Adaptation nation - RSA Comment - RSA

Adaptation nation


  • Democracy and governance
  • People & place

A new breed of changemaker is finding ways to strengthen civic fabric and solidarity.

A climate of political polarisation, a hunger for inclusion, a growing distrust of institutions, a weakened civil society and the rise of authoritarianism have all created a ripe backdrop for a new species of changemaker – the ‘democracy entrepreneur’. Across the globe, innovators are working to recentre democratic cultures in everyday life. At the RSA, we support this growing democracy movement through our global Fellowship network and by amplifying the work of our partners around the world.

Of By For is an organisation working to shift power from elections to democratic lotteries. At the height of the pandemic, when discussion around Covid-19 protocols were heavily politicised, co-directors Adam Cronkright and George Zisiadis brought citizens in the US state of Michigan together through a lottery process to find common ground.

The result was a transformational journey (documented in film) that attested to the healing power of deliberative approaches by which citizens grew empathy for one another, came to understand their own biases and detached from political ideology, working collaboratively to put forward recommendations on a policy issue that was previously divisive.

At a time when politicians and the media seem intent on manufacturing division, democracy entrepreneurs are finding ways to strengthen civic fabric and solidarity. Some of these interventions focus on the use of citizen assemblies, creating localised power and decision-making. Others concentrate on the field of economic democracy, including explorations of public ownership, community wealth-building and stakeholder capitalism, all of which, in the words of Democracy Collaborative’s Sarah McKinley, emphasise a “pre-distributed way of building fairer economies rather than a re-distributed approach”.

At a time when politicians and the media seem intent on manufacturing division, democracy entrepreneurs are finding ways to strengthen civic fabric and solidarity.

Pro-democracy movement

Ethiopian American changemaker Yordanos Eyeol is building a pro-democracy movement through her Cambridge, Massachusetts-based organisation, Keseb, which is developing a global fellowship network that fosters learning, collaboration and innovation among democracy activists and civil society organisations. Keseb’s focus will initially be on the US, Brazil, South Africa and India, which share challenges of being multi-ethnic societies.  

“Contrary to social entrepreneurs, who can focus in on a particular service or product,” says Yordanos, “democracy entrepreneurs are dealing with rapidly evolving political landscapes that require more adaptive approaches. They share a common set of challenges.” Her mission includes supporting these innovators to learn from one another and socialise this agenda with funders.

As the RSA embarks on a commitment to increased global impact, we are working to support international communities of practice that highlight deliberation and participation in diverse local geographies. At the RSA US, our Deliberation Gateway Network, run by Chris Forman, FRSA, is working to make deliberative tools and practice more mainstream and accessible for individuals to apply these methods in their own communities.

Alexa Clay is the Director of RSA US

This article first appeared in RSA Journal Issue 2 2023

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