The Westminster Foundation for Democracy is the UK’s leading democracy-strengthening organisation. Operating closely with, but remaining independent of, the British government, the WFD brings together parliamentary and political party expertise to foster inclusive governance, accountability, representation and citizen participation in developing countries and countries transitioning democracy.
Established in 1992, soon after the fall of the Berlin wall, the initial goal of the WFD was to provide support to political parties in Eastern European countries transitioning to democracy. In the 2000s the WFD developed a speciality in strengthening parliamentary capacity at both national and sub-national levels.
More recently, a new “integrated” programme was launched, combining these two areas of expertise, in order to help political parties operate more effectively within parliaments.
WFD receives a core grant from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in three-year cycles. The current cycle runs from 2015 to 2018, and it is used in order to ensure a permanent presence in targeted countries.
One of the WFD’s core principles is the universal establishment of legitimate and effective multi-party representative democracy.
Several countries around the world are keen to engage with WFD because they want to hear about the British experience. Rather than engaging in large, one-size-fits-all programmes with expensive components, WFD tailors programmes making small but significant improvements to that country’s democracy – and paving the way for bigger changes.
WFD believes that substantive improvements to a parliament are possible, even in challenging circumstances. In order to provide a precise context analysis, WFD focuses on a country’s current situation, on where it is heading, and on how it can be helped to get there.
Parliamentary programmes – WFD works to strengthen parliamentary capacity at national and sub-national level. It does this through training, sharing expertise on a peer-to-peer basis and building institutional capacity. WFD supports both members of parliament and parliamentary staff. Each programme is tailored to the needs of the specific parliament and may include, for example, strengthening financial oversight, accountability, human rights, communications, induction training, committee work, policy development and legislation.
Political parties programmes – Political parties are pivotal to a healthy functioning democracy. Without well-functioning parties, governments and legislatures have little chance of representing society in a meaningful way. WFD draws directly on the expertise of all Westminster’s political parties which work on both a sister-party and cross-party basis to develop local political capacity, accountability and participation.
Research – In order to understand local challenges and do so based on evidence, WFD conducts regular research and learning reflections on its programmes. It also is a partner of the Department of Politics and International Relations (DPIR) at Oxford University.
Election observation – WFD manages the recruitment and training of British election observers for European Union (EU) Election Observation Missions (EOMs). Deploying EOMs is a critical component of the EU’s overall efforts to help countries run free and fair elections, a crucial part of the democratic process.