The National Endowment for Democracy ( NED ) is a U.S. non-profit soft power organization that was founded in 1983 with the stated goal of promoting democracy abroad. [5] It is funded primarily through an annual allocation from the U.S. Congress in the form of a grant awarded through the United States Information Agency (USIA). It was created by The Democracy Program as a bipartisan, private, non-profit corporation, and in turn acts as a grant-making foundation. [5] In addition to its grants program, 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-Fla.) 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." 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." 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. [7] The State Department and United States Information Agency (USIA) proposed the Endowment 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. [7]

Later history

Under the reauthorization of NED several factors were added to the organizations guidelines: the NED Act had to arrange the Board's prohibition on the use of funds for partisan political purposes, including funding for national party operations; mandate that NED consult with the State Department on any overseas programs it funds prior to the commencement of their activities; move the required date of reporting to Congress on all grants from December 31 to February 4, and lastly despite its non-governmental status, comply fully with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.


NED is structured to act as a grant-making foundation, distributing funds to private non-governmental organizations for the purpose of promoting democracy abroad. The Endowment serves as the umbrella organization in which half of NED's funding is allocated annually to four main U.S. organizations: the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI), formerly known as the National Republican Institute for International Affairs. The other half of NED's funding is awarded annually to hundreds of non-governmental organizations based abroad which apply for support. [8]

The Endowment has come a long way from opposition between both political parties in its earlier stages to widespread bipartisan endorsement on the Hill. And even though the American government has implemented its own democracy promoting capabilities through USAID (United States Agency for International Development), NED's independence plays a key factor in its relevance. The organizations independence gives it an ability to work in situations that official bodies may have to avoid and its non-bureaucratic nature enables it to move quickly in rapidly changing situations. NED has become a universal model and has influenced other nations to create their own institutions for the promotion of democracy.

Source of funding

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. 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. [9]

From 1984 to 1990 the NED received $15–18m 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 $35m, a rise from $30m the year before) was only retained after a vigorous campaign by NED supporters. [10]

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. [12]


NED's long-serving president (since April 30, 1984 [13] ) is Carl Gershman , former Senior Counselor to the United States Representative to the United Nations and former Executive Director of Social Democrats USA . [15]

The Endowment's bipartisan board is composed of a wide range of people. The group includes government officials like former Congressmen Martin Frost and Vin Weber , former deputy assistant to George W. Bush Elliot Abrams , former Senator Norm Coleman , Congresswoman Karen Bass and Margaret Spellings , former US Secretary of Education and president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. The board also includes former Ambassadors Robert Tuttle , Zalmay Khalilzad , Stephen Sestanovich and Princeton N. Lyman , as well as Melanne Verveer , former Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and current director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security . In addition, positions are held by scholars of Political Science and International Affairs, Andrew Nathan of Columbia University, author and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, William Galston , Francis Fukuyama of FSI, George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Azir Nafisi of Johns Hopkins SAIS , as well as Senior associates at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Michele Dunne and Moises Naim . Other members include business leader Marilyn Nelson of Carlson, Attorney Jayne M. Kurzman, union leaders James Boland and Fred Redmond, and Vice President of Global Public Policy at Facebook, Marne Levine . The Board also includes: John Bohn, Republican political advisor Barry Jackson , Progressive Policy Institute President Will Marshall , and former World Bank President Robert Zoellick .

There are also a number of influential lawmakers who have served on the NED board during their careers. These include:


The NED has supported programs in countries outside the United States.

Funding of election monitors and democratic advocacy

NED does not directly fund any political party, as this is forbidden by law. According to NED, it funds election monitoring and also civic education about voting, such as student-led "get-out-the-vote" campaigns. [23]

NED has also supported, provided training, and consulted with groups which approve of democracy, but criticize the United States, in countries such as Indonesia and Ukraine . The NED says that it focuses funding on democracy-minded organizations rather than opposition groups; however it does not support groups that openly advocate communism, fundamentalism, or dictatorships. Michael McFaul , in an article for the Washington Post , 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. [24]

Central America

According to "London Progressive Journal", The International Republican Institute (IRI) received about $1.2 million from NED in 2009 in order to support think tanks and advocacy groups to "support initiatives to implement political positions during the campaigns in 2009". [26]


Democracy and human rights advocacy

Of the 28 Asian NGOs the NED funds, 18 are related to China. Most of these grants go to organizations promoting democracy and human rights. Democracy organizations funded by the NED that target China as a whole are Human Rights in China , the China Strategic Institute, and the Laogai Research Foundation .

The NGO 'Chinese Urgent Action Working Group' [27] run by Swedish man Peter Dahlin also received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy. Dahlin, a Swedish citizen, was detained and interrogated for 23 days by China’s Ministry of State Security . Interrogators showed him a document about the organization, complete with names of employees, associates and grant recipients. The internal report showed how the "Chinese Urgent Action Working Group" had received financing from NED for the last five years.

"I realized it must have come straight from N.E.D. itself somehow," Mr. Dahlin said in an interview with The New York Times , adding that he had never seen the document before. Dahlin said, "They appeared intent on gathering information about groups financed by the National Endowment for Democracy". [28]


According to the NED's online it has given funding the following groups for programs relating to China's Xinjiang province and its Uyghur people .

  • International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation

To advance the human rights of Uyghur women and children. The Foundation will maintain an English- and Uyghur-language website on the human rights situation of Uyghur women and children; conduct a civic education seminar for Uyghur women; and conduct advocacy on behalf of the human rights of Uyghurs in China.

  • International Uyghur PEN Club

To promote freedom of expression for writers working in the Uyghur language. The International Uyghur PEN Club will maintain a website that features banned writings and the works of persecuted poets, historians, journalists, and others, and will conduct international advocacy campaigns on behalf of imprisoned writers.

To raise awareness of Uyghur human rights issues and advance religious freedom and human rights. The UAA’s Uyghur Human Rights Project will research, document and bring to international attention, independent and accurate information about human rights violations affecting the Turkic populations of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

To enhance the ability of Uyghur prodemocracy groups and leaders to implement effective human rights and democracy campaigns. The World Uyghur Congress will organize a conference and training workshop for pro-democracy Uyghur youth, as well as young and mid-career professionals, on the use of new media and social networking technology for advocacy and outreach, Internet security, and innovative tactics in promoting and defending human rights.


In 2002, Mehangiz Kar , an Iranian women activist received the annual Democracy award from then-First Lady Laura Bush . [30]

According to the NED's online it has given funding the following groups for programs relating to Iran (1990–2006):

Iranians who have served as fellows at NED include: [32]

Latin America and the Caribbean


NED supports a wide range of programs in Ecuador including the Asociación de Mujeres Municipalistas del Ecuador (AMUME) which “advocates on behalf of women elected officials during legislative reform efforts by facilitating debate, analysis and women’s participation,” and Asylum Access which provides legal support for refugee communities.


In 2004, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez publicized documents which purported to show that the NED funded civil associations in the country, including a tripling of funding from about $250,000 to nearly $900,000 between 2000 and 2001. [34] As of July, 2010, the NED is accused of funding several journalists in Venezuela who work for opposition media outlets. [35]

The National Endowment for Democracy, on their Venezuela page [37] indicate that the National Endowment for Democracy spent $1,752,300 on grants for the following programs in Venezuela (with specific areas indicated) in 2013: Accountability, Civic Education, Democratic Ideas and Values, Developing Market Economy, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Information, Human Rights, Political Processes, Rule of Law, Strengthening Political Institutions.

Western Europe

NED also funded political groups in the democracies of Western Europe in the 1980s. The French newspaper Libération published a report which claimed that the U.S. funded the National Inter-University Union .

More recently, the NED has provided funding to the French NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which promotes freedom of press, particularly in Cuba. [39]

Eastern Europe

During the 1980s and 1990s, NED invested millions of dollars in Eastern Europe.


In their 2012 report, NED indicated that it spent US$3,381,824 on programs in the Ukraine, encompassing the areas NGO Strengthening, Political Processes, Human Rights, Accountability, Developing Market Economy, Freedom of Information, Democratic Ideas and Values, Promoting Freedom of Assembly, Strengthening Political Institutions, and Monitoring Electoral Processes. [40]


NED was banned in Russia as an undesirable international NGO in July 2015 for "using Russian commercial and noncommercial organisations under its control... to declare the results of election campaigns illegitimate, organise political actions intended to influence decisions made by the authorities, and discredit service in Russia’s armed forces." [41]


Democracy Award

The Democracy Award is given annually by the National Endowment for Democracy’s Board of Directors 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 in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China during the student movement for freedom and democracy in 1989. [44]

Notable recipients of the award include: Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo , former President of Mexico Vicente Fox , and journalist Veton Surroi . [8] [8] 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 . [8] [8] [8]


Year Recipient Nationality Notes
2017 Gabriel, Cynthia Cynthia Gabriel Malaysia Human rights advocate and anti-corruption leader in Malaysia
Parsa, Khalil Khalil Parsa Afghanistan Founder and executive director of Supporting Organization for Afghanistan Civil Society (SOACS
Escobar, Claudia Claudia Escobar Guatemala the lead whistleblower in a case of grand corruption that revealed illegal interference in Guatemala’s judiciary by high-ranking political officials including the country’s vice president and the former president of Congress
Marques, Rafael Rafael Marques Angola Angolan journalist and human rights defender focused on investigating government corruption and abuses in the diamond industry.
Bihus, Denys Denys Bihus Ukraine Leads TOM 14, a group of professional investigative journalists in Ukraine. In 2013, Bihus launched an anti-corruption television program, Nashi Hroshi (Our Money).
2015 Political prisoners of Venezuela Venezuela Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, Lilian Tintori and Tamara Sujú accepted the award
2014 Xiaobo, Liu Liu Xiaobo China President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center from 2003 to 2007. Was behind the launching of Charter 08
Zhiyong, Xu Xu Zhiyong China Co-founded the Open Constitution Initiative in China
2013 Ismail, Gululai Gululai Ismail Pakistan Human rights activist that established Aware Girls at the age of 16
Cepero, Harold Harold Cepero Cuba One of the authors of Varela Project in Cuba that collected over 25 000 signatures
Kichanova, Vera Vera Kichanova Russia She has worked for the independent publication Novaya Gazeta, known for its investigative reporting
Changachirere, Glanis Glanis Changachirere Zimbabwe In 2009 Glanis established the Institute for Young Women’s Development
2012 Hkun Htun Oo Myanmar Human rights activists and members of the Democratic Movement of Burma
Kyaw Thu
Aung Din
Cynthia Maung


One criticism of the organization includes a lack of openness and public accountability in its stewardship of millions of dollars a year in taxpayer funds in the year 1985. [8] Libertarian congressman Ron Paul also argued against NED funding in 2005 stating that NED has "very little to do with democracy. It is an organization that uses US tax money to actually subvert democracy, by showering funding on favored political parties or movements overseas. It underwrites color-coded ‘people’s revolutions’ overseas that look more like pages out of Lenin’s writings on stealing power than genuine indigenous democratic movements." [8]

Investigative reporter and editor of Consortiumnews Robert Parry has characterized NED as a " neocon slush fund," whose founding was the brainchild of Reagan Administration CIA Director William Casey and its leading propagandist Walter Raymond Jr., then on the staff of the National Security Council . The idea was to set up an organization funded by the U.S. Congress to take over CIA programs that attempted to influence foreign elections by promoting the selection of candidates who supported U.S. policy and would "do what the U.S. government tells them to do." [8]

The libertarian think tank Cato Institute criticized money spent in France in the 1980s saying that:

"French democracy in the 1980s did not appear to be so fragile that it required financial assistance from American taxpayers to sustain itself. The government of François Mitterrand was duly elected within a democratic system nearly as old as America's. The AFL-CIO, however, determined that France's socialist government was permitting a dangerous rise of communist influence. According to the late Irving Brown , Paris-based director of international relations for the AFL-CIO at the time of the incident: "France . . . is threatened by the Communist apparatus. . . . It is a clear and present danger if the present is thought of as 10 years from now." That mentality has resulted in AFL-CIO support for highly controversial causes. One of the French groups that received funding, the National Inter-University Union , was widely viewed as a cauldron of rightist extremism and xenophobia and rumored also to have ties to terrorists. [8]

Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA)

CIMA works to improve the development of independent media worldwide while working to strengthen the support for such development. [54] The center works to improve the effectiveness of existing media development efforts by conducting research, building networks and bringing together a broad range of experts to share their experiences. CIMA's mission is based on the conviction that free and independent media play an indispensable role in developing sustainable democracies around the world.

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. [55]


CIMA’s reports provide a knowledge base on a variety of topics in media assistance. The goal of these reports is to provide policymakers, as well as donors and practitioners, with practical information on the importance of free media to the development of a society. These reports fall into three basic categories: research reports , [57] working group reports , [59] and event reports . [61]

See also