Is Democracy at Risk?

Institute of Design to Host Global Leaders Sam Pitroda and Ivo H. Daalder in a Discussion Exploring Democracy, Design, and How Our Systems Serve Our People


Sam Pitroda

In a year in which more than 60 countries around the world are holding elections that will impact billions, Sam Pitroda (M.S. EE ’66), an innovator, entrepreneur, and former advisor to the prime minister of India, has released The Idea of Democracy (Penguin, 2024), a book that argues that the institution of democracy is in deep distress.

“I have seen a marked increase in polarized politics, hate, violence, misinformation, inequality and injustice,” Pitroda writes, continuing, “As a recipient of the freedom that comes with democratic systems, it is time for me and for all of us to have the courage to ask questions when we see democracy at a crossroads. Democracy is always a work in progress.”
In conjunction with the publication of the new book, ID is hosting a panel discussion with Pitroda, Chicago Council of Global Affairs CEO Ivo H. Daalder, and civic designer Evan Chan (MDes 2019) on Tuesday, July 2, at the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship beginning at 6 p.m. It will also be livestreamed online.

The discussion, moderated by Chan, will examine democracy around the world, design’s role in contemporary democracy, and how our systems serve our people. A question-and-answer session for in-person attendees will follow the panel discussion.

In his book, Pitroda argues that while electoral democracy is the most prevalent form of government globally, the liberal foundations of democracy are shakier than they have ever been before—and that confidence in these institutions has plummeted.

“There is a growing distrust in our institutions,” says Daalder, who served as the United States Ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama and as a member of the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. “But the fear that we are ending the era of free, fair, and uncontested elections, that hasn’t yet borne out. That’s important.”
As Daalder points out, despite fears to the contrary, elections in countries such as India, Mexico, and in the European Union that have already taken place this year have been free, fair, and uncontested.

Pitroda, a member of the Institute of Design’s Board of Advisors and an advocate for technological progress, argues that young people need to take a more active interest in the state of democracy. He also believes that design and technology can play an important role in reimagining what a democracy is.

“I believe that hyperconnectivity will ultimately help the cause of democracy through democratization of knowledge, development of creative content, demonetization of services, decentralization of implementation, along with finding innovative ways of using [artificial intelligence] to find truth, build trust, and expedite human development,” Pitroda writes.

Pitroda, Daalder, and Chan will explore that and much more, including how design can help democracies better serve their people. 

There is still time to register to attend the event online.