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Keseb: Building Resilient, Inclusive Democracies That Can Defeat the Authoritarian Playbook

2024 Catalyst Fund Awardee
Yordanos Eyoel
Catalyst Fund

Despite a worldwide consensus that democracy is at a dangerous inflection point, pro-democracy movements in the United States and abroad are mired in disunity. Scattered organizations often employ radically different tactics, diffusing efforts and hindering progress. Meanwhile, global illiberal forces have perfected the “authoritarian playbook,” which is leveraged to weaponize fear, target outsiders, undermine institutions, rewrite history, exploit religions, and erode truth in support of authoritarian leaders. The 21st century requires a call to action to strengthen and inspire democracy.

I believe we need to make democracy inspiring, we need to accelerate the pace of innovation in the pro-democracy movement, and we as a global community need to come together to embrace our interconnectedness.

Yordanos Eyoel, Founder & CEO, Keseb

Keseb is the second pro-democracy organization founded by Ethiopian-American civic entrepreneur Yordanos Eyoel, building on the lessons she learned as founder of New Profit’s Civic Lab, the first nonpartisan US venture philanthropy to invest in innovative models of building civic trust in America. Keseb takes that further, building out an entire ecosystem to counter democratic regression. From engaging societies and institutions, developing robust national and cross-national ecosystems, to promoting and accelerating learning and innovation.

Keseb defines democracy as a governing system with accountable actors and institutions, checks and balances outside the state, openness in power alterations, level playing fields for human rights, and practical engines of self-improvement and correction. The organization was founded in 2022 and focused on regions with systems that lacked many of these traits such as Brazil, South Africa, and the United States. Yordanos believes that democracy should empower and inspire leaders. She is passionate about the strong role of civil society in upholding accountable systems. Democracy entrepreneurs and social innovators, Keseb posits, are the key to inspiring and strengthening democracy. The organization convenes and calls upon 21st century civil society organizations to organize within their communities, change democracy narratives, advocate for policies, strategically litigate, and provide civic education on democracy.

Keseb programs work at every level. The nonprofit supports individuals through a two-year community of learning fellowship. That fellowship currently supports 12 individual leaders of democracy organizations (75% female) with unrestricted capital to help their organizations expand their knowledge and to build a community of support and solidarity. By educating groups and leaders on the best practices of holding and verifying free and fair elections, building leadership pipelines, combating misinformation, and cultivating informed voters, the Democracy Fellowship enables these catalytic cohorts of innovators to accelerate the pace of pro-democracy innovation and gives them the tools and language to demonstrate the value of diversity and difference in that process.

people from 60+ countries convened at hybrid summits
countries reached with Keseb reports
of fellows are women from underrepresented communities

Internationally, their Global Democracy Champion Network convenes activists, researchers, journalists, funders, academics, and entrepreneurs to share best practices across nations. Over three convenings, two of which were virtual global summits, Keseb convened 1000+ people from 60+ countries and engaged 75+ professionals in interviews to create the “Defending and Strengthening Diverse Democracies” report. Keseb Insights uses data and disseminates research to inform practitioners, funders, and policy architects. The organization is strategically positioned to balance short term-crisis responses and long-term democracy-strengthening efforts by creating a collaborative ecosystem. Keseb’s structures demonstrate their foundational faith in the strengths of a shared humanity.

Keseb seeks to counter rising authoritarianism through this entrepreneurial democracy movement. Their network makes a strong positive case that democracy can be inclusive, expansive, and create accountability for power and purpose for people. This is a powerful antidote to authoritarian ideology that builds momentum for strategic pro-democracy partners, and informs the philanthropic ecosystem on novel approaches to strengthening civil society.

Using democracy entrepreneurship to describe civil society leaders actually changes the frame. This isn't just electoral work, this is institution building.

Yordanos Eyoel, Founder & CEO, Keseb


As an Ethiopian-American democracy entrepreneur born and raised during the longest civil war in Ethiopia, Yordanos Eyoel understands the integral efforts of entrepreneurs in reinstating an inspiring and innovative democratic society. Yordanos founded Keseb to continue fueling the pro-democracy movement through entrepreneurial innovation and narrative building. She was recognized by Unorthodox Philanthropy as an “Extraordinary Leader Transforming a Field” and has positioned Keseb as a key “orchestrator,” in the emerging field of political innovation, according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

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