A. Lawrence Chickering is a political and social entrepreneur and writer whose work has focused on empowering citizens to increase their roles in public institutions from government schools to foreign policy—while also contributing to economic and social progress.
To this end, Chickering has founded or co-founded several public policy organizations that promote “transpartisan” reforms in both the U.S.and globally. His most recent organization, Educate Girls Globally (EGG), works with the government in the tribal state of Rajasthan inIndia, promoting cultural change not only in traditional communities, but also in government bureaucratic cultures.
Chickering has focused his recent writing on the challenges of policy toward the “weak states” that have become the new priority concerns of foreign policy. At a time when the new threats to security come from non-state actors, he believes that both development and counterinsurgency warfare (COIN) need civil society organizations (CSOs) to play a greatly expanded role in promoting change by empowering citizens.
In a series of articles he has written for the Small Wars Journal (SWJ), Chickering has raised questions about the government’s capacity to reform its institutions and policies, and embrace CSOs as active partners. A major problem, he argues, is that the foreign policy community, both inside and outside the government, knows almost nothing about civil society and how it can promote change from “inside” societies. That explains why foreign policy continues to be directed entirely toward governments, assuming that weak states are strong, and asking them to do things they have no capacity to do.
Chickering stresses the importance of empowering people rather than only helping them. EGG provides no financial incentives. Both its school reform and community projects result from empowerment alone. Together with working in government schools, this allows EGG to operate at very large, strategic scales and low costs. This commitment, however, conflicts with the overwhelming objectives of donor and philanthropic organizations.
Chickering believes that the troubled transition from dictatorship to democracy, now underway in Egypt and other countries, could have been largely prevented by an indigenous civil society strategy promoting trust, expanding participation in government, and building human infrastructure for transition. He also believes that a strong civil society strategy is the essential, missing element in efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.
To show what is possible in this arena, EGG is currently negotiating with the U.S. Central Command to implement a demonstration project in Afghanistan. The experience in Rajasthan shows how the model empowers people to take responsibility for their own security, in addition to other forms of progress.
Chickering’s coauthored book, Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security, and his more recent SWJ writings, present the most complete statements of his thinking about how civil society initiatives can be used to promote economic, social, and political change in these tribal societies. He believes that new ways of thinking about foreign and national security policy need to be built on a combination of civil society initiatives and new thinking about the strategic uses of communication to influence people’s perceptions.
Chickering has authored two “transpartisan” books on American politics. His book Beyond Left and Right (1993) drew wide praise across the U.S. political spectrum, and his 2008 book Voice of the People, coauthored with James S. Turner, includes two chapters on foreign policy.
Mr. Chickering is a graduate of StanfordUniversity and theYale Law School. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.