Our work in action | Adapting to changing contexts in Colombia

Helping maintain peace and stability through investment in democracy is a long-term commitment. Requiring effort on multiple fronts, as well as perseverance and flexibility as challenges arise and political winds change. In countries with a recent history of conflict this process can be particularly volatile, and great sensitivity is needed to help a country remain on the right course.

NIMD has been working in Colombia since 2010 and has played a key role in supporting the promotion of peace since a landmark 2016 agreement that ended a protracted conflict.

In the intervening years, NIMD Colombia has been dedicated to laying the groundwork for a peaceful future, and we are proud of a number of successful initiatives in 2022 on gender inclusivity, dialogue, and training of electoral candidates.

But the journey to these successes has been challenging, revealing both the complexities of navigating changing political circumstances – and the rewards of staying the course.

Ángela Rodríguez, NIMD Colombia’s country director, says assisting with the peace accords was one of the “greatest moments” for the office. But work at the national level became more difficult after elections in 2018. The incoming government put less emphasis on the peace process, thereby shrinking space for cooperation at that level.

NIMD Colombia had to deploy flexibility to identify the opportunities for change, and this meant doubling down on their commitment to foster democratic values at the local level, where the impact of the long conflict had been most intense, and mistrust remained high.

“The local leaderships were the most affected by the violence after the signing of the peace agreement, so we felt that we had more to contribute,” says Ángela.

One such project is the local dialogue initiatives, in which NIMD facilitates the coming together of decision-makers, politicians and local civil society leaders to co-create solutions to challenges identified by citizens themselves. The methodology has been a great success in bolstering people’s faith in the decision-making process, and we were pleased to see this recognised by the OECD as an outstanding initiative in 2022.

“At the local level we can directly help change the way people see democracy and politics, and as an organization, we now have a broader perspective working on both levels,” says Ángela.

Ensuring a safe space for diverse groups of people to enter and practice politics is also crucial to ensuring all are heard in the democratic process, and NIMD Colombia has been dedicated to highlighting the violence women face when pursuing a career in politics. We helped establish the Observatory on Violence against Women in Politics, a network of state and civil society actors who gather and disseminate data and lobby for policy change.

Years of campaigning paid off in 2022 when the National Planning Department accepted our proposal to conduct a biennial study on violence against women in politics, with the research helping lawmakers craft appropriate policies to address the issue.

“We are really proud because it was something that was not discussed in Colombia five or six years ago, and now everyone is talking about it,” says Ángela.

Democracy education is also a central plank of efforts to prepare the country for sustainable and peaceful future, and we held targeted training for electoral candidates in 2022. For this ‘Occupy Politics’ initiative, the candidates were trained both in inclusive leadership values and practical campaigning skills.

“It’s a leadership incubator for people we feel are going to make a change in the system,” says Ángela.

Of the 81 people trained by NIMD, 23 were elected to office in the 2022 elections, including young people and people from the LGBTQI+ community, bringing those values of inclusive democracy to the heart of government.

Following the elections in 2022, which brought a record number of women to Congress, the new government renewed its commitment to the peace process. NIMD Colombia subsequently identified opportunities to resume its work on the national level, including assisting with a new transparency plan and working with the Government to protect social leaders.

Now that Colombia is getting ready for local, regional and mayoral elections in October 2023, NIMD is again helping an inclusive range of candidates, including women, young people, and community leaders in areas heavily affected by past conflicts, to engage in politics and participate in the elections.

We remain committed to projects throughout Colombia, because we know it is this holistic approach and long-term commitment that has made NIMD a trusted organization known for impartiality and driving results. Even in the most challenging times.