Political Inclusion

A robust democracy depends on the equal and active participation of all. IRI empowers and amplifies the voices of underserved communities and integrates them into political and civic life. In so doing, IRI supports sustainable, inclusive democratic development.

A woman stands and smiles at a table while others clap for her in celebration

IRI applies an inclusion lens to all programs, from start to finish, to achieve two interconnected objectives—increase the political participation, leadership, and representation of marginalized groups in decision-making bodies and processes; and strengthen efforts by new, non-traditional, and local actors to work toward inclusive and sustainable reform. To realize these two aims, IRI mainstreams priorities of marginalized communities into all aspects of program implementation and crafts interventions with these groups as the primary beneficiary.  

At IRI, we rely on four overarching political inclusion principles:

“Nothing About Us Without Us

IRI actively includes and empowers marginalized voices in society to participate in political processes that affect their lives. This means we seek and prioritize the input of marginalized populations to inform our programming. IRI partners with organizations representing such populations to make joint decisions about our approach over the course of the program.


Intersectionality refers to the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as gender, age, race, and class as they apply to a given individual or group, which create overlapping and interdependent systems of privilege or marginalization. IRI addresses these ways that marginalization affects groups to ensure our programs are relevant and can lead to sustainable change.

“Do No Harm”

Many marginalized groups face disproportionate threats to their well-being because of their identity. IRI ensures programs are not harmful to participants by conducting needs assessments to make certain programs are relevant and by collecting and analyzing data to identify results and adapt where needed.


IRI engages a wide range of providers and partners to effectively respond to the lived realities of marginalized communities. This is based on our recognition that external factors such as lack of economic opportunity, limited education, or endemic violence can impede communities’ ability to engage in civic and political life. Thus, a ‘whole of society’ approach is necessary.

Working together, these principles enable IRI to foster and build more inclusive, representative, and democratic societies globally.

Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI+) Advocates and Allies

LGBTQI+ populations face fundamental barriers that inhibit them from engaging in political and civic life. In many countries, the basic rights of such populations are not protected, including safety and access to justice. Accordingly, IRI places a premium on our principles of “do no harm” and using a cross-sectoral lens for related programs. For instance, in Bangladesh, we partnered with a local organization to promote the rights and awareness of transgender women through dance performances, television, and storytelling. In all programs, IRI responds to unique circumstances faced by local LGBTQI+ communities by conducting innovative research and assessments, such as a barrier analysis conducted in Laos and focus group discussions in Bangladesh.

IRI’s relationships with key stakeholders who can influence LGBTQI+ individuals’ lives – including government actors, civil society, political parties, and media – uniquely positions us to partner with LGBTQI+ populations. We partner with such organizations globally to bolster opportunities for LGBTQI+ populations to have their voices heard and rights protected. Examples include building advocacy for more inclusive laws and practices, connecting the LGBTQI+ community to government actors to ensure their priorities are heard, building inclusive elections through non-discrimination trainings and activism through art.

Empowering People with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities (PWD) face systemic and enduring exclusion and discrimination that makes it difficult to shift sociopolitical norms and necessary for them to fill leadership roles in their communities. To overcome barriers to political inclusion in countries like Jordan, IRI mainstreams PWD into leadership development programs. IRI also provides platforms for PWD advocates to promote the meaningful inclusion of all people in government processes. In Sri Lanka, for instance, an intern from IRI’s Emerging Leaders Academy used this platform to establish a disability focal point within the Department of Information.

Recognizing that representative governance is a hallmark of healthy democracies, a cornerstone of IRI’s inclusion efforts to remove barriers to political participation is to make sure all people have equal access to elections. For example, ahead of the 2019 elections in Guyana and the 2020 elections in Mongolia, IRI launched voter education campaigns to help PWD understand how to access information about how to exercise their right to vote. Following elections in countries including Georgia, Tunisia, and Nigeria, IRI released reports that analyzed PWD inclusion to bring awareness to the challenges and successes for ensuring all voices are represented in a democracy.

Partnering with Religious, Racial, Ethnic, Linguistic, and Indigenous Communities

Religious, ethnic, linguistic, and indigenous minorities – and other such communities who are marginalized though they are a demographic majority in their country – comprise a substantial portion of the population in many countries in which we work. IRI ensures our interventions are inclusive of these groups, starting with diversity of participants in our activities. In counties including Tanzania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, IRI has partnered with communities that cross ethnic divisions, using approaches that harness sports, art, and film to promote engagement. An overarching theme of IRI’s work with minority groups is building tolerance, peaceful interaction, and collaboration across communities.

IRI empowers partners to translate civic and voter education materials to minority languages and disseminate them in communities where linguistic minorities live. Across programs, IRI creates a safe space for people of all identities by providing spaces for prayer, catering to a variety of diets, and working with trainers from minority communities.

IRI creates space and the ability for minority groups to play an active role in political processes, while building more inclusive, peaceful, and democratic political systems.

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