Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
New York City, New York
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, everyone. And let me first say I’m really tempted to say “what she said” and we can call it a day, and that’s usually the case. Because yes, we’re here – and I’m here – to bask in a little of this inspiration that we’re seeing around this table. But a lot of that inspiration for me starts with a now more than decades long friendship and admirer-ship, if that’s a word, of Sam and everything that she has inspired so many of us to do over so many years with this relentless focus on democracy, on human rights, on combatting humanity’s worst and meeting it with humanity’s best.
So it’s always great to be partnered with my friend, my colleague of many years, and to be with all of you. I’m really grateful for this remarkable turnout of leaders and colleagues both across governments but also across organizations, and as Sam said, really across regions and across the world.
And yes, usually the events that we have on the future of democracy tend to focus on the challenges and the concerning trends. And they are real. They’re deep; they’re serious. And I know that for all of us they are a profound preoccupation. We – and that “we” includes governments, NGOs, multilateral institutions, businesses, and others who are committed to democracy’s renewal and its spread – we do have a tendency sometimes to overlook the flipside of the coin: the people all around the globe who, as Sam said, are demanding democracy, demanding human rights, demanding accountable government, and who routinely come out to the polls, or sometimes into the streets, to reject corruption, to reject repression, to reject authoritarianism.
And in this room, around this table, we see the results of many such movements: inspiring leaders who rode waves of popular support for democracy and anticorruption into office, but who now need to prove, as Sam said, that their reform agendas can actually deliver tangible benefits for the people that they represent. That really is the task before us. It’s what President Biden has been focused on and talking about certainly since he became president, but I’ve heard him focus on it for a long time before that.
And the good news is this: We are seeing – you are seeing – democracy actually delivering for people in your countries. And I think we have a huge opportunity now to support these efforts, to support your efforts, and to help ensure their sustained success, at a time when I know many of you are facing very considerable headwinds. So today, I know we get an opportunity to hear from some of the leading reformers about just how we can actually do that.
Governments have a key role to play. At last December’s – excuse me – Summit for Democracy, President Biden announced the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal. We’ve committed about $425 million to follow through on the commitments that were made. About $55 million of that funding in the first year is going to USAID’s Partnerships for Democratic Development, which will provide flexible, multiyear support – and the multiyear support is important – for countries pursuing democratic openings, like the ones participating in today’s event.
But government is necessary, but it is not sufficient. We need others to step up with us, including the private sector, which has an abiding stake in fostering stronger democracies. Transparency, anticorruption, rule of law, all of these – you know this – create a more level playing field for businesses to compete. And countries that respect human rights and labor rights tend to be more stable and more reliable partners – especially in a crisis, as we’ve experienced through COVID-19.
The private sector, in turn, has extraordinary expertise in many of the areas where emerging democracies need the most support. And we’ll hear about some of these today, like Vodafone’s efforts to improve maternal health in Tanzania. I’m sure that others in this room, around this table, will have ideas of where to pitch in. We’re eager to hear them. We’re also eager, where we can, to help you act on them. And I’ve seen this time and time again, and it’s also incredibly inspiring. We see the practical results when we can build public-private partnerships in actually making progress, in actually making a difference in people’s lives.
Now one way that we’re able to do that in the government is through the Development Finance Corporation, which partners with the private sector to lower the risk of investment in developing countries, including all the democracies represented here today. And Scott, thank you so much for being with us today, but thank you for what you’re doing every single day. I have to say, from my perspective, one of the most important tools that we have in the United States Government on this agenda is the DFC, and I’m very proud that we’re working together so closely.
Today, though, is more than just providing support. We’re also here to learn. We’re here to learn from everyone around this table. We’re here to adapt. We’re here to try to share and spread best practices, because another thing that I’ve learned in many years of doing this is that no one has a monopoly on ideas, never mind good ideas. No one has a monopoly on best practices. Somewhere, someplace around the world, for just about any problem that we’re confronting, someone’s probably figured it out.
But if we don’t share that information, if we don’t share those best practices, then we’re constantly reinventing the wheel. And the power of bringing so many people together who are focused on different aspects of this challenge is that I will bet that, for just about anything we have to deal with, someone has found a good idea or a good solution. So we want to be sharing them today.
Ultimately, the challenges that many are facing are simply not that different from the ones facing democracies all over the world. Let me just quickly cite one that I know is at the top of just about everyone’s agenda: corruption. That is estimated now to cost up to 5 percent of global GDP. And we all know this, but corruption discourages investment. It stifles competition, it deepens inequities, and maybe most damaging for democracies, it erodes public trust in government, in institutions. And that, that is the most corrosive thing of all. It also greases the wheels of foreign interference, disinformation, transnational repression, and other actions authoritarian governments take to try to weaken democracy.
Every country here today is taking meaningful steps to address this scourge. The Dominican Republic passed new legislation that allows the government to seize assets gained through illicit activities and invest them in the Dominican people. Ecuador created the country’s first-ever specialized court tackling corruption and organized crime. Armenia’s Corruption Prevention Commission conducted integrity checks on 261 candidates for judges and prosecutors in the first half of 2022, looking for conflicts of interest and other issues that could actually undermine their independence. These are real, practical ways of dealing with the challenge of corruption.
Now, much of this democratic renewal is actually being driven from the bottom up – in Zambia, where last year more youth, women, first-time voters turned out than at any time in that country’s history and brought new leaders to office who are already making positive change, from expanding human rights protections to reducing the country’s crushing debt.
And Moldova, where massive voter turnout to power reform a government that ran on a platform of transparency, anticorruption, and judicial independence brought that government to office.
And I have to say my own admiration for you, Madam President, and all of your colleagues is boundless. You have an extraordinary challenge under the most difficult circumstances, but know that the United States is and will remain strongly your partner in everything that you’re doing.
Of all the reasons to be optimistic about this progress, the enthusiasm of citizens may be the most inspiring and, ultimately, the most consequential, because when people in other parts of the world, including in closed societies, see citizens holding their leaders to account, when they see government actually working to solve problems that people are confronting in their daily lives, then they too begin yearning for a more free, a more open, a more accountable government in their own countries. And that’s the kind of virus that we’d like to see spread. It’s a good one, a powerful one, one that can make a huge difference.
The bottom line is this: I think, more than ever before, the fate of our democracies are intertwined, interconnected. The more vibrant, resilient democracies that we can foster by our side, the more we will be able to do what we’re all here to do, which is to deliver for our people, for our fellow citizens. That’s the mission; that’s the objective. And we are grateful to be able to work with so many who are trying to do just that.