For a majority of the world’s people, the dream of living under a liberal, democratic government that is accountable to its citizens and respectful of their freedom and physical integrity is a distant one. This is particularly true in the developing world, where endemic poverty, illiteracy, ethnic conflict, economic inequality, as well as legacies of colonial domination and military tutelage, pose serious obstacles to getting and keeping democratic government. Given the difficulty of democratic transition and the frequency of democratic breakdown in the developing world, one might be tempted to think that efforts to bring democracy to the world’s poor are wasted. And yet, in countries such as India, Indonesia, and Senegal, democracy has survived and thrived despite seemingly insurmountable challenges. The Ash Center’s Initiative on Democracy in Hard Places aims to foster social science research on democratic experiments—both successful and failed—throughout the developing world to learn how democracy can be built and maintained in a variety of terrains. And, through engagement with policymakers, practitioners, and activists, it aims to translate that research into action.
The program is directed by Tarek Masoud, Professor of Public Policy and Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations. Its two main activities are (1) a speaker series that brings to campus distinguished scholars and practitioners to analyze the conditions, institutions, and behaviors that enable democracy to survey in hard places, and (2) a fellowship program that brings to the Ash Center a carefully selected group of practitioners and scholars from around the world to participate in collaborative research on how to establish democracy and strengthen it in the face of challenges.