This month’s Summit for Democracy provided an opportunity for leaders of government, civil society, the private sector, and philanthropy to reaffirm and reinvent how democracy delivers.
Timely issues from the Summit, including the role of technology, journalism and the informal economy, were explored in greater depth in the Free Enterprise & Democracy Network (FEDN) event, “Priorities for Democracy that Delivers: Voices from Emerging Markets,” hosted by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) on December 14. The panel discussion brought together FEDN members Jorge Botti from Venezuela, Cynthia Gabriel from Malaysia, and Claudia Umaña Araujo from El Salvador.
Andrew Wilson, Executive Director of CIPE, set the tone by asking “how do we translate lofty ideals into hard work? And how do we combine the ingredients of democracy into the right recipe?”
With more than 60 members in 40 different countries, FEDN works to answer these questions by bringing together private sector leaders and advocates of economic freedom across the world to exchange ideas. In a statement prepared for the event, the FEDN Secretariat said: “The starting point for action is to help people understand, especially young people, how democracy enables them to have a better way of life. Making the case for democracy will include explaining how the rule of law matters to individual well-being and economic prosperity, and how democracy offers more sustainable, more inclusive, and more legitimate solutions than do authoritarian and illiberal approaches.”
Wilson went on to quote CIPE Chair Greg Lebedev, who spoke at a National Endowment for Democracy event on “Rebuilding Democratic Momentum”: “It’s not enough to discuss democracy as a lofty, aspirational concept, rather, we should take the hard path of implementing less elegant but more important ingredients of democracy. Rule of law, accountable public governance, citizen engagement, political participation, gender equality and a common concern for ethical conduct and environmental stewardship.”
The theme of implementing democratic practices continued throughout the panel, with panelists emphasizing the importance of democratic institutions and the interconnection of the three Summit themes: defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights.
“The first step you have to take into account is that we have a real problem; we are not dealing with just another dictatorship,” said Botti. “The normal life of people has been moving in a different direction than what the political world has been moving. We have great challenges in front of us, technology, the fourth industrial revolution…how can we build another connection with the reality that is going on with the people? How can democracy deliver a better life for them?”
The disconnection between lofty ideals of democracy and connection with constituents continued to be discussed by Gabriel, who said “One element that I think we are completely missing here is what is it that really matters to people, especially those that languish in poverty? It’s the bread-and-butter issues. It’s about jobs, it’s about surviving. It’s about ensuring there is food on the table on a day-to-day basis.” She asserted that though democratic ideals are important, there has been a disconnect between ideals and the needs of people. To empower the people, she recommended centering economic rights within democratic freedoms in order to connect bread-and-butter issues with ideals of human rights.
The theme of implementing democratic practices was woven through the FEDN conference
The empowerment of marginalized groups and actors within the informal economy was also emphasized by Umaña Araujo, who said “we need to let the youth, the women in all of these countries know that there are opportunities here.” She emphasized the difficulty of economic participation within the private sector in arenas with unstable rule of law. It takes significant effort for businesses to operate in an economy with constantly changing rules. Social progress requires more consistent and fair business practices.
To improve trust, Gabriel also recommended expanded data collection, open data mechanisms and compliance policies, and building better linkages between the public and private sectors around data collection and regulation. She also emphasized the importance of investigative journalism in “holding power to account” and enhancing democratic freedom through forcing change.
“The key word is trust, we must trust democracy, its institutions, that people are defending it, and we must work collaboratively,” said Umaña Araujo.
As we look to strengthen democratic institutions and recommit ourselves to CIPE’s mission of resilient economies and democracies, FEDN continues to build on that trust and engage in collective action.