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Democracy in Action: Building Public Trust and Boosting Civic Engagement

From helping institutions reduce corruption to supporting content creators as they promote civic engagement, democracy assistance today can take many forms.

Democracies around the world are contending with a rise in populism, polarization, and economic inequality, which fuel discontent and disengagement among citizens. In Europe, leaders and civic movements across the continent are gaining newfound momentum for Euro-Atlantic integration. South American institutions battle for executive and judicial authority, and citizens in Africa see their elected officials usurped by military rule.

Amid these larger geo-political trends, the U.S. Government—led in large part by USAID—is doubling down on investments to support the resilience of democracy worldwide. Democracy assistance today is working to address the intersecting problems of corruption, social and economic grievances, and other issues exploited by authoritarian and populist leaders to seize power and discredit democratic governments and institutions.

Dexis supports the local leadership of civil society organizations, democratic institutions, and other on-the-ground actors in Europe and Latin America as they develop, test, and scale up creative frontline approaches to push back against corruption threatening to erode democratic progress.

Through the USAID-funded Armenia Integrity Project (AIP), Dexis is employing a comprehensive approach to address corruption by partnering with key institutional and regulatory bodies as well as civic groups. By combining top-down and bottom-up approaches, through government counterparts and local actors voicing public demands, AIP is supporting Armenia’s call to curb corruption.

In addition, the USAID-funded Justice and Transparency Project in Guatemala focuses on supporting justice and security institutions to reduce corruption and impunity, which has directly increased access to and improved the quality of justice services for millions of Guatemalans.

Dexis also implements USAID’s Central Europe Program Rule of Law Activity (CEP ROLA) initiative, helping strengthen civil society and watchdog networks to deliver on citizen demands for increased transparency and rule of law across Hungary, Poland, and Bulgaria. In partnership with the Hertie School and leading watchdog organizations, CEP ROLA is helping citizens across the region find new ways to advocate for their rights and hold their local and national governments accountable.

In media environments with active disinformation campaigns, many citizens become disengaged from politics or disenchanted with political institutions. However, harnessing the creative sector (e.g., music and the arts) to engage the public has shown promise in reaching new audiences, particularly youth. In Europe and elsewhere, artists and rule of law advocates have found common cause as the creative sector fears repercussions for artistic expression if they operate outside of the political mainstream.

Woman explaining in front of camera

Content creators can quickly attract thousands of viewers and encourage thoughtful discussion about civic engagement.

The CEP ROLA program is also supporting a grassroots initiative of content creators to produce engaging rule of law education materials in cooperation with top artists and activists. Using visually appealing artwork accompanied by thought-provoking and often humorous statements on social media, this initiative shows how creative content can quickly attract thousands of viewers and encourage thoughtful discussion of the rule of law and civic engagement.

Foreign assistance is rapidly evolving to address the intersecting global and regional challenges of democracy building today. When citizens feel issues and interventions are too politicized and have little immediate bearing in their daily lives, it is incumbent for democracy champions to translate higher level concerns into practical outcomes and benefits for all. By supporting creative local responses that strengthen the core pillars of resilient societies–democratic institutions, civil society, and independent media–democracies can flourish despite the mounting pressures against them.

Andrew Sinclair is the Senior Advisor for Dexis’ Center for Global Security and Stabilization, leading strategy and thought leadership across Dexis’ security and foreign assistance portfolios.