Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) is the UK public body dedicated to supporting democracy around the world.
WFD partners with UK political parties, parliaments, electoral and financial audit institutions to help over 30 developing countries make their governments fairer, more effective and accountable.
WFD’s initiatives include: helping protect women from violence in the Middle East, making politics more inclusive in Africa, consolidating democratic institutions in Asia and building trust in democracy across the Western Balkans.
On behalf of the United Kingdom, WFD recruits international election observers and leads the Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy (CP4D), a UK initiative to support the political engagement of minorities and vulnerable groups in developing countries across the Commonwealth.
Over 25 years after its establishment, WFD fields over 100 staff in 27 offices spanning from Caracas to Vientiane. A new strategic framework, recently endorsed by the UK Government, commits the Foundation to renew a focus on civil society and independent institutions as well as adopt the latest innovations in programme design and implementation.
WFD is a constituent member of the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), the Brussels-based umbrella organisation for European democracy assistance organisations.
WFD was established in 1992 by Royal Prerogative, on the initiative of all political parties at Westminster, to deliver UK democracy assistance in a transparent way and at arm’s length from Government. Initially, it operated as a grant-making organisation focusing on supporting democratic institutions, independent media, political parties and civil society in former Soviet Union countries and Africa. From 1998, WFD started to design and deliver long-term programmes using UK experts.
Starting with Sierra Leone in 2001, WFD began establishing country offices, mostly based within parliaments, employing local experts. Programmes included voter education, training of parliamentary staff and legislators. From 2004, it developed operations in the Middle East out of its first permanent office in Beirut and a programme in Egypt. Between 2004 and 2007, WFD operated multi-year programmes involving multiple stakeholders in Kenya, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Belarus, Serbia and Ukraine. Programmes supported the development of multi-party politics, decentralisation, the engagement of civil society in political and parliamentary processes and transparency.
Between 2008 and 2013, WFD led a partnership including UK Parliament, UK National Audit Office (NAO), the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and Thomson Reuters Foundation. The partnership helped establish parliamentary study centres in Lebanon, Uganda and Mozambique, a parliamentary public accounts committee in Morocco, freedom of information legislation in Ukraine and a human rights committee in Uganda.
Responding to the Arab Spring, starting in 2011, WFD scaled up its presence in the Middle East and North Africa. It supported the transition to democracy in Tunisia and to constitutional monarchy in Morocco. It also helped develop democratic institutions in Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon as well as started supporting women MPs from Arab Countries.
Between 2012-13, WFD transformed its 20-year presence in the Western Balkans, from implementing national initiatives to supporting cross-border cooperation on economic development, transparency and EU integration. An approach which recently won WFD a UK Government grant to expand its support, as announced in the London Western Balkans Summit.
Between 2014 and 2017, WFD grew into the UK leading democracy assistance organisation. With support from an in-house advisory unit, an associates programme and high-level partnership with UK and Commonwealth organisations, WFD provides electoral assistance as well as support to parliaments, political parties, independent oversight institution and civil society.
- Conducting political economy analysis (PEA) and using local knowledge and priorities to design and adapt interventions.
- Implementing multi-national initiatives to enable learning between countries with similar traditions and challenges.
- Partnering with other organisations with different skillsets to complement action and address challenges from different angles.
- Transforming training, moving to a model of learner-led design that includes simulations, mentoring, secondments, hands‑on support, and other forms of learning by doing.
- Adopting new approaches to monitoring, evaluation, and learning – including process tracing and outcome matrices.
Recognising their central role in effective, multi-party democracies, parliaments and political parties have always been at the heart of WFD’s work, both as beneficiaries of support programmes and as partners in initiatives to make the political process more inclusive. Over 25 years operating at the forefront of democracy development, WFD has become a trusted partner in many countries. This is because WFD’s approach is built on a deep understanding of local contexts, facilitated by working with local experts, and does not seek to impose any ready-made solutions or foreign ways of working. What WFD offers is access to British and international technical expertise, a long-term approach that fosters learning and makes use of the latest research, and flexibility to adapt programmes to meet emerging opportunities. Typically, WFD supports parliaments to:
- hold government to account through committee and financial oversight
- make better laws through improved drafting, formulation and scrutiny of public policies
- engage civil society to pass reforms reflecting the interests of all groups and constituents – particularly those which have been previously marginalized.
- become more open and transparent, by giving citizens greater access to information and a more active role in parliamentary processes.
Support to parliaments is complemented by support to political parties. WFD provides this through four dedicated programmes, which are led implemented by UK political parties. These are:
- the Conservative Party International Department programme
- the WFD International Programme by the Labour Party
- the SNP WFD Office programme
- the Multi-Party Office programme
This unique institutional arrangement has enabled UK political parties to play an active role at international level, supporting the development of sister parties as well as other political movements and activists in developing countries. Traditionally, WFD supported UK political party international programmes on policy development, membership recruitment, organisation development, information management systems and external communications. In line with WFD’s new Strategic Framework, UK political parties most recently focused their international work on advancing women’s political leadership and developing more inclusive political organisations, including with young people, people with disabilities, the LGBT+ community, and other minority groups.
WFD is the official body responsible for the recruitment and selection of UK election observers for EU and OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Missions (EOMs). Drawing on its network of UK and international partners and expert, WFD also provides electoral reform guidance to legislatures and civil society and is committed to supporting a growing number of initiatives aiming at establishing credible and fair electoral processes around the world.
The Board of Governors oversees the activities of WFD and determines its strategic direction. Its responsibilities include preparing the Annual Report and Accounts, safeguarding WFD assets and ensuring UK Government and other donor funds are used only for the purposes for which they have been given. Three board subcommittees on programme quality, audit and risk and terms and conditions, help oversee WFD operations. The Board is composed of four openly-recruited Governors reflecting the range of WFD’s interests, and six Governors representing all UK political parties. Members are appointed by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
WFD is headed by a Chief Executive Officer, who is responsible for the day-to-day management of the organisation and for implementing the WFD Strategy. Corporate functions which report to the Chief Executive and support the sound management of the Foundation include Finance, Operations, HR, Monitoring and Evaluation, Communications (including Transparency).
As an independent arm’s length body of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, WFD adopts UK Civil Service standards in terms of financial management, transparency and recruitment. As it is incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee, it also follows UK Company Law. WFD is accountable to the UK Parliament to which Annual Report and Accounts are submitted annually. As a public body, WFD’s statutory auditor is the UK Comptroller and Auditor General from the UK National Audit Office.
As of 2018, the Foundation designs, implements and monitors most of its programmes in-house. Grants are still awarded as part of larger partnership programmes, such as the Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy (CP4D) or under local programmes for the delivery of specific activities.
WFD funding sources
WFD receives annual core funding as well as significant grants from the UK Government which make up over 90% of WFD’s total income (£10.4m in 2017-2018). Among other funders, the European Union is the most significant one. Full audited accounts are presented annually to the UK Parliament and are available online through this website.