Giving Compass' Take:

• Trust in both local government and NGOs has declined in the last year. The private sector needs to find ways to engage citizens in democracy to solve local problems. 

• The author suggests that nonprofit and community-based organizations serve as the bridges for citizens to connect with their local government leaders. How can nonprofits facilitate these relationships in ways that encourage open dialogue and build trust? 

• Read about organizations that are providing tailored support to communities for democracy-building. 

A recent study found that trust in NGOs dropped by nine percent between 2017 and 2018. This fundamental lack of trust is eroding the shared public space where progress and even governance can happen, putting democracy at risk. There are, however, opportunities to rebuild and fortify our sense of trust. This is especially true at the local level, where citizens can engage directly with elected leaders, nonprofit organizations, and each other.

The role of nonprofit and community-based organizations, then, is partly to sustain democracy by being the bridge between city governments and citizens, helping them work together to solve concrete problems. It’s hard and important work. Time and again, this kind of relationship- and trust-building through action creates ripple effects that grow over time.

In my work with Cities of Service, which helps mayors and other city leaders effectively engage their citizens to solve problems, I’ve learned that local government works better when it is open to the ideas and talents of citizens. Citizen collaboration can take many forms, including defining and prioritizing problems, generating solutions, and volunteering time, creativity, and expertise to set positive change in motion. This is the kind of collaboration that we foster, and we’ve seen firsthand the far-reaching impact nonprofit organizations have when they work with cities and their citizens to do good.

When nonprofit and community-based organizations connect neighbors with each other and citizens with their local governments, they strengthen democracy, one relationship at a time. More often than not, city leaders are looking for partners to help them break down silos and solve the problems they face. Fostering dialogue and collaboration helps communities solve local problems today, and builds the trust necessary to address more complex challenges together in the future.

Read the full article about fostering democracy in cities by Myung J. Lee at Stanford Social Innovation Review