E-democracy advocate named Ashoka Fellow

Steven Clift, who a dozen years ago formed a nonpartisan organization to improve democratic participation through communication technologies, was recently selected as an Ashoka Fellow, entitling him to financial support and pro bono services.

“This is a really big deal,” Clift wrote in his organization’s blog Nov. 15. “The Ashoka fellowship means I will dedicate myself full-time to E-Democracy.org for at least the next three years - no more subsidizing my passion with my often exhausting consulting work while trying to juggle the wonderful obligations of a new father and husband.”

Clift was among 18 social entrepreneurs from North America inducted last week by the Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit group, which supports individuals who provide innovative solutions to social problems. The fellows, who go through a rigorous selection process, were inducted at Google’s campus in Mountain View, Calif.

“We admire the qualities traditionally associated with leading business entrepreneurs – vision, innovation, determination and long-term commitment – and we look for those entrepreneurs who are committed to systemic social change in their fields,” Ashoka founder Bill Drayton said in a prepared statement.

E-democracy.org, which has nonprofit status, provides participants with an online venue to discuss local and national issues and exchange ideas. Clift’s organization helps local communities develop an online presence to provide them with a place to meet, create a sense of community and reconnect them with their elected leaders, according to a press release issued by Ashoka.

E-Democracy.org’s online forum requires people to use their real names and limits postings to two per 24-hour time period so no one participant can dominate and hijack the discussion. It does not exclude anyone based on their political views and costs little to operate. Online facilitators help ensure the issue discussions do not go off topic or become inappropriate, but they do not control the discussion.

“With greater and more effective citizen involvement comes increased trust in society and our ability to solve problems through our public institutions and processes,” Clift said in the release.

Clift, a Minnesota native who has traveled internationally to talk about e-democracy, helped Minneapolis residents form an online forum, which is facilitated by volunteers and monitored by media representatives and local politicians. In the United Kingdom, numerous local communities are also developing similar mechanisms.

Ashoka fellows work in six fields, including civic engagement, economic development, environment, health, human rights and learning/education. Support for fellows includes pro bono professional services primarily through partnerships with McKinsey and Co., a management consulting firm; Hill & Knowlton, a public relations and public affairs consulting firm; and the International Senior Lawyers Project, a nonprofit group of experienced attorneys who provide volunteer legal services in human rights and social welfare.

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