Democracy is about more than just formal institutions. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Narayan Adhikari is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Accountability Lab
Living in the U.S. for the past six months has been a thrilling experience for me. I have lived in a social entrepreneurship-themed group house, traveled to different cities, gone hiking at Sky Meadows Park, attended events/conferences, and made countless friends. I also interacted with local Nepalese communities and enjoyed festivals and happy hours. Although living in Washington DC has proven itself quite expensive compared to Kathmandu, I have been able to live within my means as a fellow. DC is a very lively and cultural city, and I appreciate that there is always so much going on. After living here for six months I am amazed by the many things I haven’t yet discovered.
Working directly with my friends and colleagues at my host organization, Accountability Lab, in DC, and being a part of the OpenGov Hub (OGH) has been remarkable. OGH, a community of independent organizations working the transparency field, is a great place for collaboration, networking, and learning. As a Think Tank LINKS fellow, I have had access to valuable opportunities and space to expand my knowledge. The monthly webinars and meetings with CIPE and Atlas Corps fellows were especially rewarding and really added value to our learning experience.
While it is always hard to focus on one experience when you have so many things to talk about, I am focusing on my experience with democracy. My quest for knowledge about the true meaning of democracy continued until I was not able to find a solid answer within myself. Often, in countries where democracy is in transition or a far off hope, citizens have difficulty understanding it and are often confused about the difference between democracy in theory and democracy in daily living.
My question was very simple: I wanted to see how people from developed nations like the U.S. live their daily lives in a democratic society without being abstract or theoretical. In theory, democracy is about human rights, freedom of information, freedom of association, and the rule of law. Although what it is written in textbooks and literature is true, all of these concepts cannot exist without smaller fundamental elements of society associated with culture, values, and norms at the individual level.