Debate clubs are formed within schools, universities, youth clubs and community centers. Although they are usually initiated at the school level, they can also be formed in community and youth centers in countries where political conditions make it difficult to work within the school system. These clubs may then function as an educational program offered by the particular institution.

The debate club represents the heart of the IDEA mission. If successfully administered, these locally-based institutions will eventually flourish into independent national debate organizations, which hold membership in IDEA and are capable of upholding and promoting the principles of IDEA and of debate.
 
The Functions of the Debate Club
At the club level, debating teams, along with their coaches and other club members, prepare for tournaments and serve the broader school community. Parents, teachers, and community members are encouraged to participate as judges, fundraisers, and volunteers within the club program. Clubs sponsor local events such as public debates and strive to encourage the democratic exchange of ideas throughout the region. Debate clubs are as inclusive as possible (see starting a debate club for more on club composition), and students of differing ages, grades, and abilities are encouraged to participate and contribute to the club and its efforts.
 
Debate Clubs as the Foundation of Independent National Debate Organizations
The debate club serves as the starting point from which, ideally, an independent national debate organization will arise. IDEA works to initiate this process via a five-year program (program length may vary depending upon funding and other factors).
 
During the first year of the program, IDEA reaches out to secondary school teachers interested in debate. These initial trainees receive extensive instruction in the fundamentals of debate, along with information on how to create debate clubs in their schools. During the second year, a national training team is selected from those teachers first trained by IDEA; who are asked to begin developing a strategy for integrating debate into the curriculum of local schools.
 
Once a number of schools have successfully created debate clubs, IDEA provides support to help the schools establish a debate center – community centers for anyone interested in debate - which will eventually house the national debate association.
 
By the third year, teachers who have been active in the program are encouraged to organize and create a membership association for the school debate clubs. IDEA provides training to this end, with a focus on helping the association transition into an independent organization.
 
During the final two years of the IDEA program, it is expected that IDEA's direct financial support of the local debate programs will be replaced by funding via the local community: through membership fees and donations. By the end of the fifth year, the national debate association - started humbly from a group of debate clubs - will be self-sustaining and will take on the responsibility of finding the necessary in-country support.
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