#Ourstories: Make democracy great again: 30 young activists across the world are now trained Democracy Defenders

In a time when democracy is in danger all over the world, the need for dedicated defenders is crucial. The Citizen OS Foundation, an Estonian civic-tech nonprofit organization, launched a ten-month development program titled Democracy Defenders Accelerator. This program aims to equip and empower civil society activists worldwide, amplifying their impact to inspire collective action against the tide of democratic decline.

In this hands-on program, participants earned how to design and deliver civic engagement projects and practice participatory leadership skills — through both the running of real-life projects and working on project ideas. The entire ten-month learning process was supported by mentors and facilitators.

The topics of the projects concerned women’s rights, accessibility to public transportation for disabled people, climate change and media education, among other topics. 88 people from 27 countries applied to the Democracy Defenders Accelerator program, 44 participants were chosen from 20 countries and 30 activists completed the program. This was a demanding training program as it required participants to attend 20 online sessions.

Additionally, a bootcamp was organized in March 2023 in rural Estonia which brought together  participants from Afghanistan, Albania, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Mexico, Montenegro, the Philippines, Romania and the Netherlands. During the Bootcamp, participants learned about Estonia’s e-democracy and civil society development and exchanged ideas and practices in order to support the development of their local democracies.

So what did the participants gain from the Democracy Defenders Accelerator program?

First, it changed their perception of democracy.

“Participants indicated that their imagination was piqued in terms of what democracy can become. This change occurred during the program when participants were encouraged to question facts and norms. For example, people not being born equal is not a fact but a norm. Democratic systems being vulnerable to misinformation is not a fact but a norm. Norms can be changed,” explained Sara Sinha, the Coordinator of the Democracy Defenders Accelerator.

The participants expressed that complex and “wicked” problems became less daunting because the program taught to break them into smaller problems in a systematic way. Additionally, the participants learnt critical thinking and also to tackle projects in phases and plan achievable steps.

“Often, the impact of a project is not visible for years and sometimes not even in the participants’ lifetimes. This can be very demotivating for the project team, who are often balancing advocacy efforts with work, studies or caring for family members. Therefore, the program helped the participants to set achievable milestones that still allowed them to work creatively towards the impact, by using tools such as the Theory of Change,” explained Sinha.

As a result of the ten-month program, the participants together with Citizen OS initiated the Democracy Defenders Network – a participatory network for Citizen OS partners, alumni and like-minded activists to increase the capacity of civil society leaders and improve international cooperation. The network is open for activists and organizations to exchange knowledge and coordinate initiatives together. Read more about the network here.

The Democracy Defenders Accelerator project is financed by the Citizen OS Foundation and the Active Citizens Fund, which is mediated in Estonia by the Open Estonia Foundation in cooperation with the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations (NENO).

Photos: Meelika Hirmo, Citizen OS

Citizen OS – Empowering Change & Defending Democracy

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This article is part of the #OurStories campaign. The campaign looks at the vast variety of inspirational stories of projects and connections made possible through the EEA and Norway Grants. We will be sharing these stories on this website through articles and videos published on social media and Youtube. More importantly, #OurStories is a platform for the thousands of project participants who have in one way or the other been involved in projects made possible by the EEA and Norway Grants. 

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