Since the mid-1990s, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has made substantial investments in democracy promotion around the world. Alongside programs on party development, the rule of law and media reform--all considered as pillars of a healthy civil society--the agency also drew on ideas of community action and empowerment put into policy during the 1960s, and described in works like Barbara Cruikshank's Will to Empower.
In the past several years, in collaboration with a international group of practitioners, scholars and film-makers, I have been trying to track the "aid chain" that these programs have created--involving a diverse array of bureaucrats, idealists, visionaries, entrepreneurs, educators, activists and leaders connected through the flow of resources and ideas, but not always engaged in the same conversations.
The project, titled "From Idea to Impact," focuses in particular on the legacies of the Democracy Network Program launched by President Clinton in the early 1990s across Eastern Europe, which in Macedonia continued until 2004. In this first of several short films, former USAID employee and contractor Larry Birch talks about good development, and the importance of building confidence among local communities that they can effect positive change.