Dialogue for Democracy
The extreme violence and institutional instability arising in Iraq following the US invasion and subsequent collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime in 2003 has necessitated the development of democratic institutions and processes able to confront these challenges. Additionally, because the conflict in Iraq is developing along religious and sectarian lines, it is necessary to build the capacity of Iraqi leaders to initiate participatory processes that bring tangible results while also bridging ethnic and religious divides.
Towards this end, Partners for Democratic Change, with support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), and Bechtel, and in partnership with Women for Women International (WfWI), launched a year-long program in 2005 to train 25 Iraqi civil society leaders from diverse backgrounds in community change and mobilization methodologies. The training and subsequent small grants program built on the existing skills, knowledge, and experience of Iraqi community leaders to further develop facilitation and collaboration skills that can be used to rebuild Iraq.
Two training sessions organized by Partners in Jordan for Iraqi participants focused on negotiation, effective communication, cooperative planning, and project development skills. The 25 participants – chosen for their leadership experience, open-mindedness, and geographic and religious diversity – in turn applied these skills to address pressing issues in their communities. Portions of each training session were allocated to assist trainees in developing project plans in preparation for small grants which were available to participants.
The primary purpose of the small grants was to realize tangible results in communities, moving beyond training for training’s sake. Developing these projects gave participants practical experience writing grant proposals and managing development projects. Because many trainees had never designed a program before, Partners worked closely with the participants and their civil society organizations to modify or further develop the proposals.
Partners required that the small grant projects utilize the skills learned during the training program and involve diverse sectors of the local population in solving pressing issues, despite limited time and money. In total, Partners funded 10 small grant projects. Some project highlights:
- The Bethnahrain Free Women’s Union developed a program to increase the rights of the disabled in Iraqi society. Based on their efforts, Kirkuk regional authorities agreed to raise the minimum wage for the disabled in the district. The project encouraged collaboration between non-governmental organizations, health and government officials, and disability rights advocates. After facilitating meetings between these representatives, the Bethnahrain Free Women’s Union assisted with the development and implementation of an action plan to address issues of importance to the disabled, resulting in the new wage policy.
- The Kurdish Economic Development Organization (KEDO) pulled together a joint government/NGO committee to address the availability and quality of social services in Al-Sulaymania. KEDO initially distributed a survey to area residents and organizations to assess the quality of social services. Following completion of the survey, the results were analyzed and summarized in a report and distributed to local government, NGO, community, and local service department representatives. The committee was a result of the discussions among these different parties.
- The Independent Iraqi Women’s Organization (IIWO) received funding from several sources to contract Iraqi artists to produce pieces of art addressing social and political issues in Iraq. The art was specifically designed to encourage tolerance and unity between religious sects and ethnicities within Iraq. IIWO used Partners’ small grant funds to organize several open forums involving mixed Sunni and Shiite groups at which these pieces of art were used to open discussions about sectarian violence and tolerance.
During a lessons learned conference at the end of the program, participants assembled to assess their experience and evaluate the results of the trainings and small grants. Discussions during the meeting focused on success, failures, and possible next steps. Some participants stressed the need to share resources when implementing a project. Others suggested looking beyond obvious partnerships and developing programs involving more diverse organizations. All praised the abundance of local talent and ability in Iraq waiting to be utilized in the future.
Compared to the immense challenges facing Iraq today, such a small project could only hope to have a limited impact. Nonetheless, the program made a significant contribution to democratization efforts already underway. Participants saw that the community change and mobilization model is a valuable tool that can help them in future efforts to develop their communities. The development of a democratic culture capable of addressing conflict will require much time and effort, but this program demonstrates that small scale projects can and will continue to increase the Iraqi population’s openness to democratic development processes – a necessary step towards a more free and stable Iraq.