The future of democracy feels uncertain. Surveys by the Pew Research Center on global attitudes towards democracy have in recent years revealed a disjuncture between still-high levels of public support for democracy across the globe and deep popular disappointment with the functioning of democracy and systems of political representation. Since the inception of the Democracy Index in 2006 the progressive deterioration in the practice of democracy in the most developed democracies has been highlighted. According to Larry Diamond, a renowned democracy scholar, “we have been going through a democracy recession”.
Where problems emerge, solutions tend to follow, often prototyped by social entrepreneurs before governments themselves. Across Europe, as in the rest of the world, there are innovative social entrepreneurs and change leaders working in the field of democracy. Their efforts are actively bridging social divides, fighting apathy and strengthening civil liberties. Social entrepreneurs are key players in addressing these challenges as they are in the business of questioning current social dynamics, envisioning ways forward and directly pursuing their desired future in innovative ways. Yet, many of them experience the same hurdles, work in silos and often compete for attention and resources. Their results are therefore often limited and cannot reach their full potential of systemic impact.
In partnership with The Weaving Lab, Ashoka Europe has embarked on a mission to bring together Europe's leading social entrepreneurs and change leaders within the Democracy European ecosystem, in order to collectively accelerate and amplify systemic impact. Ashoka, through its Learning & Action Centre, had already explored different solutions from Ashoka Fellows within the democracy landscape in Europe and analysed the trends and common challenges among these successful strategies. Building on this work, we decided to move one step further: to design and deliver a learning journey through which we would co-create the enabling conditions for collective action initiatives that increase systemic impact.
The first phase pilot
Initially scheduled for summer 2020 was a face-to-face gathering of key stakeholders across the European democracy ecosystem. But 2020 took a different direction to life as many of us know it - a global pandemic and a shift to how we work, travel and live. A contingency plan emerged - a learning journey that would take place online and sow the seeds for collaboration. Would that hinder our goal? No one could know for certain - and yet, faced with that uncertainty, a small team came together to design a collective learning journey to explore the potential for collaboration and build the conditions needed to support it.
The initiative was structured into four online gatherings of three hours each. In the first session we created a space for deep connection and trust among the whole group of participants as the essential foundation to effective collaboration. At the same time, we continued to build a space for collective learning to create a shared understanding of problems in democracy in Europe and the system dynamics that are contributing to that problem. This also helped to start building a common understanding around democracy and collaborative system change. The second session supported the exploration of collective vision for the future of democracy and the critical systems shifts needed to get there. In the third session we explored the critical shifts in more depth through collective thought experiments and strategies on how those shifts could be addressed. In the fourth and final session we spent some time in reflection on the process, as well as on the potential and the willingness to make the collective strategies a reality. We closed with next steps to plan and design together a second phase of the journey.
We are currently designing phase 2 of the process based on the learnings from the previous phase. If you are interested in learning more, getting involved, partnering or funding the initiative please reach out to Giulia Sergi.