Democracy, Rights and Governance

FY2016 Funding Recommendation:  
$3.153 billion


Funding History


       President's FY2016 Request   

       InterAction's FY2016 Recommendation


 Key Facts

  • In 2014, more than 60 laws in 35 countries have been proposed or enacted that restrict the space for civil society.

  • Only 40 percent of the world's population live in the countries designated as "free."

“Poverty is underpinned by poor and undemocratic governance, weak and corrupt institutions, and entrenched power dynamics that lead to political and economic exclusion.  Poverty is perpetuated when governments are unable to manage conflict, natural disasters or economic shocks that roll back development gains.  Sustainable approaches to address poverty therefore require improvements in DRG to develop responsive government institutions capable of providing basic services and fostering inclusive economic growth.” 

— USAID Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, June 2013.

While the number of elected democracies has risen from approximately 35 in 1970 to 125 in 2015,1 many countries face challenges consolidating democratic practices and are vulnerable to having development gains reversed due to weak governance institutions, lack of rule of law, corruption and inequality. Several countries maintain the outward appearance of democracy through elections; meanwhile, their leaders restrict freedoms of association and expression, thereby closing the space for an independent civil society. Governments are increasingly imposing more legal restrictions and administrative hurdles for both domestic and international organizations to operate. In addition, there are growing efforts to limit access to information and independent media, and to label and criminalize rights defenders as foreign agents.

Government investments in DRG expand the space for a vibrant civil society and independent media; strengthen political and government institutions to be responsive to citizens’ needs; promote transparency and accountability; strengthen the rule of law; foster equitable economic growth; promote tolerance and inclusiveness; protect human and labor rights; and support free and fair elections.

However, as the need for more DRG programming has increased in recent years, U.S. government resources to support such programs has declined. In FY2014, the President requested $2.98 billion and Congress appropriated $2.85 billion for democracy programs; but actual spending on all such programming was only $2.087 billion - 27% less than Congress desired. Increased funding for DRG programs is required to address backsliding on democracy programming, consolidate gains from economic development efforts, and contribute to a more stable and prosperous world. 

Within its total DRG funding recommendation, InterAction has specific funding recommendations for DRG programs for four accounts:

Development Assistance:  $546.291 million

Development Assistance funds help further USAID’s goal of promoting resilient, democratic societies as part of its longer term development programs. DRG assistance supports new and fragile democracies, in particular, to develop policies and practices to build effective, transparent, and accountable governments that can deliver political and socioeconomic benefits to their citizens. For example:

  • To enable citizens to access vital information, programs support the use of radio and face-to-face interactions to share information about Ebola in urban and hard-to-reach rural areas in Liberia to dispel myths, reduce stigma, and educate citizens on ways to prevent the spread of the disease.
  • To develop a culture of civic engagement, more than 10,000 Cambodian youth aged 13-27 participate in civic and governance education programs, and 2,500 youth leaders engage in community development initiatives that help their local communities.
  • To support and defend the freedoms of association, assembly, expression, and information, as well as other human rights necessary for the functioning of a vibrant civil society worldwide, programs provide technical assistance to help in-country partners enhance their capacity on civil society law and to undertake research on cutting-edge legal issues that affect civil society. 
  • To enhance women’s inclusion in the political process in Kenya, USAID funds a leadership and mentoring training (LMT) program to help women strengthen their leadership capacity including:  helping 96 female aspirants to highlight their qualifications and platforms, resulting in 45 women being nominated by their parties and nine being elected to office (2013 election); training 136 women on leadership and campaign skills (2017 election); and working with the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA) to provide mentorship and support to newly elected women leaders and aspiring women in politics. 

We support the President’s proposed large increase in DA funding, particularly to reinstate DRG programming in Africa, to support free and fair elections, protect freedom of association, promote economic growth and the rule of law, and enhance citizen participation. 

Economic Support Funds:  $1.868 billion

Economic Support Funds (ESF) further the Department of State’s and USAID’s goal of helping countries meet short- and long-term political and economic needs so that they are able to transition to developed economies. Programs address the economic despair and lack of political participation that violent extremist groups exploit among youth, the unemployed, and marginalized members of society. DRG assistance empowers citizens to ensure broad-based participation; strengthens the rule of law; mitigates conflict; promotes respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and fosters economic growth. For example: 

  • To support Moroccan civil society in advocating for implementing mechanisms and legislation necessary to bring to life guarantees made by the new Moroccan constitution of 2011 on gender parity and the right to initiate legislation.
  • To engage youth who are disaffected and disconnected from the political system in Jordan, 7,500 students in 20 universities participated in an extracurricular program entitled Ana Usharek (I participate). Through forums and debates, youth openly discuss democratic practices and current events while learning about the basic principles of democracy, human rights, political parties, and elections. Graduates of this program have gone on to launch social advocacy campaigns and forge connections for youth to play an informed role in Jordan’s political and decision-making processes.

We support the President’s proposed large increase in ESF DRG funding, particularly to help address the alienation of youth and the unemployed who are targeted by violent extremism, increase rule of law, strengthen civil society, and promote economic growth.

National Endowment for Democracy:  $150 million

As a nonprofit grant-making organization, the NED supports the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions – political parties, trade unions, and business organizations – and civil society. Its nongovernmental stature enables it to support democracy and rights work in some of the world’s most difficult environments, both through its four core institutes and with direct funding to local organizations. Examples include:

  • To improve access to justice for vulnerable rural populations in Turkmenistan, the establishment of Legal Aid Centers that provide hotline and in-person pro bono legal consultations to women and men of all ages on civil and family law issues and help them to acquire social benefits, be awarded child support and custody, file domestic violence charges, understand workers’ rights, and start their own businesses.
  • To reduce corruption in Thailand, a partnership with the Institute of Directors (IOD) in Thailand developed an anti-bribery initiative in which businesses pledge not to pay or accept bribes. The initiative, known as the Private Sector Collective Action Coalition Against Corruption, works with member businesses to assist them in instituting the necessary policies, procedures, monitoring, and compliance mechanisms to enable them to enforce their anti-bribery stance across their operations.

Increased funding for the NED would support strengthening democratic institutions around the world, particularly in Africa, and programs that enable organizations such as the Darfur Bar Association to build its capacity to file communications before the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights, shedding light on persistent human rights violations committed in Darfur. 

Democracy Fund:  $150 million

Through the Democracy Fund, the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance are able to support cross-cutting programs to support democracy activists worldwide, minimize human rights abuses, open political space, and bring positive transnational change. For example: 

  • To improve workplace safety conditions, programs in Bangladesh educate and empower thousands of garment workers in factories to have a collective voice with management on occupational, safety, and health issues, and on the enforcement of minimum work and pay standards in accordance with Bangladeshi law and international standards.
  • To enhance civilian protection in eastern DRC, a program which partners with local governments to develop and operate an early warning system alerts authorities to potential threats or outbreaks of violence in volatile locations. Information collected through this system is disseminated to assistance providers (military, police, MONUSCO), who then coordinate a targeted response to reduce the incidence and impact of violence against civilians. 
  • To provide timely emergency assistance (funds for legal and medical costs, security infrastructure, and temporary relocation), programs have helped approximately 600 at-risk human rights defenders and civil society organizations annually, three-fourths of whom report they are able to return to human rights work and withstand pressures from repressive governments and non-state actors.  

Increased funding for the Democracy Fund would enable rapid response to changing political situations and human rights abuses, and support regional approaches to migration and trafficking in persons.

Success Story:

Fighting Corruption by Partnering with the Private Sector

More than any other issue, corruption has repeatedly delegitimized successive governments in Thailand over the past decade. If the cycle of political instability that has dogged Thailand during this period is to be stopped, substantial and sustainable progress must be achieved in the fight against corruption. Leaders in the Thai business community decided to tackle the “supply side” of corruption with private sector led reforms and initiatives, and the resulting collective action effort is having considerable impact.

Twenty-seven Thai CEOs at the November 2010 signing of the Collective Action Coalition pledge to fight corruption in Thailand, on the eve of the 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference. Photo courtesy of CIPE.

Since 2010, using NED funds, CIPE has partnered with the Institute of Directors (IOD) in Thailand to develop an anti-bribery initiative in which businesses pledge not to pay or accept bribes. The initiative, known as the Private Sector Collective Action Coalition Against Corruption, works with member businesses to assist them in instituting the necessary policies, procedures, monitoring, and compliance mechanisms to enable them to enforce their anti-bribery stance across their operations.

Most significantly, a company must submit to an external evaluation and certification process that verifies whether it is actually doing what it promised to do. By verifying that companies live up to their anti-corruption promises, this collective action initiative is one of the most robust and comprehensive private sector anti-corruption efforts in the world.

Originally starting with only two dozen companies, this coalition has grown to include over 400 businesses that have adopted all of the required elements of the initiative or are working towards fulfilling them. Those 400 businesses represent approximately 20 percent of the entire Thai Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employ more than one million employees, and include the largest and most prominent domestic and multinational companies in the country.


Discarding Democracy: Return to the Iron Fist, Freedom in the World 2015 Report, Freedom House, 2015.

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