a much-needed critical debate about the role of democracy support institutions in our part of the world, in Denmark, at a time when all the indexes we use to monitor developments over time show that we are moving in the wrong direction – in countries all over the world.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE NEW WEBSITE
But let me start in a different corner and on a congratulatory note. I picked up the new strategy on the new DIPD website, and this is truly a major step forward. As the first director, together with my team I struggled to find a format that was easy to manage and maintain, and we were never satisfied with the result. To be frank and honest, this did not improve after I left! So, I was thrilled when I opened the website in early 2021 and noted the change. Mind you, I am not an expert in the art of developing websites, but the structure works for me. I can easily get an overview about the vision and mission of DIPD; the news items are easy to find; activities in the 20 partner countries are well organized; I can quickly find information about the activities of all the political parties; and it is also easy to get access to the publications. Keep it up!
Download the strategy here: DIPD Strategy 2021-2025
THE RIGHT TIME FOR A NEW STRATEGY
Strategic thinking and positioning are important for all organizations. This is an ‘instrument’ where the understanding or analysis of the world meets values and ideals, and in this process the organization can find ways of prioritizing available resources and focus on areas and issues where you can make a difference. Personally, I have always been critical of the belief that organizations need a new strategy every other year, or every time there is a new chairperson or a new director. A good and solid strategy takes a lot of time and a lot of engagement by many different interested parties – board members, staff members, parties here and there, experts at home and abroad, and many more. The strategy therefore also needs plenty of time to be tested in the real world of real programmes and partnerships before a new strategy is called for.
DIPD was formally established in May 2010, and the practical work of building the institution started in January 2011. This is now 10 years ago, and as correctly stated in the new strategy, the global environment for support for democracy has changed dramatically. In January 2011, the Arab Spring gave hope to millions of people in the Middle East and Northern Africa. In January 2021, right-wing extremists in the US, encouraged by outgoing President Trump, tried to deal with a democratic election in the manner that we usually associate with authoritarian regimes in the global South.
This dramatic change is a good enough reason to develop a new strategy. Harvesting the lessons learned over a ten-year period is another good argument and basis for a new strategy. The assumptions made at the very start in 2010 need to be tested and adjusted. The approaches and methods chosen must be assessed. New ideas are needed to keep the momentum.
Therefore, this seems to be both a good and a right time for a new strategy. And I think it is well presented – an easy read, to the point. First, we learn about the basis, then follows brief sections about vision and mission, principles, goals, results, and finally how to achieve the goals. For a former director, it all makes sense.
Photo taken on a visit to Nepal in the early years of DIPD, together with Ulla Tørnæs from the Liberal Party, former Minister for Development Cooperation. At the time of the visit, she was a member of Parliament and a strong supporter of the work of DIPD on gender equality and the role of women in politics. This was also the key issue in her many meetings with representatives of the political parties in Nepal – in this case a meeting with the Nepali Congress Party. DIDP started work in Nepal in 2011, and the work continues.
IS LONG-TERM PARTNERSHIPS A NEW IDEA?
The results and the learnings from the first 10 years seem to be well covered in the new strategy. This does not mean that I agree with every statement made, and I would like to mention one issue which is close to my heart. In the presentation on the website, the following is stated:
“A key element in DIPD’s new strategy is moving from more short-term project work to long-term partnerships. The partnership approach means that each partnership formulates its own focus and sets its goals within DIPD’s strategy. The partnership approach is a qualitative boost for DIPD’s work.”
I am delighted that it is being stated so forcefully that DIPD prefers long-term rather than short-term engagements; and that DIPD believes in partnerships rather than traditional stand-alone projects. However, this is nothing new. If you read through the background material produced in Parliament before the law was approved in 2010, you will find plenty of advice pointing to the need for a long-term approach and lots of patience, as well as working in close partnership with your partners. This was the line of thinking of Thomas Carothers from Carnegie, who was consulted as one of the foremost thinkers on the role of political party and democracy support.
This thinking was repeated in the first documents produced in the early years of the institute, building on the thinking of Thomas Carothers and the experiences from the broader development environment with 50 years of experience. Remember, the idea of partnership for development was adopted by most development organizations in the late 80s and early 90s. The need to take a long-term perspective (10 years rather than three-year funding-cycle) was also a lesson learned.
This does not mean that it has always worked like this for DIPD. There are plenty of examples of partnerships without the depth and intimacy required, and without the time needed. Sometimes because of circumstances beyond the control of DIPD and the parties involved (like when the military returned to power in Egypt), and sometimes because of disagreements among the parties. But there are also plenty of examples that document how long-term partnerships have been the approach: The Conservative Party working in Tanzania; the Social Democrats working in eSwatini (Swaziland); several parties engaging in Ghana; and the activities in both Nepal and Bhutan, where partnerships have been established and developed since 2012.
THE CREDIBILITY CHALLENGE IS SERIOUS
The strategy correctly points to the present concern for the future of democracy, both in old and new democracies – including in Denmark. The following is stated in the strategy:
“Denmark also faces challenges when it comes to trust in politicians and the media, public involvement in representative democracy as well as gender equality in the parties, but we are standing on solid ground. With our 170 years of democratic history and with important democratic experience anchored in the political parties – new and old – DIPD can offer inspiration, ideas and support for political parties, movements and other actors on the world stage who contribute to develop democracy. By supporting the development of democratic political parties and a democratic culture, we support the development of democracy.”
I agree that Denmark is in a much better position than other countries or ‘democracies’ in the Western hemisphere, where several of the basic institutions of democracy are struggling to withstand the threat from populist and authoritarian forces. Fortunately, Denmark is far from being in that position. But I would like to suggest that we should be less satisfied with our own achievements and present situation than we tend to be. Whether we like it or not, the global democracy support community (including organizations supporting political parties) is in dire straits. Because of the downward trends documented by various democracy indexes, and because of recent developments in a country like the US, the credibility of our community is at an all-time low. This impacts on Denmark and DIPD as well, although this may be unfair. We should therefore, be much more honest and up-front with the situation in our own democracy – and we should discuss what we intend to do about it. A few examples:
Is it good enough to have reached the 40 percent level of women in parliament, after more than 100 years of hard work? I think not! Why not try something different, like quotas. This has proven to be effective in developing countries. Why not link financial support for the political parties with their efforts to promote and support women in politics much more effectively than is the case today?
Is it good enough for the total number of members of political parties represented in Parliament only barely reaching the number of members of just one of the largest NGO’s in Denmark? I think not! Why not try new ways of encouraging the Danes to see a political party as an opportunity to be able to influence future policies, ways that are successfully being used by NGO’s.
Is it good enough for Danish democracy to have an extremely lax system of rules and regulations regarding political party funding compared to many of the countries we normally compare ourselves with, like Norway and Sweden? I think not! The truth is that there is no way the Danish voter can see, clearly and transparently, which individuals, private companies, or NGO’s a political party is getting financial support from. Why not?
We need to consider what we can do to strengthen and, in some cases, even consider repairing our own democracy, while we continue to work with partners in other countries to share experiences and ideas for inspiration. Leading by example may be an old-fashioned method, but it works.
Delegations from many DIPD partners came to Copenhagen in 2015 to participate in the 100 year celebrations of the right to vote given to women in the 1915 Constitution. The photo above shows the delegation of politicians from Bhutan. The photo below shows politicians from Nepal, Tanzania, Kenya and Zimbabwe dancing through the streets of Copenhagen, before they all convened outside Christiansborg, as the Danish parliament is called.
A GLOBAL DEMOCRACY SUMMIT?
This was also an underlying thinking in a recent Carnegie Connects program called “Can America Still Promote Democracy Abroad?”. The starting point was the proposal from President Biden to convene a Global Summit for Democracy during his first year to “strengthen our democratic institutions, honestly confront the challenge of nations that are backsliding, and forge a common agenda to address threats to our common values.”
Some argue that such a US-hosted summit is too unwieldy; too complicated, especially regarding who to invite; or, in view of the United States’ own democracy deficit, not credible. Others believe that if properly structured, such a summit might help address that deficit and develop a new blueprint for US global engagement on democracy.
American friends from the democracy community I have been talking to in recent days believe that this is the way to move forward; they even suggest that organizations like the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute (organizations that have the same mandate as DIPD has in Denmark) should set up separate departments or at least some programs to deal with democracy deficits and challenges in the US. While this seems a good idea on paper, it is not likely to be a realistic option in the present political environment. My friends also believe that a summit with participants coming from different corners of the world could be useful for the US itself; contrary to most other democracy summits in the past that have tended to lecture non-Western countries about the blissfulness of Western democracy.
Personally, I am not so convinced that a democracy summit in 2021 is the right way to approach the messy condition of global democracy. I would suggest that it might be useful to take a long-term approach, starting with smaller and focused thematic seminars in different parts of the world, convened in a truly partnership fashion, and involving not only political parties, but think tanks, unions, churches, women’s organizations, and civil society broadly speaking.
As stated in the strategy, Denmark stands on solid ground to contribute to this. But it may be wise, considering the need to move forward in difficult and confrontational times, to add something to our own self-understanding: that we recognize the need to do more and better at home than we are presently doing.