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 brought together young activists from diverse backgrounds to learn, exchange and grow together.

And together, we became the defenders of democracy.

What is the DDA?

The Democracy Defenders Accelerator aimed to create a world in which active young citizens were 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 designing and delivering real-life Civic Initiative Projects. The entire ten-month learning process was 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 was 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) were 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.


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

Picture of Sara Sinha

Sara Sinha

Project coordinator

With any questions or comments, please contact

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