Democratic Innovators of the 21st Century
Politicians' Hall of Fame
In collaboration with the Democracy and Culture Foundation, The Apolitical Foundation proudly presents the inaugural recipients of the "Democratic Innovators of the 21st Century" Politicians' Hall of Fame. This prestigious award celebrates remarkable women and men who have dedicated their lives to advancing democracy around the world.
In an era marked by change, uncertainty, complexity, challenges, and threats to democracy, these visionary leaders have shown us that democracy is not a static concept but a dynamic force that can be adapted and revitalized. These are women and men who have reimagined political systems, who have introduced technology to amplify voices, who have fostered inclusivity in traditionally exclusive spaces, and who have tirelessly advocated for transparency and accountability.
Their collective work has brought us closer to the ideal of a democracy that truly serves its people and puts them at the heart of developing better policies for citizens and the planet —a democracy that is not just a promise but a daily reality and an inclusive mechanism. Their accomplishments remind us that the power to shape the future lies not only with leaders but with each and every citizen.
Minister of Digital Affairs
For pioneering participatory democracy in the digital age.
Audrey Tang has become arguably the world’s most prominent pioneer of digital democracy since becoming a Minister in the Taiwanese government in 2016. Under Tang’s leadership, Taiwan has established and sustained high participation in its policy crowdsourcing platform vTaiwan, finding resolution to many divisive issues such as the regulation of tech platforms in the process, and established a successful annual ritual of Presidential Hackathons. Tang’s role in Taiwan’s highly successful “Fast Fun Fair” Covid response and in ongoing explorations of the governance of Artificial Intelligence have also been vital.
Former Metropolitan City Councillor of the Government of Lima
For his role as a champion of citizen participation, especially among youth.
Carlo Angeles has successfully advocated and pioneered the implementation of participation mechanisms for decision making at national and local level, ensuring that citizen voices are not just heard but are central to decision-making processes - especially engaging young people in the implementation and review of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Lima.
Former Minister of Culture
For leading the creation of the world’s first nation-scale participatory budgeting process.
Participatory budgeting is a process which allows citizens both to propose ideas and then vote directly on the allocation of budget to them. Originating in Porto Allegre, Brazil, in the late 1980s, it has spread around the world. When Graca Fonseca became a Minister in Portugal in 2015, she initiated the process to create the world’s first nation scale process.
Former Minister of Social Protection
For being Instrumental in the adoption of Citizens Assembly in Ireland.
Joan Burton played a key role alongside politicians of other parties in championing the establishment of a Citizens Assembly as a means of addressing constitutional issues including the country's longstanding ban on access to abortion.
The resulting Assembly brought together 99 randomly selected Irish citizens to learn, deliberate and make recommendations for constitutional change on the issue of abortion over the course of 5 weekends over a period of 5 months; recommendations which were then enacted after approval by a significant majority at a national referendum in 2018. The Irish Citizens' Assembly has since gone on to address multiple other issues including gender equality and biodiversity, and has become established as an ongoing feature of Irish democracy. It is widely regarded as a world-leading case study in democratic innovation.
Member of the Australian House of Representatives for Curtin
For her role in championing both community engagement and integrity in politics.
Elected to the Australian House of Representatives in 2022, Chaney was one of a number of Community Independent candidates to take office. Chaney is a powerful advocate of the methodology of “kitchen table conversations” that were at the heart of many of these campaigns. These distributed citizen-led conversations surface locally important issues and engage more and more diverse people in the political process. Chaney has continued to champion these methods in the policies she advocates for in parliament, including her work on the Restoring Trust Bill.
Former President of Brussels Francophone Parliament, Belgium
For her role in creating the model of deliberative committees.
In her role as President of the Francophone Parliament of Brussels from 2019-2023, Pilovie was a consistent innovator in citizen engagement. This included the creation of the model of deliberative committees. If enough citizens sign a petition on any given issue, this triggers the creation of a committee, made up of 15 elected representatives from the parliament and 45 randomly selected citizens, who then conduct an inquiry into the issue in question together. This innovative model is already shifting the relationship between citizens and politicians in the city.
Mayor of Bratislava
For making political engagement joyful and desirable through initiatives such as Camp Bratislava.
Elected Mayor of Bratislava in 2018, Vallo has brought his background as an architect and specialist in urban planning to bear on his mayoralty, arguing that “If you design better public spaces, you change the relationship residents have with a city, but also with each other.” His commitment to changing relationships has led him to pioneer new and creative approaches to citizen engagement, including Camp Bratislava, a four-day festival for the new generation, based on the idea that positive changes can only happen if young people feel a strong connection to their cities and engage with their environment.
Former Mayor of Oklahoma City
For his role as the “million pound mayor.”
Cornett led a transformative and highly participatory public health campaign in the city of Oklahoma, which all started when he himself was diagnosed as obese - but at the same discovered that his city had one of the highest rates of obesity in America. Instead of simply going on a diet himself and seeking to pass laws, he positioned himself as a peer facing the same challenges - and set the whole city the challenge of losing a million pounds in weight together. This led to a wave of ideas and energy not only from individual citizens but also businesses, and even to a significant majority vote at referendum for a new sales tax with the revenue hypothecated to investment in healthy infrastructure.
Former Mayor of Calgary
For initiating the 3 Things For Calgary campaign.
The 3 Things for Calgary campaign is an invocation to every citizen to do three things for their city, and share them with one another. By carrying around a big green foam ‘3’ with him wherever he went, Nenshi created a 21st century, Facebook-friendly, meme version of JFK’s famous invocation: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The campaign was not about preaching or requiring action; rather, it was about celebrating what people were already doing for each other, for their communities, and for the city as a whole, but maybe keeping to themselves - giving them permission and validation both to shout about it and to do just a little bit more.
Secretary of Citizen Participation, State Government of Nuevo Leon
For creating new institutions to embed citizen participation.
Peredo created the first Ministry of Citizen Participation in Nuevo León, and is working to mainstream participation and people’s incidence in public policy. By building capabilities in the public service and establishing legal participation foundations in the state she’s guiding a team of public innovators to guarantee the right conditions for the people to impact any public decision making.