Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the disintegration of communism across Central and Eastern Europe, a new era dawned that promised economic growth, improved quality of life and individual freedoms. However, antiquated methods of teaching, rooted in the notion that only one truth existed (that of the State), coupled with a lack of dialogue, underscored frustratingly slow progress and bred discontent among a generation of young people that had anticipated so much more.
In 1994, in an effort to stem this tide of apathy and push for a more rapid transition to democracy, The Open Society Institute (now The Open Society Foundations) launched its first network debate program. Although debate was an entirely new phenomenon to these countries, it provided an invaluable means for students to express opinions, to meet and discuss important issues, and in short, to become informed citizens.
In 1999, IDEA was created (in the Netherlands) by OSI to coordinate these debate programs and act as an independent membership organization of national debate clubs, associations, programs and individuals with the common goal of promoting mutual understanding and democracy globally by supporting discussion and active citizenship locally. Soon after, IDEA US was registered to further expand IDEA's area of activities.
For over a decade, IDEA has continued to bring debate, active citizenship training, curriculum development and international student exchanges and forums to young people across the world, with a particular focus on countries with developing democracies. In 2011, IDEA invested in improving the provision of those skills and experiences to the virtual world of the Internet.
In early 2011, IDEA UK was registered in London to expand IDEA’s work into the virtual world. While IDEA UK organizes real-world projects in the UK, East and Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East, its main focus was to redesign and rebuild idebate.org, taking full advantage of IDEA’s international debate expertise. An enhanced Debatabase, a feature-rich online community of debaters from around the world and an extensive library of open-source materials are just some of the things IDEA UK added to the virtual debating world.
Today IDEA, through its various incarnations across the world, organizes debating activity in over 60 languages in more than 50 countries; and continues to grow, striving constantly to improve the quality and quantity of its services – working locally, acting globally.