9 Ways USAID Improves Democracy, Human Rights & Governance

Efforts to ensure freedom, dignity and inclusion around the world underpin USAID’s ability to make sustainable progress


By empowering people to speak openly and without fear about their future, by partnering with governments to deliver what their people need, by promoting fairness and justice for all, and including everyone, even those who have been pushed to the margins, we can unleash the enormous potential of communities around the world to expand the reach of freedom and human dignity.

In the map above (larger map view here) and in the text below are nine photos that capture the essence of how USAID partners with local change makers who are leading the way toward a more just, open and democratic future. These are winners and finalists of the 2017 USAID Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Photo Contest, part of the #WeThePossible campaign. Photos were submitted by implementing partners and USAID field missions.

Nir Keidar, Peres Center for Peace and Innovation (first place winner)

1. Empowering Women Through Peacebuilding

During the school year, 300 Israeli and Palestinian girls from across Israel and the West Bank played soccer in Kiryat Gat, Israel on 30 mixed teams, each representing a different country of the world, as part of a girls empowerment and peace-building program supported by USAID. At the end of the school year, they came together again at the “Mini Mondial” — a day of sport and peace-building activities modeled on the World Cup. The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation has implemented this USAID-supported girls program for six years as a part of the broader Twinned Peace Sports Schools program, which has reached over 20,000 participants in 15 years. As gender stereotypes often discourage girls and women from entering social and professional fields, the program has two main aims: to empower young women to gain confidence and become leaders, and to break down cultural barriers through the international language of sport.

Global Communities West Bank and Gaza (second place winner)

2. Developing Youth Leaders

A Palestinian boy stands in front of his campaign poster encouraging his peers to elect him to a position on his Youth Local Council in Hebron, West Bank. Since 2012, USAID’s partner Global Communities has promoted youth involvement in democracy and local governance through these councils — voluntary bodies composed of Palestinian youth from 15 to 20 years old. The youth are elected by their peers to positions mirroring their local government and receive training to prepare them to operate out of their own offices there. The Youth Local Councils promote youth participation in public life through a platform for representation and voicing youth concerns in their local governments, channels for active civic and social participation in their communities, and the chance to learn firsthand about democratic good governance. Now, 20 of these councils are giving young people a voice throughout the West Bank.

Chandy Mao, Development Innovations, DAI Global LLC (third place winner)

3. Training Videographers for Development

A proud 7-year-old boy gets ready to be interviewed by two video trainees in a school in Kandal Province, Cambodia, in February. The growth of the internet and social media usage in Cambodia has opened up a whole new platform for video storytelling, and the demand for video production skills in Cambodia has skyrocketed in the past three years. USAID’s Development Innovations project, implemented by DAI, has trained 267 Cambodians through three-day beginner video production courses in their native language Khmer. Trainees have produced more than 135 videos. The goal is to nurture a more tech-savvy, connected civil society that can better promote citizen engagement and accountability.

Solidarity Center (finalist)

4. Promoting Labor Rights as Human Rights

Four years after the deadly Rana Plaza building collapse killed more than 1,100 garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the Solidarity Center is training ready-made garment workers in individual and workplace safety. Through the Fire and Building Safety course, supported by the U.S. Department of Labor, garment workers, union leaders and factory management learn about fire and building safety codes and preventative measures, and practice steps to take in an emergency. Garment workers also take part in hands-on training with fire extinguishers. USAID supports the Solidarity Center to improve workers’ rights through seven autonomous labor union federations.

Bendu Nimley, USAID (finalist)

5. Fostering Political Leadership and Civic Participation

A newly registered voter displays her voter card outside of a registration center in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, Liberia, in February. USAID is supporting Liberia’s National Elections Commission’s efforts to hold credible, legitimate, and transparent presidential and legislative elections on October 10, 2017. USAID is also promoting a 14-month women’s leadership program to train and mentor women with leadership and political ambitions. USAID’s partner, National Democratic Institute, held a bootcamp with 146 women to teach them skills and strategies needed to navigate politics as voters, policy activists, campaign workers and political candidates. Additionally, 32 local organizations are mobilizing women, youth, persons with disabilities, and rural populations to participate in the electoral process.

UN Women (finalist)

6. Creating Safe Cities Free of Sexual Harassment

In this photo, children at a community center in Ezzbet El Haggana in Cairo, Egypt sang and role-played on how to stop harassment and abuse as part of a campaign on ending violence against women. Through the USAID-supported UN Women’s Safe Cities project, more than 200 men, women and youth agents of change are leading transformative activities such as interactive theater and discussion forums in schools and other settings to promote respectful gender relationships, gender equality, and safety in public spaces. Little by little, these advocates are creating an Egypt that says no to sexual harassment. ​

IFES (finalist)

7. Supporting Transparent and Inclusive Elections

In June, young artists decorated a university campus for a National Voters Day celebration organized in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In partnership with The International Foundation for Electoral Systems, the USAID project’s goal is to share international election standards, principles and best practices. USAID is also identifying and assessing vulnerabilities in the country’s electoral system, and providing technical assistance to the Electoral Commission to independently manage the electoral process as the 2020 national elections approach. USAID promotes the inclusion of women, persons with disabilities, and other minorities in the electoral process.

Dan Spealman, Aga Khan Foundation (finalist)

8. Enabling Citizen Participation in Free and Fair Elections

Kenya has achieved many democratic milestones — such as the inclusive reform process that birthed a new constitution in 2010 and a free and peaceful election on March 4, 2013. This image captures citizens queuing at the polls to vote on election day at Junju Primary School in Kilifi County. In the leadup to the Aug. 8 general election for president, his deputy, and members of Parliament, USAID is supporting Kenyan efforts toward peaceful, credible, and inclusive elections. As a core element of this assistance, USAID promotes the participation of women, youth and persons with disabilities in the political process, sponsors domestic observation activities, and fosters conflict mitigation.

Lucas Veuve, Handicap International (finalist)

9. Helping to Instill Hope for the Future

This image captures Nirmala, 8, and Khendo, 7, with Handicap International physical therapists Jay Narayan Yadav and Sudan Rimal at a rehabilitation center in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2015. Supported through USAID’s Leahy War Victims Fund, Nirmala and Khendo were fitted with prosthetic limbs and received rehabilitation care from Handicap International. The project provides physical rehabilitation services for victims of conflict and other people with disabilities. Six organizations fit patients with custom-made prosthetic limbs, orthotic devices and wheelchairs. They also provide counselors for patients’ emotional recovery, discussing livelihood options and vocational training opportunities — instilling them with hope for their futures.

About the Author

Jessica Benton Cooney is the Communications Specialist for USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.



Jessica Benton Cooney
U.S. Agency for International Development

Jessica Benton Cooney is the Senior Communications and Outreach Specialist for USAID’s Center for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.