Spotlight Session

All spotlight sessions are included in registration and are part of a program of 400+ presentations, panels, roundtables, and workshops offered at the conference.

Democracy on Notice! Losing Battles, but Will We Win the War? 

MONDAY, 9 NOVEMBER, 17:15 to 18:30 EST

2020 is the 75th anniversary of the end of world war in Europe and in Asia-Pacific and the creation of the United Nations, the beginning or the end of a period when humanity experienced the worst and the best. Seventy-five years ago, when the world was at a crossroads, a handful of visionary leaders found and took opportunity to put in place a framework for compassionate collaboration that, although imperfect, made it possible to preserve peace and development within a few decades, and in the main this was supported by the strengthening of democratic governance. 

Now, and very unusually in history, the whole of humanity is facing a common threat. Experts differ in their forecasts: for some the impact will be short-term and limited, but others suggest that the world of tomorrow will be like the one before, but worse! The threat is not just to our health, or our wealth, nor even just through the climate emergency. The threat is to the way we lead and govern, to our engagement with key decisions that affect the quality of life itself. According to Freedom House, “the threat is to the rules-based order, and to democracy – the system of governance that many regard as key to prosperity. Only one piece of evidence will suffice. Political rights and civil liberties around the world have deteriorated to their lowest point in more than a decade…extending a period characterized by emboldened autocrats, beleaguered democracies, and the United States’ withdrawal from its leadership role in the global struggle for human freedom” ( That was in 2018. Since then it has gotten worse. 
It seems now that the world is living through culture wars against the institutions of liberal democracy -parliaments, the courts, the media, local governments, public and civil servants and the checks and balances of accountability. In the pursuit of longevity and for the consolidation of power and influence, governments with authoritarian tendencies are attacking the rival centres of power. 

And there are many fights in progress -across the globe in Asia, Latin America, the nations of the former Soviet Union, within Europe and the European Union and in the USA. The fights seem to start when things go wrong, and governments fail to step up to adversity, but more readily rely on blame (on others), fear and prejudice. The proverbial ‘buck’ fails to stop where we used to accept it should. 

Adversity, be it the product of a financial systems crash, a pandemic or an accelerating climate emergency, is amplifying the inadequacy of our systems, exacerbating inequalities and destabilising communities in ways that open the opportunities for the centralisation of power that feels less and less the need to be accountable. One consequence might be that the liberal democracy that we know, with the checks and balances and abilities, however imperfect, to listen and hear ordinary voices of the many stakeholders, may be on the wane, about to be replaced by top-down revolution, or by a complete retreat by government. 

The Panel will focus on the many and various examples of battles and assess and draw conclusions about the overall ‘culture war’. 

Bob Boisture 

President & CEO, The Fetzer Institute

Mike Hardy

ILA Board Chair; Founding Director; Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations; Coventry University

Matt Qvortrup

Professor; Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations; Coventry University

Greta Lucero Ríos Téllez Sill

President, Ollín: Jóvenes en Movimiento (Youth in Motion)

john a. powell

University of California, Berkeley

  • Bob Boisture has been President of the Fetzer Institute since 2013, and a Trustee of the Institute since 2011.
    Under his leadership, the Institute has adopted the mission of “helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world.” The Institute’s goal is to help catalyze and support a global movement for spiritually grounded personal and social transformation. As part of its broader strategy, the Institute is working with a growing number of partners globally to catalyze the articulation of a “shared sacred story” for humanity in the 21st century, and, domestically, to catalyze a national movement to “heal the heart of American democracy.”
    Over the past several years, the Fetzer Institute has been working with partners on the left and right to help catalyze the emergence of a bridging force in American culture and politics strong enough to arrest, and ultimately reverse, the growing polarization and toxicity that is threatening our democracy.
    Trained as a lawyer, Bob spent most of his career in Washington, working with a broad range of nonprofits and foundations, including the Council on Foundations and Independent Sector. His work involved strengthening nonprofit governance and helping to design and lead major national advocacy campaigns involving environmental and health issues and the right of nonprofit organizations to participate in the legislative process.
  • Mike Hardy is Professor of Intercultural Relations and founding Director of the Centre for Trust, Peace, and Social Relations at Coventry University. He is chair of the International Leadership Association. From 1995 until 2011, Mike was a senior Director with the British Council with responsibilities for the Council’s global cultural relations program for intercultural and interfaith dialogue, youth engagement, and so-called “soft-power” global strategic partnerships; his diplomatic work included postings in Egypt, East Jerusalem, and Indonesia.
  • Matt Qvortrup is professor of political science at Coventry University. Described by the Financial Times, as “a world authority on referendums”, he has published more than a dozen books on democracy, and presented the BBC Programme How to Kill a Democracy.
  • Greta Lucero Ríos Téllez Sill is a Mexican social leader and entrepreneur. In 2011, she founded Ollin, a national NGO working on citizen engagement. In 2019, Greta moved Mexico City Congress towards the approval of a new Citizen Participation Law.
    Since 2013, she has bi-weekly participations on the group of experts on the radio program WFM at W Radio. She was a speaker for the Mexico City Youth TEDx Talks in 2014. In 2016, she became an Ashoka Fellow and a Vital Voices VVLead Fellow. In 2017 she joined the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network. She was awarded the 2019 UBS Visionaris Prize.
  • john a. powell is Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute and Professor of Law, African American, and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He was previously the Executive Director at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University, and prior to that, the founder and director of the Institute for Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota. john formerly served as the National Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He is a co-founder of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council and serves on the boards of several national and international organizations. john led the development of an “opportunity-based” model that connects affordable housing to education, health, health care, and employment and is well-known for his work developing the frameworks of “targeted universalism” and “othering and belonging” to effect equity-based interventions. john has taught at numerous law schools including Harvard and Columbia University. His latest book is Racing to Justice: Transforming our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society.

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