Democracy Defenders Accelerator | DDA

Democracy is in danger, and urgently needs people to defend it.

Our 10-month civic leadership programme for young activists helped to fight the democratic decline.

Why defend democracy?

Over recent years, rising inequality, war, natural disasters and the Covid 19 pandemic have spurred the decline of democratic governance around the world.

But everywhere we look, inspiring activists have been standing up for human rights and environmental protection — demonstrating the vital importance of civil society in these challenging times.

To support and empower even more people to take action in the face of the democratic decline, we have developed the Democracy Defenders Accelerator. This 10-month programme will bring together young activists from diverse backgrounds to learn, exchange and grow together.

And together, we will become the defenders of democracy.

What is the DDA?

The Democracy Defenders Accelerator aims to create a world in which active young citizens are empowered to defend the principles of an open society, democratic values and a well-functioning civil society.

In this immersive, hands-on programme, participants learned how to design and deliver civic engagement projects and practise participatory leadership skills — through both the running of a fictional organisation and real-life projects. The entire ten-month learning process will be supported by mentors and facilitators.

The four main goals of this programme:

  • Open Society and Democratic Values: Discuss and explore democratic values, as well as potential threats and opportunities to democracy in international contexts.
  • Empower Civil Society: Design highly innovative, bottom-up civic engagement initiatives. Gain the confidence to test these ideas in real life to solve communities’ issues on a local, national or global level.
  • Qualitative Participatory Leadership: Learn about participatory leadership principles and values by practising leading a (fictional) organisation.
  • More Collaborative Decision-Making: Learn different decision-making methods to be able to make better collaborative decisions.


The DDA consisted of 160 contact hours, made up of workshops and mentoring sessions:

  • 20 online training sessions, held every two weeks, 20 January – 15 November 2023.
  • A 10-day Democracy Defenders Bootcamp, held in person in Estonia, 27 March – 5 April.


DDA is divided into four phases, following design thinking principles.

Phase 1 | Research

Defining the problems for the civic engagement projects

20 Jan – 24 March 2023. Online.

Phase 2 | Bootcamp

An immersive 10-day Democracy Defenders Bootcamp in Estonia

27 March – 5 April 2023. Offline in Tallinn, Estonia.

Phase 3 | Implementation

Implementing the civic engagement projects

21 April – 8 Sept 2023. Online.

Phase 4 | Impact

Measuring the impact of the civic engagement projects

4 Oct – 15 Nov 2023. Online.

Who was the DDA for?

The DDA was aimed at active citizens and community leaders, aged 20-35 with a strong interest in open society, democracy and civil society.

The programme’s target countries are Indonesia, the United States, Albania, Georgia, Estonia and other EU/EEA countries. However, participants from other countries will also be considered.

What did it cost?

The DDA is free of charge, except for the cost of travel and visas to attend the Bootcamp in Estonia. All other costs (such as accommodation, meals and transport during the Bootcamp) will be met by the organisers.

Application process

Willing participants applied to the DDA through a competitive selection process.

Applications for the 2023 DDA are now closed.

Funded by:

The DDA is financed by the ACF Fund and the Citizen OS Foundation. ACF’s operator in Estonia is Open Estonia Foundation in cooperation with the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations (NENO).

Projects initiated as part of the DDA programme

Democracy Defenders Accelerator (DDA) was our hands-on programme for civic activists across the world. The participants learned how to design and deliver civic engagement projects and practise participatory leadership skills — through both the running of real-life projects and working on project ideas. The entire ten-month learning process was supported by mentors and facilitators. As a result, 30 young people completed the programme, 17 project concepts were developed and 11 of these initiatives were piloted with real actions during the programme itself.

Here is a short overview of all the projects that went into action!


An international team based in Canada, Montenegro, Argentina and the Netherlands developed a concept and prototype for making complex systems easier to understand. The main objective is to make systems change happen more effectively by fostering greater alignment and collaboration between partners and stakeholders.

Team members: Andee Pittman, Guillermo Martin Croppi, Marijana Sundic and Mathieu Akko Muus.

Harvesting hope: Europe’s fight for food security

A European peer-to-peer initiative to raise awareness about the use of chemicals in agriculture and demand that decision makers in Europe put a stop to the use of harmful chemicals. The project utilises social media and direct networks, and it gives ideas and resources to individuals about how they can be actively involved.

Team lead: Onyx/Dimitrios Karagiannidis

Nature and the woman marginalised: A case study from Cameroon

As part of this project, gatherings and a workshop were organised to engage women in Cameroon to discuss the problems of climate change. The project is founded on the principle that there can be no climate justice without gender justice. The initiative tries to tackle the problem of women’s equality in Cameroon, as they are currently not equally represented in decision-making regarding climate change.

Team lead: Ngangjoh Memunatu Riyuh


This initiative is a programme in Indonesia which aims to raise awareness of the importance of internet privacy among school students. The team members work as teachers and have developed tools, led workshops and are planning to develop a curriculum to address these important topics in the school setting.

Team lead: Sam Michael Nugraha Situmorang

Accessibility for Pwds

With this project, the team has set a goal to improve access to public transportation in Indonesian cities for people with disabilities. This initiative aims, based on research and data, to raise awareness among decision-makers and the wider public in order to make public transportation-related decisions in an inclusive and engaging way. Access to public institutions and freedom to move is seen as a democratic right. Decisions regarding such important issues must be made inclusively.

Team: Luthfy Ramiz, Syifa Annisa and Gio Pradipta

Enhancing women’s civic and political engagement via digital technology

A project initiated in Mexico to increase the role of women as community leaders and make their voices heard more. The project identified women in local communities who are active and initiate change all the time, without realising that they are leaders and without being given the necessary recognition. During the project, workshops and discussions were held to exchange practices and experiences and learn about digital tools to improve civic participation.

Team: Mar Marín and her local team

Integration and trauma recovery among Afghan refugee women after migration in Italy

This project was developed to provide support for women who have suffered due to the war in Afghanistan and are living as refugees in Italy. As part of the project, a women’s group was established and a workshop was conducted to help them to integrate in Italy, learn about the new culture and support their trauma healing. Additionally, the project also aims to raise more awareness about the inclusion of Afghan women in Italy.

RED (Raise, Empower, Disseminate) for the youth​

This project in Albania aimed to tackle low community participation due to the lack of a dedicated budget for young people in Kodovjat, in central Albania, with a large population of 3,500 inhabitants (Census 2011). With this initiative, the project team aims to motivate, empower and strengthen the voice of young people by creating a calendar of activities for youth which combines democracy, culture and capacity building.

Team: Nensi Dragoti and his local team

ASEAN Youth Week – an ASEAN Youth Advocates Network project

The initiative in the Philippines provides civic engagement training for young people in Southeast Asia. The project provides a platform where young people can upgrade their skills in advocating youth issues in the government through networks such as the ASEAN secretariat, United Nations, etc. They provide online and hybrid training for young people in the Southeast Asia network where 600 young people are involved.

Democracy literacy for students

This project is initiated by educator Uswatun Hasanah (aka Anna) who realised that there is a pressing lack of political, democratic, digital and media literacy in society. She went on to design a project together with the students and engaged 25 active young people. They organised a discussion forum and capacity building sessions in school and connected the students with experts on matters of democracy and media. Anna also brought together her students to join the Indonesian Opinion Festival as a committee team, and she gave them the floor as student representatives to speak up about democracy issues in Indonesia.

Team: Uswatun Hasanah and her students in Central Java, Indonesia

Conduct critical research for evidence-based policy-making in Sri Lanka

This project aims to improve the overall quality of democracy in Sri Lanka by building the capacity of civil society to conduct critical research and better engage with their legislators. Through discussions and focus groups with key stakeholders, the project is mapping how local government policies affect the community.

Team: Pathirannehelage Lakshita Prasad and his external team

Additional project ideas developed

Additionally, six more project ideas were developed, which by the time of the programme did not result in piloted activities. However, the project teams had been working on their ideas, involved target groups and completed all the steps as part of the DDA programme. We hope these ideas come to fruition at a later date!

Youth brain drain in Albania.
A project idea tackling the major problem of young people leaving the country.
Team: Brunilda Brati

Digital literacy for youth in North Sulawesi.
A project concept aiming to improve digital literacy among young people.

Overall quality of democracy in Germany.
A concept with the aim of reducing radicalisation and polarisation.
Team: Lukas Crombach, Nadya Melati (quit), Rangga A. Akhli, Nensi Dragoti

Deja Vu Cycles/Misassessment of processes by society.
The project idea tackles the challenge of spreading disinformation in Georgia.
Team: Smaranda Olariu, Nato Gogrichiani

Engaging youth to address human rights violations.
A project idea that has worked on ways to raise awareness about physical and sexual violence against women and help women to speak out about their experiences.
Team: Gabriela Sulkaj, Erta Allamani, Neysa Thifal Aurellia Basista

Personal privacy awareness in universities.
The idea has explored ways to raise awareness about and develop skills for personal data privacy among university students.
Team: Sholahuddin Al-Fatih

Key Learning Outcomes

Based on the feedback and analysis, the participants admitted that they now feel more empowered to tackle complex problems, maintain a clear focus and approach the project in a way that avoids a loss of motivation and burnout. Here are the four key learning outcomes expressed by the participants.

Key learning 1: Imagination towards what democracy could be
Participants indicated that their imagination was piqued in terms of what democracy could become.

Key learning 2: Breaking “wicked problems”
According to the survey, the participants expressed that complex and “wicked” problems became less daunting because the programme taught to break them into smaller problems in a systematic way.

Key learning 3: Learning to tackle projects in phases and plan achievable steps
The participants emphasised that the Democracy Defenders Accelerator programme helped them to break down the project into phases, with milestones that were actually achievable.

Key learning 4: Using critical thinking

Another important learning outcome for the participants was the use of critical thinking when reaching out to stakeholders.


As a result of the ten-month programme, the participants together with Citizen OS initiated the Democracy Defenders Network – a participatory network for Citizen OS partners, alumni and like-minded activists to increase the capacity of civil society leaders and improve international cooperation.

The network is open for activists and organisations to exchange knowledge and coordinate initiatives together. The network applications are open and accepting new members is on a roll-up basis. The network is non-profit and there are no membership fees.

Quick info

20 Jan – 15 Nov 2023

Mix of remote (online, every two weeks) and face-to-face (Estonia, 27 March – 5 April 2023)

Free, except travel and visa costs to enter Estonia

Young civic activists, primarily from Indonesia, USA, Albania, Georgia, Estonia and other EU/EEA countries.

Information seminar
View the recorded info seminar for interested applicants, partners and media that took place on 1 November.

Get in touch

Sara Sinha

Sara Sinha

Project coordinator

With any questions or comments, please contact

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