Grantee Spotlight: Brainstorming for Democracy in the MENA Region

Supporting Independent Policy Centers


Since 2009, NED has made it a priority to strengthen emerging independent policy centers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and support their critical role in identifying local policy solutions to the challenges facing their countries. Today, NED is supporting dozens of such centers across the region to provide evidence-based policy research and analysis, produce policy briefs, convene stakeholders, and advocate for alternative policies on a wide range of issues.

Through its MENA regional program, NED is taking a three-pronged approach by supporting initiatives that: 1) strengthen the capacity of nascent think tanks; 2) promote networking and collaboration at the national and regional levels; and 3) develop promising policy analysts and experts.

NED’s main partner in strengthening local policy centers is the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), a Washington-based think tank founded in 2006. POMED quickly established itself as an important voice, and was soon willing to share its own experience as a relatively new, youth-led policy center with counterparts in the region. Working closely with over a dozen nascent policy forums in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen, POMED provides tailored, customized technical assistance to enhance its partners’ policy analysis, writing, and advocacy abilities.

Over the years, POMED has also produced a series of Arabic-language manuals on policy writing, policy advocacy, think tank management, and policy analysis. These unique resources provide insight into international best practices along with local examples to enrich the region’s emerging policy forums.

POMED also convenes an annual regional conference, providing a platform for partners to connect and learn from each other. This cross-country engagement facilitates the exchange of experiences, best practices, and resources.

POMED’s partners have shown a qualitative improvement in policy writing, an increase in successful policy advocacy, and advancement in institutional capacity and organizational management. Policy briefs produced by POMED partners are today more succinct, well-structured, and supported by better-documented evidence. Partners have credited POMED’s training, feedback, and mentorship with helping them open new doors for influence. POMED-trained policy researchers are emerging as policy experts, and their policy recommendations are evident in draft legislation.

NED has also supported the work of the Nawat Network, a recently established network of over 60 nascent policy centers located throughout the region. Nawat emerged out of several NED-funded projects in support of independent policy centers. The Nawat Network fills a need in the region’s policy sector by connecting efforts throughout the region, encouraging collaboration, amplifying the voice of the region’s independent policy sector, and providing forums for the exchange of resources and information. Though still nascent, Nawat contributes to the professionalization, sustainability, and increased impact of the region’s think tanks. It is building the culture of peer review among the region’s policy centers in order to strengthen the quality of policy publications and recommendations as well as promote greater collaboration.

In addition to strengthening and linking policy institutions, NED programs support the professional development of policy experts and leaders, particularly in specialized policy areas. With NED support dating back to 2014, the Arab Centre for Scientific Research and Humane Studies (ACSRHS) in Morocco created a regional academy to prepare and support a new generation of economic policy leaders. ACSRHS is one of a handful of independent think tanks in the region to develop training capacities geared towards young researchers. Currently in its third year, ACSRHS’s academy has succeeded in fostering links between market-oriented economic experts from throughout the region, developing a rich and substantive training program, and connecting beneficiaries to other regional and international experts and opportunities. Program alumni, with ACSRHS support, have gone on to establish their own economic policy centers, or to work directly with policy makers to advocate for and implement economic reform priorities.

The National Endowment for Democracy is a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world. Each year, NED makes more than 1,700 grants to non-governmental initiatives – like the POMED and others – that promote free societies and democratic participation.  

Explore NED’s work in the Middle East and Northern Africa.