2018 Annual Report

From the President

Carl Gershman

In recent years, the NED and other organizations working to advance democracy have been challenged by what is commonly called a democratic recession. The term refers to a global crisis of democracy that has a number of different dimensions: the rising power of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia, the backsliding of many new democracies like Hungary and the Philippines, the closing space for independent civic organizations, and a crisis of pluralism in many long established Western democracies. According to Freedom House, civil and political rights in the world have declined for twelve consecutive years.

While these trends continued during 2018, democratic observers also witnessed a surprising and potentially significant counter-trend consisting of popular uprisings against corrupt and abusive autocratic regimes. These uprisings took place in Ethiopia, Armenia, Malaysia, and other countries, and they appear to be part of a larger movement, with one study noting that there have been corruption-driven leadership changes in more than 10 percent of the world’s governments over the past five years.

Yet these revolts, frequent as they have been, will have no lasting political significance – and will do little to reverse the democratic recession – unless they lead to real reforms that respond to the needs and aspirations of the people. For that to happen, new democratic institutions will have to be developed that will enable citizens to hold political leaders and economic elites accountable, foster economic growth and opportunity, protect the rights of ordinary people, and enable society to resolve ethnic and other divisions in a peaceful way. NED has no higher priority than to help these countries build such institutions so that they can become inclusive and stable democracies.

NED was in a position to respond rapidly to the changing circumstances in Ethiopia, Armenia, and Malaysia because it was already engaged in these countries by supporting human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and others fighting for an end to autocratic rule. Supporting democracy activists in authoritarian countries who are fighting for basic rights is part of NED’s core mission, and it has the practical advantage of positioning NED to act quickly, with known partners, when a country unexpectedly opens up and a democratic transition suddenly becomes possible.

The Ethiopian transition is especially important because it involves a country of 105 million people with more than 80 different ethnic groups. In a world divided by ethnic and religious conflicts, Ethiopia’s example will resonate far beyond the country’s borders if it can succeed in building an inclusive, multi-ethnic democracy. Of course it faces formidable challenges, including an economic crisis fueled by high levels of inflation and foreign debt, and rising ethnic tensions, with 1.4 million people having been forced to flee their homes.

Such problems have added urgency to NED grants that are promoting legal reform and ethnic dialogue, building the capacity of journalists and civil society activists, engaging youth in the political process, connecting party leaders in the capital of Addis Ababa to citizens throughout the country, fostering a public-private dialogue between the government and the private sector, and tapping the potential of the multi-ethnic labor movement to advance pluralism and economic inclusion.

Nothing better illustrates the potential for change in Ethiopia than the fact that Birtukan Mideksa, an admired judge and opposition leader who came to NED in 2010 as an emergency Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow after spending almost four years in prison, has just returned home to head the country’s National Electoral Board. The challenges ahead are indeed difficult, but Ethiopia is on the right path forward.

So is Armenia, which was selected by The Economist magazine as the Country of the Year in 2018, meaning that it has improved more in the past 12 months than any other country. NED’s many grantees in Armenia were in the forefront of the “Velvet Revolution” last spring that swept from office a corrupt and autocratic president who wanted to manipulate the constitution to retain power. In subsequent elections held in December, the party alliance of the new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan won 70 percent of the vote, setting the stage for building accountable and effective government ministries, reforming the judicial system, and strengthening the media as a critical watchdog over government performance.  Many reform-oriented but inexperienced people are now entering parliament and the government ministries, and they will need the assistance and expertise of NGOs and think tanks if they are to develop effective policies. Civil society organizations also will need help in revamping their strategies to address the new challenges. Supporting such groups will be a key NED priority in the period ahead.

In Malaysia, the change came about as the result of an electoral revolution that ousted a kleptocratic prime minister and his entrenched ruling party. Just a year earlier, NED had presented its Democracy Award to Cynthia Gabriel, a grantee who was a leader of the anti-corruption movement in Malaysia.  Immediately following the election, she was appointed to a high-level committee tasked with investigating the massive 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) embezzlement scandal that had sparked public outrage. NED grants are now strengthening the capacity of civic organizations to hold the new government accountable as well as providing public officials with the skills they will need to govern effectively.

The election in Malaysia on May 9 coincided with the conclusion of the Ninth Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy (WMD), held in Dakar, Senegal. To highlight the importance of the transition underway in Malaysia, the Steering Committee of the WMD has decided to hold its next meeting in Kuala Lumpur in conjunction with a public conference of democratic solidarity that will also commemorate the WMD’s twentieth anniversary.

The Dakar Assembly also coincided with the local elections in Tunisia that Rached Ghannouchi, in his keynote address to the assembly, called “a landmark moment in Tunisia’s history and the realization of the promise of the Arab Spring.” Since the elections prevented Ghannouchi from attending the assembly, the address was read by his adviser Radwan Masmoudi, who is a member of the World Movement’s Steering Committee. In another gesture of solidarity, the Steering Committee decided that Tunisia would be the venue for its Tenth Global Assembly in 2020.

In Tunisia, yet another corrupt dictatorship was overthrown by a popular uprising. The transition that has followed the 2011 Jasmine Revolution still faces formidable challenges, but it is progressing, and Tunisia holds the distinction of being the Arab World’s first democracy. If Tunisia continues to progress, and if its transition is accompanied by similar transitions in Ethiopia, Armenia, Malaysia, and other post-kleptocracy countries, we may begin to see the end of the democratic recession.

NED and its four party, labor, and business core institutes face a moment of unusual opportunity. With dedicated and brave partners on the ground in each of the transitional countries, we are positioned to provide practical assistance across a broad range of political, social, and economic institutions. With more than three decades of experience behind us, and with access to the most skilled practitioners and thinkers on democracy, we can feel confident that the help we give will meet the highest standards of professionalism and proficiency. We have the capacity to help by building local, national, and international networks of cooperation; giving activists the resources needed to construct platforms for communicating their messages; and convening actions of international solidarity to reassure those on the frontlines of struggle that they are not alone. We can do this as a family of democracy-support institutions united by shared values and a common vision of democratic possibility and human dignity.

The work will nonetheless be difficult and the outcome uncertain – but the opportunity for real democratic progress now exists, and the stakes are very high. It is now our task to rise to the occasion.

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2018 NED Democracy Award - Presented to The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), Now Action & Unity for Human Rights (NAUH), the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), and Unification Media Group (UMG)

2018 NED Democracy Award - Presented to The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), Now Action & Unity for Human Rights (NAUH), the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), and Unification Media Group (UMG)



Board of Directors


  • Chairman

    Andrew Card

  • Secretary

    Marylin Carlson Nelson

  • Vice Chairman

    Martin Frost

  • Treasurer

    Robert Tuttle

  • Vice Chairman

    Vin Weber

  • President

    Carl Gershman


  • Anne Applebaum
  • Karen Bass
  • James Boland
  • William Burns
  • Marlene Colucci
  • Eileen Donoahoe
  • Michele Dunne
  • Daniel Fried
  • Francis Fukuyama
  • Barry Jackson
  • Zalmay Khalilzad
  • Jayne Kurzman
  • Mel Martinez
  • Andrew Nathan
  • Victoria Nuland
  • Dayton Ogden
  • Fred Redmond
  • Peter Roskam
  • David Skaggs
  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield
  • Richard Verma
  • Melanne Verveer
  • George Weigel
  • Elliott Abrams (On Leave)


  • Dante Fascell (1917-1998)
  • John Richardson (1921-2014)
  • William Brock
  • Winston Lord
  • John Brademas (1927-2016)
  • Vin Weber
  • Richard Gephardt
  • Martin Frost
  • Judith Shelton


A Year in Review

Africa Regional Overview

The NED Africa program supported an array of democratic opportunities that emerged in 2018 – some long anticipated, and others that were a surprise – while simultaneously resisting instances of democratic backsliding, persistent authoritarianism, and human rights abuses.

A highlight of the year for the Africa program was the World Movement for Democracy’s international assembly held in Dakar, Senegal, in May. The event celebrated the steady progress of democracy in West Africa, despite the continuing challenges of insecurity, corruption, and underdevelopment.  The NED program provided ongoing support to the Gambia’s democratic breakthrough; CIPE held a major conference in Burkina Faso in January that brought together private sector, government, and civil society leaders from across West Africa; and NED partners endeavored to strengthen the elections held in Mali.

Meanwhile, another dramatic democratic breakthrough was occurring in the Horn of Africa that captured the eyes of the world. On April 2, 2018, Abiy Ahmed became prime minister of Ethiopia.  He rapidly initiated a series of reforms, including releasing political prisoners, revising repressive legislation, appointing an unprecedented number of women to key posts, welcoming the return of political dissidents, and opening up the media. After struggling for many years in the relatively closed Ethiopian political environment, NED’s 10 Ethiopian partners quickly pivoted to support these exciting reforms. Among them, the Debebe Hailegabriel Law Office led the effort to change the repressive Charities and Societies Proclamation; the Addis Standard provided critical independent news of events online; and the Solidarity Center strengthened the independence of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions.

Likewise, the departure of Eduardo dos Santos and the ascendance of Joao Laurenco as president of Angola has precipitated tentative reforms. Once-persecuted NED partners, such as MakaAngola and Maos Livres, found new freedom to fight corruption and promote human rights.

The fall of Robert Mugabe after 37 years as president of Zimbabwe led to elections on July 30, 2018 won by Emmerson Mnangagwa of ZANU-PF, the ruling party, who beat Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change party. NDI, IRI, CIPE and the Solidarity Center, as well as 15 local partners, all contributed to making these the best elections Zimbabwe has ever held – though violence during the announcement of results marred this historic moment. NED supported a southern African observer mission organized by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

After a two-year delay, elections finally took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in December 2018, though the outcome was disputed. President Joseph Kabila stepped down, and the Congolese electoral commission pronounced opposition leader Felix Tshesikedi to be the winner. Yet another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, appeared to be the true winner according credible domestic election observers, and Kabila’s political alliance managed to retain control over the parliament and most provincial governments. NED’s 35 Congolese partners nevertheless helped to ensure that an alternation of power did in fact occur, contributing to an informed citizenry and peaceful process throughout the country.

A precipitous decline in political, civil society, and media freedom in Tanzania motivated the NED Africa program to mount a new effort to protect that country’s democracy. Similarly, in Zambia, the unprecedented threat to the political space spurred NED to buttress key partners in their defense of the country’s long tradition of democratic rights.  NED expanded its program in Cameroon in the context of elections, growing insecurity, and conflict between Anglophone and Francophone regions of the country.

As the year closed, protests in Sudan served notice of the population’s impatience with 30 years of authoritarian rule. NED’s long-time support of women’s organizations, youth programs, legal aid, and conflict resolution has helped Sudan’s movement for peaceful, democratic change, setting the stage for yet another breakthrough.

Pictured (background): A jubilant crowd attends the first annual National Citizens’ Convention; Harare, Zimbabwe, 2018.

To learn more and to see a detailed list of our grantees, please visit the NED website.


2018 NED Grants in Africa

Kofi Annan addresses the first annual National Citizens' Convention in Harare, co-organized by the Magamba Network, a NED grantee.

In Focus: Zimbabwe

Though Zimbabwe’s new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, showed a willingness to continue in the ruthless footsteps of his predecessor Robert Mugabe, NED’s grantees in Zimbabwe are working tirelessly to organize and empower the electorate.

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Congo Peace Network organized this youth rally to advocate for election integrity in 2018.

In Focus: Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

During the historic presidential, legislative and provincial 2018 elections in the DRC, NED sought to empower grantee organizations’ work in voter mobilization and electoral conflict prevention; their capacity to monitor human rights and civil liberties throughout the electoral process; and the ability to promote freedom of information.

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In Review

In 2018, the Endowment prioritized countries in Asia that faced the greatest democratic deficits and in which the NED was able to have the greatest impact. Building upon our strategy from previous years, the NED continued to concentrate on key countries within each sub-region that faced significant and systemic challenges to democratization – China, including Tibet, and North Korea in East Asia, Burma in Southeast Asia, and Pakistan in South Asia.  Democratic challenges in each of these countries were different, and the NED’s responses varied accordingly.

In China, the Endowment was one of few international organizations willing to work on democracy and human rights issues in the region, despite the new foreign NGO law that went into effect in 2017.

North Korea remained the most closed country in the world.  NED focused on programs that took indirect approaches to support human rights and bolster democratic values, including providing news and information through radio and digital media, strengthening understanding of human rights and democracy among North Koreans traveling outside of the country through training and other engagement, and empowering defectors to play a leading role in advancing North Korean human rights.

The priorities for NED’s Burma program were to address the structural, economic, cultural, religious, and political divisions that undermine national cohesiveness by supporting human rights, women’s rights, and ethnic nationality rights. Additionally, the program helped to enable civil society and a new cadre of leaders to develop and expand the level of civic engagement in the country by connecting civil society organizations, government institutions, and the Burmese people.

In Pakistan, space for civil society shrank over the past year and international donors retreated as their work became more difficult. In this challenging environment, NED’s support became even more important as a lifeline to those working to consolidate Pakistan’s democracy during another key transition. This support included strengthening democratic governance and public accountability at the provincial and local levels, ensuring active civic and electoral participation, and strengthening social and cultural movements that counter militant discourse and ideology.

Also, the Endowment continued to shift significant resources towards countries facing acute political crises, namely Thailand and the Philippines, as well as countries where new developments presented opportunities for democratic gains, such as Sri Lanka. These seven countries represented nearly 80% of planned spending in Asia in 2018. The NED also maintained targeted programs in other countries in the region, providing support for democratic development and advocacy in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Nepal, and elsewhere.  The Endowment also looked to engage in a more sustained effort in Bangladesh, where political dysfunction, rising security threats, and limited space for independent civil society and media poses a serious challenge to democratic governance.

Although no single political narrative defined the Asia region in 2018, there were a number of cross-cutting issues and developments that the Endowment sought to address. These included the growth of intolerant, chauvinistic and extremist forces that sought to erode democratic norms; a reordering of political alliances; tightening political space for civil society; dominant militaries and weak civilian governments; massive state corruption; and dominant- or one-party states. In virtually every country in the region, these developments were taking place within the context of rapid urbanization, economic development and integration, and expansion of access to information communication technology.

To learn more and to see a detailed list of our grantees, please visit the NED website.

2018 NED Grants in Asia

Around 1,000 people attended the WUC led protests in Geneva, including Uyghurs, Tibetans, Southern Mongolians, Taiwanese, Chinese Christians, Vietnamese, and international human rights NGOs.

In Focus: Uyghurs

Since coming to power in 2012, Xi Jinping and his government have returned China to a level of political repression unseen since Mao Zedong’s death in 1977. Although this repression is widespread, ethnic and religious groups – particularly the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in East Turkistan/Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region – have suffered the most brutal crackdown. With support from NED, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) is playing a leading role in raising global awareness about the repression of Uyghur people by the Chinese government.

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Ipoh Malaysia (Ibid); Courtesy Szfery (via Flickr), Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0.

In Focus: Malayasia

One of NED’s great advantages as an independent and nongovernmental organization is its capacity to react quickly when unanticipated events present new opportunities to advance democratic change. This was the case recently when Malaysia’s politics took an unexpected turn and NED, working with its core grantees NDI and IRI, utilized its contingency funds to provide crucial resources for rapid political reform.

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Central and Eastern Europe

A Year in Review

Central and Eastern Europe Regional Overview

In 2018, the Endowment expanded the size and scope of its support to strengthen civil society in Europe, including political parties, trade unions, and business groups, as well as independent media which are on the front lines of the struggle against deepening authoritarianism in Europe.

Across Europe, populist and extremist politicians continued to grow in popularity throughout the year. The European Union and its eastern neighborhood witnessed an increasing disillusionment with democratic processes due to poor governance and ineffective economies. The political, economic and social divide between western, central, and eastern Europe widened. In the new democracies of Central Europe, far-right movements, nationalism and intolerance increased. The Eastern Partnership states that inked EU Association Agreements did little to enact needed reforms, promoting political instability and public dissatisfaction. In the EU aspirant countries of southeastern Europe, most democratic transitions stagnated or regressed.

Compounding the region’s specific post-communist and post-conflict challenges were other issues of systemic corruption, weak institutions, political polarization, and social, cultural, and ethnic divisions. Central and eastern Europe experienced a growing centralization of power. Illiberal governments proposed or enacted legislation to curb civil society and capture media. Exploiting these difficulties, Russia increased its sharp power efforts to divide the United States and Europe, destabilize democracies, and forestall European integration. China and other authoritarian states also sought to increase their geostrategic influence and challenge democratic norms and standards in the region.

The Endowment’s primary focus in Europe remained the promotion of accountability of governments, elected officials, and political parties. NED assisted civil society organizations pushing for reforms and better governance, holding governments and politicians responsible for their promises and performance, fighting corruption and foreign malign influence, upholding democratic norms, and supporting their societies’ European choice. To foster greater accountability as well as counter a polluted and closing space for public debate, the Endowment stepped up support to independent media and investigative journalism groups. A second aspect of this focus on defending the integrity of the information space was increased assistance for initiatives that counter Russian disinformation. To oppose autocratic governments’ attempts to restrict space for civil society, NED support bolstered the resiliency of NGOs.

The Endowment’s country priorities for the Europe region in 2018 were those whose democratic transitions initially showed promise but are now imperiled, such as Ukraine and Moldova; those whose governments that are increasingly repressive or dysfunctional – Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia; and those presenting new political openings – Belarus and Macedonia. As the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approached, NED further reengaged in central Europe to defend the gains made in the New Member States of the EU. Given the depth and breadth of the democratic decline across central and eastern Europe, the Endowment also increased its support for regional programs.

To learn more and to see a detailed list of our grantees, please visit the NED website.

2018 NED Grants in Central and Eastern Europe

An exhibit from Sarajevo's War Childhood Museum.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

NED was proud to support the work of Sarajevo-based War Childhood Museum in 2018, which features a powerful multimedia archive of personal stories about wartime experiences among youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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A 2018 youth engagement forum hosted by MEMO.


MEMO 98, a Slovakia-based NED grantee and one of the world’s leading organizations monitoring media around elections, celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018.

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A Year in Review

Eurasia Regional Overview

Although the Eurasia region continued to struggle in 2018 with powerful authoritarian trends, significant new opportunities, and signs of hope appeared for democratic progress in key countries. Civil society continued its extraordinary fight against the crackdown, while also helping to spark and shape political developments throughout the region.

Russia remained NED’s top priority for the region, as President Putin used Russia’s March 2018 presidential elections to formally extend his rule through at least 2024. Yet as the government faced a crisis of legitimacy over its inability to address socio-economic problems, a growing network of grassroots movements pushed back against the regime’s agenda. Their campaigns – focused on topics ranging from pension reform to corruption to environmental issues – showed that the Kremlin remains wary of public pressure.

The Endowment prioritized support for programs channeling this new grassroots energy into sustainable civic organization. Despite clumsy attempts to regulate the Internet, the digital space largely remains free and thus continued to serve as an important platform for civic mobilization and access to independent information.

Armenia presented the best opportunity for democratic progress in Eurasia following the peaceful transition of power in the spring and the subsequent parliamentary elections which swept away much of the former ruling elite. Having secured a majority in parliament, the new government – composed of democratically minded but inexperienced legislators – needed help to consolidate their democratic gains and build new systems for accountability and rule of law. The crucial programming of NED’s core institutes built government capacity, and helped to reform critical sectors such as business and political parties.

Georgia remained relatively open and pluralistic, but continued to suffer from a highly polarized and personalized political system that lacks authentic checks and balances. NED prioritized support for initiatives that promoted the strengthening of new political parties, as well as local independent media and outreach to conservative and marginalized communities to build consensus around key democratic values.

In Central Asia, taking advantage of the opening in Uzbekistan remained the top priority for the Endowment. NED focused on programs aimed at developing a new generation of civic and political activists, monitoring and defending fundamental human rights, and strengthening the capacity of academic and policy experts to contribute to the democratic reform process. Endowment resources also supported civil society efforts to promote the democratic development of the Kyrgyz Republic. NED support helped promote public policy debates, civil society oversight of government institutions, and the continued development of political pluralism in the country.

NED maintained support for its partners in the most repressive countries in the region – Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan – particularly monitoring and documenting human rights abuses, supporting independent media, strengthening the ability of civil society to remain active and engaged, and raising international awareness of ongoing government repression.

To learn more and to see a detailed list of our grantees, please visit the NED website.

2018 NED Grants in Eurasia

Armenia's "Velvet Revolution" was a democratic highlight of 2018.

Armenia's Independent Media

In 2018, Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution” triumphantly ended Prime Minister Sargsyan’s decade of autocratic rule and marked the beginning of the Pashinyan era. NED supported five exceptional Armenian independent online media outlets, which specialize  in breaking news coverage, analytical reporting, and investigative journalism that were invaluable throughout 2018’s historic events.

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A Georgian Young Lawyers' Association poster warns against voter intimidation.

Georgia's 2018 Elections

While Georgia has a history of genuinely competitive elections, the electoral process remains fraught. Robust domestic vote monitoring remains a key element of safeguarding the process, and NED was proud to support several grantees working to observe and report on Georgia’s 2018 elections.

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Latin America and Caribbean

In Review

Regional Overview

Latin America & Caribbean

Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean continued to face significant challenges in 2018. The influential Latinobarómetro survey reported a steady decline of support for democracy across the region, from 61 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2018. Citizens reported feeling that the region is not progressing, and consider the economy, citizen security, and corruption to be their greatest concerns. These negative indicators were consistent across the region. To address such challenges, NED deployed its resources to support programs that promote the exchange of best practices among countries and organizations, and that leverage the experiences and lessons learned from high-performing democracies.

Elections in Brazil and Mexico demonstrated voter dissatisfaction with the political status quo and corruption. Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua saw an alarming increase in authoritarian rule. The consequences of dire political and security circumstances in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) were felt across the region. Recognizing the outsized impact of these fragile democracies, NED expanded its programs in the Northern Triangle to respond to these democratic challenges, and to strengthen political accountability and citizen oversight, especially of public security policies.

In Haiti, NED focused on rule of law, conflict resolution, and the advocacy and oversight capacity of incipient civil society groups. In Argentina, NED is working to strengthen judicial independence and encourage Argentina to champion democratic efforts throughout the region. In Colombia, NED focused on programs to implement peace in a post-accord era. In Ecuador, NED funded organizations that monitored human rights and freedom of expression as a political transition presented opportunities for growing democratic space.

NED’s regional programs worked to uphold inter-American standards and principles and prepare civil society groups to engage in discussions on emerging global challenges to democracy, including disinformation, the political inclusion of historically marginalized groups, China’s influence, and democratic de-consolidation. While democracy remains critically endangered in much of the region, there is reason for optimism, given that empowered and engaged citizens are demanding accountability and improved governance.

2018 NED Grants in Latin America and Caribbean

Connectas earned international accolades in 2018 for its "Petrofraude" expose about President Maduro's corrupt activities.

In Focus: Kleptocracy

Democracy in Latin America continued to be hindered by systemic corruption, crime, and violence in 2018. Unfortunately, inadequate media coverage and disinformation continue to enable authoritarian governments to flourish. NED was proud to continue supporting Connectas and its diligent efforts to bring substantive, contextual and compelling journalism into the mainstream.

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Young activists at a Guatemala Visible workshop in 2018.

Young Activists

As civil society’s confidence in democracy continues to erode at alarming levels throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, the persistent engagement and activism of its young people is cause for inspiration and hope. NED is proud to work with several outstanding organizations focused on, and powered by, young activists.

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Middle East and North Africa

A Year in Review

Regional Overview

Mounting turmoil, conflict, and terrorism devastated prospects for democratic progress and reform in most countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) throughout 2018. Security and stability became urgent needs, allowing governments to sideline discussion of political reform or liberalization in almost every country. Despite the instability and repressive environment, activists, civic movements and political leaders throughout the region continued to demonstrate a resounding resilience and commitment to reform. The Endowment’s priorities in the MENA region reflected broad and diverse support to civil society in countries with strong organizations that represented constituencies asserting demands for reform.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, civil and political activists worked for political reform, and challenged the idea that security and democracy are mutually exclusive. In countries marked by conflict, such as Libya, Syria, and Yemen, the focus remained on keeping democracy from being subsumed by other priorities. In those contexts, NED emphasized efforts to expand independent voices, represent critical constituencies for change, and strengthen the emerging next generations of civil and political leaders.

In countries with more constrained opportunities for civil society, including Algeria, Egypt, the Gulf States, Iran, and Turkey, the Endowment prioritized initiatives that offered a lifeline to activists engaged in promoting democratic ideas and values, expanding the space for dialogue and exchange, and serving as watchdogs in critical sectors such as labor and human rights.

Where political environments limited civil society’s ability to have much direct political influence, such as Mauritania and Jordan, NED supported civil society partners to respond constructively when greater engagement was possible.

In countries with greater civic space and an established civil society, as in Morocco and Tunisia, NED priorities included support for broad-based advocacy and accountability efforts, expanded independent media content, and strengthening civil society as a community. In addition, NED’s MENA regional programs strengthened emerging networks and built local and sectoral capacities in conflict zones; expanded support where democratic gains remained intact, including Tunisia’s transition; promoted dialogue, pluralism, and building bridges among communities threatened by division; supported human rights defenders; and addressed systemic good governance failure and weak local and national institutions.

MENA Cover Image: Iran: 5th Green Day, Tehran, Iran; courtesy Hamed Saber (via Flickr), Creative Commons license CC by 2.0.

To learn more and to see a detailed list of our grantees, please visit the NED website.

2018 NED Grants in Middle East and North Africa

The Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press reported on hate speech and news, including the 2018 arrest of Ismail Rouzebeh (pictured above).

Independent Media in MENA

In the Arab world, state-owned, partisan, and Iran or Gulf-funded media outlets leave little room for genuine debate on key issues, investigative reporting, or responsible and professional journalism. NED enthusiastically supported independent media organizations in their courageous fight against disinformation, hate speech, and authoritarian propaganda.

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Grantee ACDNO holds a 2018 citizen participation event in the newly elected municipalities of rural Fernana and Beni Mtir.


Tunisia’s authoritarian government has worked aggressively to erase the democratic gains that inspired hope during the Arab Spring. In response, NED offered training and financial support to numerous Tunisian organizations fighting for good local governance, and for the inclusion of independent and progressive candidates for office during Tunisia’s historic 2018 elections.

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In Review

Global Regional Overview

In 2018, democracy and human rights advocates throughout the world faced a complicated landscape of heartening advances and troubling setbacks. Advocates in newly-transitioned countries sought to extend the momentum of watershed elections and shifts away from authoritarian rule, as they worked to follow through on calls for reform, building a democratic system that responds to citizens’ demands for effective governance and accountability, and ensuring all processes related to these goals were inclusive and encouraged their participation.

Meanwhile, the backsliding of democratic norms and tightening of authoritarian governments’ power around the globe remained a concern. Those who called for democracy confronted a range of restrictions and efforts to silence their voices. Despite the risks, however, civic and political actors in these countries have been steadfast in their efforts to push back against the closing of political space and continued to adapt and work around the challenges that they faced.

Fortunately, those working on democracy’s frontlines across the world did not have to face these formidable challenges alone. The Endowment’s Global program supported efforts to bring these advocates together to reaffirm democratic values and norms, strengthen transparent institutions, share experiences, and explore innovative solutions to the challenges of democratic development. In the past year, the NED’s Global program focused on bolstering democracy advocates’ ability to leverage their work in multiple regions and to address crosscutting challenges.

The NED’s Global program provided support to initiatives that fostered collaboration to strengthen human rights, democratic governance, political processes and institutions, independent media, freedom of association, and market-oriented reform. NED-supported projects provided a platform for networking across different regions and countries and opened up opportunities for exchanges of lessons learned, capacity building, and joint action at a strategic level. Other initiatives took advantage of the rich and diverse experiences of partners by ensuring that their knowledge and skills could be shared with their peers through the development of new tools to strengthen work in different areas. Supported projects continued to engage a broad range of actors, including activists, independent media, workers, the private sector, lawyers, political parties, and various networks of women and youth.

Cover image: The memory quilt tells the stories of disappearances of Nepal with eight narratives shared through squares made by the families of disappeared from one of the severely affected districts in Western Nepal. The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience’s Asia Regional Network hosted two webinars with families of the missing in Sri Lanka and Nepal. Participants shared their experiences and lessons learned, touching on an array of issues from government accountability and education during conflict to the daily stresses that come with life in conflict and post-conflict zones.

2018 Global Activities

Participants in the RFK Human Rights' strategic litigation workshop in Dakar, Senegal.

In Focus: RFK Center for Human Rights

NED was proud to support the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights in 2018, as it continued its work to foster collaboration and knowledge sharing among human rights defenders in Africa and Latin America.

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Photograph: Participants in WLP's Transnational Capacity Building Institute discussed the current global context for women’s rights and human rights, and research on family law and gender equality.

In Focus: Women's Learning Partnership

The NED grantee Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development and Peace (WLP) is dedicated to advancing communication and cooperation among and between women across the world to protect human rights, facilitate sustainable development, and promote peace.

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A community in Zambia shows land damage from a copper mine, at an event held by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

Global At A Glance

A visual essay showing more remarkable organizations from across the globe.

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The Endowment's Democracy Promotion Activities

The Endowment's Democracy Promotion Activities

In 2018, CIMA invited six Open Internet Leaders to NED to discuss their work with the Open Internet for Democracy initiative.

Center for International Media Assistance

As independent media faced unprecedented challenges across the globe in 2018, CIMA’s research, discussions, and partnerships supported the vital work to coordinate and overcome them, from the grassroots level to a global scale.

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Democracy Resource Center

The Democracy Resource Center (DRC) collects, organizes, and disseminates information and analysis produced by and about the wide range of groups and organizations working to strengthen democracy abroad.

The DRC consists of a library that holds over 20,000 works in 60 languages collected from NED grantees and other sources that can be searched via an online catalog. The DRC also maintains several online resources, many of which are accessible on the NED website.

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Anwar Ibrahim delivers the Forum's annual Lipset Lecture for 2018.

International Forum for Democratic Studies

The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy is a leading center for research, discussion, thought, and analysis on the theory and practice of democracy around the world.

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Journal of Democracy

Since its first appearance in 1990, the Journal of Democracy has established itself as a leading voice in discussions of the problems and prospects of democracy around the world.

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Pictured: 2018 Reagan-Fascell Fellows Passy Mubalama (left) and Dr. Alex Magaisa at a NED workshop.

Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program

Named in honor of former president Ronald Reagan and the late U.S. congressman Dante Fascell (D-FL), whose bipartisan vision led to the creation of NED, the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program offers practitioners, scholars, and journalists from around the world the opportunity to spend five months in residence at NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies in order to undertake independent research and outreach on democratic prospects worldwide.

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Hurford Youth Fellows Margarita Maira and Risham Waseem with NED staff.

World Movement for Democracy

Initiated by NED in 1999, the World Movement for Democracy is a global network of democrats including activists, practitioners, scholars, policy makers, and funders who collaborate, convene, and cooperate to promote democracy.

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Report of the Independent Auditors

Report of the Independent Auditors

We have audited the accompanying financial statements of National Endowment for Democracy (the Endowment), which comprise the balance sheet as of September 30, 2018, and the related statements of activities and cash flows for the year then ended, and the related notes to the financial statements.

Management’s Responsibility for the Financial Statements

Management is responsible for the preparation and fair presentation of these financial statements in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America; this includes the design, implementation and maintenance of internal control relevant to the preparation and fair presentation of financial statements that are free from material misstatement, whether due to fraud or error.

Auditor’s Responsibility

Our responsibility is to express an opinion on these financial statements based on our audit. We conducted our audit in accordance with auditing standards generally accepted in the United States of America and the standards applicable to financial audits contained in Government Auditing Standards, issued by the Comptroller General of the United States. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements are free from material misstatement.

An audit involves performing procedures to obtain audit evidence about the amounts and disclosures in the financial statements. The procedures selected depend on the auditor’s judgment, including the assessment of the risks of material misstatement of the financial statements, whether due to fraud or error. In making those risk assessments, the auditor considers internal control relevant to the entity’s preparation and fair presentation of the financial statements in order to design audit procedures that are appropriate in the circumstances, but not for the purpose of expressing an opinion on the effectiveness of the entity’s internal control. Accordingly, we express no such opinion. An audit also includes evaluating the appropriateness of accounting policies used and the reasonableness of significant accounting estimates made by management, as well as evaluating the overall presentation of the financial statements.

We believe that the audit evidence we have obtained is sufficient and appropriate to provide a basis for our audit opinion.


In our opinion, the financial statements referred to above present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of National Endowment for Democracy as of September 30, 2018, and the changes in its net assets and its cash flows for the year then ended in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.

Report on Summarized Comparative Information

We have previously audited the Endowment’s 2017 financial statements, and we have expressed an unmodified opinion on those audited financial statements in our report dated January 12, 2018. In our opinion, the summarized comparative information presented herein as of and for the year ended September 30, 2017, is consistent, in all material respects, with the audited financial statements from which it has been derived.

Other Reporting Required by Government Auditing Standards

In accordance with Government Auditing Standards, we have also issued our report dated January 2019, on our consideration of the Endowment’s internal control over financial reporting and on our tests of its compliance with certain provisions of laws, regulations, contracts and grant agreements and other matters. The purpose of that report is to describe the scope of our testing of internal control over financial reporting and compliance and the results of that testing, and not to provide an opinion on internal control over financial reporting or on compliance. That report is an integral part of an audit performed in accordance with Government Auditing Standards in considering the Endowment’s internal control over financial reporting and compliance.


Washington, D.C.
February 13, 2019

Link to Balance Sheet