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Is Democracy at Risk?

July 10, 2024

Sam Pitroda smiles while speaking
ID Hosts Global Leaders Sam Pitroda and Ivo H. Daalder in a Discussion Exploring Democracy, Design, and How Our Systems Serve Our People

In a year in which more than 60 countries around the world are holding elections that will impact billions, Sam Pitroda (M.S. EE ’66), an innovator, entrepreneur, and former advisor to the prime minister of India, has released The Idea of Democracy (Penguin, 2024), a book that argues that the institution of democracy is in deep distress.

I have seen a marked increase in polarized politics, hate, violence, misinformation, inequality and injustice... As a recipient of the freedom that comes with democratic systems, it is time for me and for all of us to have the courage to ask questions when we see democracy at a crossroads. Democracy is always a work in progress.
—Sam Pitroda

The Idea of Democracy

With more than sixty countries heading to the polls in 2024, global leaders Sam Pitroda and Ivo H. Daalder consider democracy, design, and how our systems serve our people in a conversation moderated by ID alum Evan Chan (MDes 2019).

Headshot of Ivo H. Daalder

Ivo H. Daalder, CEO, Chicago Council of Global Affairs

In conjunction with the publication of the new book, ID hosted a panel discussion with Pitroda, Chicago Council of Global Affairs CEO Ivo H. Daalder, and civic designer Evan Chan (MDes 2019) on Tuesday, July 2, at the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship.

The discussion, moderated by Chan, examined democracy around the world, design’s role in contemporary democracy, and how our systems serve our people. For in-person attendees, a question-and-answer session and reception followed.

In his book, Pitroda argues that while electoral democracy is the most prevalent form of government globally, the liberal foundations of democracy are shakier than they have ever been before—and that confidence in these institutions has plummeted.

As Daalder pointed out, despite fears to the contrary, elections in countries such as India, Mexico, and in the European Union that have already taken place this year have been free, fair, and uncontested.

There is a growing distrust in our institutions. But the fear that we are ending the era of free, fair, and uncontested elections, that hasn’t yet borne out. That’s important.
—Ivo H. Daalder, CEO Chicago Council of Global Affairs, United States Ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama, and member of the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton
Headshot of Evan Chan (MDes 2019)

Civic designer and ID alum Evan Chan (MDes 2019)

Pitroda, a member of the Institute of Design’s Board of Advisors and an advocate for technological progress, argued that young people need to take a more active interest in the state of democracy. He also believes that design and technology can play an important role in reimagining what a democracy is.

“I believe that hyperconnectivity will ultimately help the cause of democracy through democratization of knowledge, development of creative content, demonetization of services, decentralization of implementation, along with finding innovative ways of using AI to find truth, build trust, and expedite human development,” Pitroda writes.

Pitroda, Daalder, and Chan explored that and much more, including how design can help democracies better serve their people.