Towards Successful Transitions: Economic Recovery and Democratic Renewal

Conference Recap

On June 28th and 29th, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) held a two-day inaugural conference of the Free Enterprise & Democracy Network (FEDN) – Towards Successful Transitions: Economic Recovery and Democratic Renewal – featuring over 30 speakers from around the world providing expert insights on current and developing threats to markets and democracies. The international audience of FEDN members, business organizations, think tanks, development and democracy organizations, and scholars confirmed the appreciation that economic recovery and democratic renewal are intertwined. The conference was supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and served as a complement to the World Movement for Democracy. 

The opening keynote speaker, outgoing National Endowment for Democracy (NED) President Carl Gershman, identified six strategic challenges facing democracy today:

  1. Liberalizing authoritarian systems
  2. Supporting democratic transitions
  3. Countering malign authoritarian influence in the world
  4. Strengthening unity among democracies
  5. Defending democratic values against illiberalism and intolerance
  6. Competing with authoritarians in the arena of technology and information

Gershman affirmed that these challenges require a concerted response from civil society, private sector, and governments, locally and internationally, and recognized CIPE’s work in fostering democratic pluralism by supporting open market economies and empowering independent voices of the business community. “Political democracy, with a strong free market system, is the best path forward for people everywhere,” he reminded listeners. “A free market is not a feature; it is a requirement for good governance.” The problem, as he sees it, is that the people who have tried to defend democracy too often fail to link it to the free market.

During the June 29th keynote address, Hon. Betty C. Maina detailed how close collaboration with the private sector has allowed the Kenyan government to implement an inclusive growth agenda, social protects and welfare to support the population. Cabinet Secretary Maina emphasized that win-win outcomes are possible between states and private enterprises globally, but only when they work together to support one another to advance prosperity for all rather than viewing each other as antagonists.

Conference panelists echoed these themes while urging that pathways forward for economic recovery and democratic renewal should not just focus on improving the performance of institutions, but also the quality of institutions through participatory approaches. Discussions centered on the need for governments to help small business and marginalized communities weather the lingering effects of the pandemic, and be prepared for inevitable changes and disruption in business models. In an audience poll, promoting entrepreneurship among diverse communities was rated as a top priority to achieve an inclusive economic recovery.

Panel Session: How to Navigate Recovery

Panel Session: How to Accelerate and Protect Democratic Transition

Specific calls for action included a realignment towards democratic capitalism, remaining conscientious of blind spots in policy efforts to mitigate inequities, rebuilding citizen trust through transparency and accountability, recognizing stakeholder dialogue and engagement as a continuous and reciprocal process, and rapidly capitalizing on opportunities for transformational reform. “Democratic transition often does not come incrementally. It comes in waves,” warned panelist Abigail Bellows, a Nonresident Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and FEDN member. She told attendees that “it is very important to be prepared for those moments and be able to respond strategically.”

Panel Session: How Do We Recover Inclusively

Ignite Talks: Future of Capitalism and Trust in Democratic Institutions

Asia Forum: Economic Recovery and Democratic Renewal

Conference Closing Remarks

In the closing remarks for the conference, FEDN Steering Committee Member Badri el Meouchi summarized key takeaways in four distinct, yet complementary points:

  1. Invest more in collective action between the public sector, private sector, and civil society.
  2. Expect change and always be ready to respond to waves of change.
  3. Empower local actors to push for reforms and be more involved in policy decisions.
  4. Strengthen anti-corruption efforts to curb the erosion of free enterprise and democracy.