National Endowment for Democracy

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National Endowment for Democracy
Logo non-governmental organization National Endowment for Democracy (NED)
FoundedNovember 18, 1983 (1983-11-18)
FounderCarl Gershman
Allen Weinstein[1]
Type501(c)(3) non-profit
OriginsU.S. Congress resolution H.R. 2915
Area served
Worldwide (outside United States)
Key people
Carl Gershman (President)
The President of the National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gershman (second from the left), presents an award to a Tunisian leader of the Arab Spring in November 2011.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is a non-governmental organization in the United States that was founded in 1983 for promoting democracy in other countries[2][3][4] by promoting democratic institutions such as political groups, trade unions, free markets and business groups.[5] NED is funded primarily by an annual allocation from the U.S. Congress.[4][6][5] The NED was created by The Democracy Program as a bipartisan, private, non-profit corporation, and in turn acts as a grant-making foundation.[2] In addition to its grants program, the NED also supports and houses the Journal of Democracy, the World Movement for Democracy, the International Forum for Democratic Studies, the Reagan–Fascell Fellowship Program, the Network of Democracy Research Institutes, and the Center for International Media Assistance.



A bill was introduced in April 1967 by Congressman Dante Fascell (D-FL) to create an institute of International Affairs. And although the bill did not pass it led to discussions on Capitol Hill to establish an institution in which democracy efforts abroad would benefit the U.S. as well as countries struggling for freedom and self- government.

In a 1982 speech at the Palace of Westminster, President Ronald Reagan proposed an initiative, before the British Parliament, "to foster the infrastructure of democracy—the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities."[7][8] This intersected with previously-formulated plans by the American Political Foundation, an NGO supported by some members of the Republican and Democratic parties, together with scholars based at CSIS, to create a government-funded but privately-run democracy promotion foundation to support democratic civil society groups and parties. The idea was strongly championed by the State Department, which argued that a non-governmental foundation would be able to support dissident groups and organizations in the Soviet Bloc, and also foster the emergence of democratic movements in US-allied dictatorships that were becoming unstable and in danger of experiencing leftist or radical revolutions, without provoking a diplomatic backlash against the US government. After some initial uncertainty over the idea from Reagan Administration hard-liners, the U.S. government, through USAID (United States Agency for International Development), contracted The American Political Foundation to study democracy promotion, which became known as "The Democracy Program."[9] The Program recommended the creation of a bipartisan, private, non-profit corporation to be known as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). NED, though non-governmental, would be funded primarily through annual appropriations from the U.S. government and subject to congressional oversight.[10] The functions of the Endowment given in the Democracy Program's Interim Report to Congress were to encourage and facilitate exchanges between democratic institutions through private sectors; promote nongovernmental participation in democratic training programs; strengthening democratic electoral processes abroad in cooperation with indigenous democratic forces; fostering cooperation between American private sector groups and those abroad "dedicated to the cultural values, institutions, and organizations of democratic pluralism.", and encouraging democratic development consistent with the interests of both the U.S and the other groups receiving assistance.

In 1983, the House Foreign Affairs Committee proposed legislation to provide initial funding of $31.3 million for NED as part of the State Department Authorization Act (H.R. 2915), because NED was in its beginning stages of development the appropriation was set at $18 million. Included in the legislation was $13.8 million for the Free Trade Union Institute, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, $2.5 million for an affiliate of the National Chamber Foundation, and $5 million each for two party institutes, which was later eliminated by a vote of 267–136. The conference report on H.R. 2915 was adopted by the House on November 17, 1983 and the Senate the following day. On November 18, 1983, articles of incorporation were filed in the District of Columbia to establish the National Endowment for Democracy as a nonprofit organization.[10]

1980s to present[edit]

An analysis by political scientist Sarah Bush found that while NED activity in the 1980s focused on direct challenges to autocrats by funding dissidents, opposition parties, and unions, the majority of 21st-century NED funding goes to technical programs that are less likely to challenge the status quo, with the proportion of NED funding for "relatively tame programs" increasing from roughly 20% of NED grants in 1986 to roughly 60% in 2009.[11] Political scientist Lindsey A. O'Rourke writes that, "Today, NED programs run in more than ninety countries. Although the number of US-backed democracy promotion programs have grown, most of today's programs pursue less aggressive objectives than their Cold War counterparts."[11]

The NED played a role in supporting the Arab Spring of 2011. For example, the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and individual Yemeni activist Entsar Qadhi received training and finances from the NED.[12][13] In Egypt, between 2008 and 2012, it also supported Colonel Omar Afifi Soliman, an exiled police officer who opposed both Hosni Mubarak's and Mohamed Morsi's presidencies, as well as secularist activist Esraa Abdel-Fatah's Egyptian Democratic Academy in 2011.[14]

Since 2004 it has granted US$8,758,300 to Uyghur groups including the World Uyghur Congress, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the Campaign for Uyghurs and The Uyghur Transitional Justice Database Project.[15] It has also supported Chinese dissidents. For example, between 2005 and 2012 it gave small grants to the China Free Press NGO[16] and in 2019 it gave about $643,000 to civil society programmes in Hong Kong.[17] In response, in 2020 China imposed sanctions on NED president Carl Gershman and Michael Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House.[18]

Funding and structure[edit]

NED is a grant-making foundation, distributing funds to private non-governmental organizations for promoting democracy abroad in around 90 countries. Half of NED's funding is allocated annually to four main U.S. organizations: the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS - associated with the AFL-CIO), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE -affiliated with the United States Chamber of Commerce), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI - associated with the Democratic Party (United States)), and the International Republican Institute (IRI, formerly known as the National Republican Institute for International Affairs and affiliated with the Republican Party (United States)).[19] The other half of NED's funding is awarded annually to hundreds of non-governmental organizations based abroad which apply for support.[20] In 2011, the Democratic and Republican Institutes channelled around $100 million a year through the NED.[12]

Source of funding[edit]

The NED receives an annual appropriation from the U.S. budget (it is included in the chapter of the Department of State budget destined for the U.S. Agency for International Development-USAID) and is subject to congressional oversight even as a non-governmental organization.[21]

From 1984 to 1990 the NED received $15–18 million of congressional funding annually, and $25–$30m from 1991 to 1993. At the time the funding came via the United States Information Agency. In 1993 the NED nearly lost its congressional funding, after the House of Representatives initially voted to abolish its funding. The funding (of $35 million, a rise from $30 million the year before) was only retained after a vigorous campaign by NED supporters.[22]

In the financial year to the end of September 2009 NED had an income of $135.5 million, nearly all of which came from U.S Government agencies.[21] In addition to government funding, the NED has received funding from foundations, such as the Smith Richardson Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and others. The Bradley Foundation supported the Journal of Democracy with $1.5 million during 1990–2008.[23]

In 2018, President Donald Trump proposed to slash the NED's funding and cut its links to the Democratic and Republican Institutes.[24][25]


NED's long-serving president (since April 30, 1984[26]) is Carl Gershman, former Senior Counselor to the United States Representative to the United Nations and former Executive Director of Social Democrats USA.[27][19]

Democracy Award[edit]

NED's Board of Directors annually gives a Democracy Award to recognize "the courageous and creative work of individuals and organizations that have advanced the cause of human rights and democracy around the world." The trophy is a small-scale replica of the Goddess of Democracy that was constructed during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.[28]

Notable recipients include: Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, former President of Mexico Vicente Fox, and journalist Veton Surroi.[29][30] Past speakers at the award's ceremony have included U.S. Senator John McCain, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.[31][32][33]


Year Theme Recipient Nationality Notes
2020 Working to strengthen civil society in Sudan Regional Centre for Development and Training  Sudan Group, trained hundreds of youth across of the country on democracy, activism, and local engagement[34]
Nuba Women for Education and Development Association Group, trained local women activists to engage in peace processes and activism on local issues and respect for women's rights[34]
Darfur Bar Association Group, supported marginalized people to advocate for their rights and provided legal assistance to vulnerable activists before and during the protests[34]
2019 Defenders of human and religious rights in China World Uyghur Congress  East Turkestan Group, represented by Dolkun Isa, advocating for democracy, human rights, and freedom for the Uyghur people and the use of peaceful, nonviolent, and democratic means to help Uyghurs achieve self-determination[35]
Tibet Action Institute  Tibet Group, represented by Lhadon Tethong, uses digital communication tools with strategic nonviolent action to strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of the Tibet movement in a digital era[35]
ChinaAid  China Group, represented by Bob Fu, international non-profit Christian human rights organization committed to promoting religious freedom and the rule of law in China[35]
2018 Movement for human rights and democracy in North Korea Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights  South Korea Seoul-based group advocating for human rights in North Korea.[36]
Now Action & Unity for Human Rights Group, led by Ji Seong-ho, advocating for human rights in North Korea and Korean reunification.[37]
Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) Seoul-based non-profit that documents evidence of crimes against humanity in North Korea.[38]
Unification Media Group (UMG) Seoul-based multimedia consortium that includes Daily NK, Radio Free Chosun, and Open North Korea Radio.[39]
2017 Anti-corruption activists Cynthia Gabriel  Malaysia Human rights advocate and anti-corruption leader in Malaysia.[40]
Khalil Parsa  Afghanistan Founder and executive director of Supporting Organization for Afghanistan Civil Society (SOACS); survivor of assassination attempt in 2016.[41]
Claudia Escobar  Guatemala Legal scholar, former magistrate of the Court of Appeals of Guatemala, and rule of law advocate; fled the country in 2015 after becoming a whistleblower in a corruption cases involving illegal political interference in the Guatemalan judiciary.[42]
Rafael Marques de Morais  Angola Angolan journalist and human rights activist focused on investigating government corruption, impunity, and abuses in the diamond industry.[43]
Denys Bihus  Ukraine Investigative journalist focused on corruption and anti-corruption.[44]
2015 Political prisoners of Venezuela  Venezuela Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, Lilian Tintori and Tamara Sujú accepted the award on behalf of "imprisoned political leaders, human rights defenders, labor unionists, and student activists."[45]
2014 Chinese dissidents Liu Xiaobo  China 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, human rights and political reform activist known for role in launching of Charter 08.[46]
Xu Zhiyong Legal scholar, co-founder of Open Constitution Initiative in China.[46]
2013 Youth pro-democracy activists Gulalai Ismail  Pakistan Human rights activist that established Aware Girls at the age of 16.[47]
Harold Cepero  Cuba One of the authors of Varela Project in Cuba. Award given posthumously.[47]
Vera Kichanova  Russia Reporter for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, civic activist, municipal deputy in Yuzhnoye Tushino District, Moscow.[47]
Glanis Changachirere  Zimbabwe Founder of Institute for Young Women's Development.[47]
2012 Burmese democracy movement Min Ko Naing  Myanmar Founding member of the 88 Generation Students Group.[48]
Hkun Htun Oo Politician and chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy.[48]
Kyaw Thu Actor and founder of the Free Funeral Service Society.[48]
Aung Din Former political prisoner and leader in the 1988 pro-democracy movement.[48]
Cynthia Maung Ethnic Karen physician and medical clinic worker.[48]
2002 Women activists in the Muslim world Mehrangiz Kar  Iran Human rights lawyer and activist.[49]
Muborak Tashpulatova  Uzbekistan Civics education activist, Tashkent Public Education Center director.[49]
Nadjet Bouda  Algeria Human rights activist focusing on the "disappeared" of the Algerian Civil War.[49]
Mariam Hussein Mohamed  Somalia Mogadishu-based human rights activist, founder and director of the Dr. Ismail Jumale Human Rights Organization.[49]

Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA)[edit]

In 2006, CIMA was founded as an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy with encouragement from Congress and a grant from the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.[50] CIMA promotes the work of independent media and journalists abroad, with a focus on the developing world, social media, digital media, and citizen journalism.[51] It issued its first report, Empowering Independent Media: U.S. Efforts to Foster Free and Independent Media Around the World, in 2008, and subsequently issued other reports, including a report on digital media in conflict-prone societies and a report on mobile phone use in Africa.[51]


Praise and criticism[edit]

Writing in Slate in 2004, Brendan I. Koerner wrote that, "Depending on whom you ask, the NED is either a nonprofit champion of liberty or an ideologically driven meddler in world affairs."[52]

NED has sometimes come under fire from both the right and the left.[53][54] Some on the right accuse the NED of having a pro-social democracy agenda, promoted through its labor affiliate; conversely, some on the left accuse the NED of being "a rightwing initiative" oriented toward Reagan's Cold War politics.[53] Within Latin America, critics accuse the NED of manifesting U.S. paternalism or imperialism,[53] conversely, "supporters say that it helps many groups with a social-democratic and liberal orientation across the world," providing training and support for pro-democracy groups that criticize the U.S.[53] In a 2004 article for the Washington Post, Michael McFaul argues that the NED is not an instrument of U.S. foreign policy; as an example of this, he states that the NED was willing to fund pro-democratic organizations even when the U.S. government was supportive of non-democratic governments in the region.[55] NED has said in public statements that democracy evolves "according to the needs and traditions of diverse political cultures" and does not necessitate an American-style model.[53]

In 1986, NED's President Carl Gershman said that the NED was created because "It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA. We saw that in the 1960's and that's why it has been discontinued".[56] Throughout the course of a 2010 investigation by ProPublica, Paul Steiger, the then editor in chief of the publication said that "those who spearheaded creation of NED have long acknowledged it was part of an effort to move from covert to overt efforts to foster democracy" and cited as evidence a 1991 interview in which then-NED president Allen Weinstein said, "A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA."[57] Critics have compared the NED's funding of Nicaraguan groups (pro-U.S. and conservative unions, political parties, student groups, business groups, and women's associations) in the 1980s and 1990s in Nicaragua to the previous CIA effort "to challenge and undermine" a left-wing government in Chile.[58] (Latin Americanist scholar William M. LeoGrande writes that the NED's roughly $2 million funding into Nicaragua between 1984 and 1988 was the "main source of overt assistance to the civic opposition," of which about half went to the anti-Sandinista newspaper La Prensa.[59]) According to sociologist William Robinson, NED funds during the Reagan years were "ultimately used for five overlapping pseudo-covert activities: leadership training for pro-American elites, promotion of pro-American educational systems and mass media, strengthening the 'institutions of democracy' by funding pro-American organizations in the target state, propaganda, and the development of transnational elite networks."[60] Critiquing these activities, Robinson wrote that "U.S. policymakers claim that they are interested in process (free and fair elections) and not outcome (the results of these elections); in reality, the principal concern is outcome."[60] Political scientist Lindsey A. O'Rourke writes that the Reagan-era NED played a key role in U.S. efforts "to promote democratic transitions in Chile, Haiti, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, and Suriname," but did so to promote the success of pro-U.S. parties, not just to promote democracy, and did not support communist or socialist opposition parties.[60]

In the 2020 Thai protests, pro-government groups cited NED support for protester-sympathizing groups to assert that the US government was masterminding the protests. The United States Embassy in Bangkok formally denied allegations of funding or supporting protesters.[61]

Reaction from foreign governments[edit]

Russian government officials and state media have frequently regarded the NED as hostile to their country.[62] In 2015, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti blamed NED grants for the Euromaidan mass protests that forced Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power.[62] In July 2015, the Russian government declared NED to be an "undesirable" NGO, making the endowment the first organization banned under the Russian undesirable organizations law signed two months earlier by Russian President Vladimir Putin.[62]

In 2019, the government of the People's Republic of China sanctioned the NED in response to the passage by the U.S. Congress of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.[63] The Chinese government stated that the NED and CIA worked in tandem to covertly foment the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests,[64][63] and that NED acted as a U.S. intelligence front.[63][65] NED was one of several U.S.-based NGOs sanctioned by the Chinese government; others included the Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute.[66][67] China also already tightly restricted the activities of foreign NGOs in China, particularly since 2016, and the NGOs sanctioned by China typically do not have offices on the mainland; as a result, the sanctions were regarded as mostly symbolic.[66] NED grant recipients in Hong Kong included labor advocacy and human rights groups such as the Solidarity Center and Justice Centre Hong Kong.[64] The Chinese government said that the sanctioned organizations were "anti-China" forces that "incite separatist activities for Hong Kong independence";[65] a U.S. State Department official said that "false accusations of foreign interference" against U.S.-based NGOs were "intended to distract from the legitimate concerns of Hongkongers."[67][68] Michael Pillsbury, a Hudson Institute foreign policy analyst and former Reagan administration official, stated that the Chinese accusation was "not totally false."[69][68]

In August 2020, NED chairman Carl Gershman was sanctioned – together with the heads of four other U.S.-based democracy and human rights organizations and six U.S. Republican lawmakers – by the Chinese government for supporting the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement in the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests. The leaders of the five organizations saw the sanctioning, whose details were unspecified, as a tit-for-tat measure in response to the earlier sanctioning by the U.S. of 11 Hong Kong officials. The latter step had in turn been a reaction to the enactment of the Hong Kong National Security Law at the end of June.[70] In December 2020 China sanctioned the senior director of the NED, John Knaus, saying he "blatantly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and grossly interferes in China’s domestic affairs".[71]

Other governments that have objected to NED activity include Egypt under Hosni Mubarak,[12] India under Narendra Modi,[72] and Bolivarian Venezuela.[63]

See also[edit]


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  3. ^ Richmond, Yale (2008). Practicing Public Diplomacy: A Cold War Odyssey. Berghahn Books. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-85745-013-5. NED was founded at the initiative of a small group of Washington insiders, who believed that the United States needed a "quango" (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization) to promote democracy and counter communist influence abroad...
  4. ^ a b Otsuru-Kitagawa, Chieko (1998). "The Role of QUANGO in American Democratic Assistance". International Relations (119): 127–141. eISSN 1883-9916.
  5. ^ a b "About the National Endowment for Democracy". National Endowment for Democracy. Retrieved 2021-08-27. NED is dedicated to fostering the growth of a wide range of democratic institutions abroad, including political parties, trade unions, free markets and business organizations
  6. ^ Dominguez, Jorge I. (2013). The Future of Inter-American Relations. Routledge. p. 429. ISBN 978-1-136-68424-1. 13: On NED and other QUANGO programs...
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]