Blog | Jason Carter and Family Visit Zambia to Learn More about the Center’s Work on Inclusive Democracy and Climate Change

Jason Carter headshot

Jason Carter is the chair of The Carter Center Board of Trustees.

I made my first visit to Zambia, where our goal was to learn more about the Carter Center’s ongoing democracy programming that helps women, youth, and persons with disabilities overcome barriers to getting involved in political affairs and to travel into the Zambian countryside, where the Center is piloting a project to help rural communities address the effects of climate change. My wife, Kate, and sons, Henry (16) and Thomas (14), joined me. Kate and I were thrilled to have our sons witness firsthand the impact of the Carter Center’s work. My grandfather took me to Africa for the first time when I was 13, and I hope this experience will help connect them to these aspects of our family legacy.

Participatory Rights

  • Jason Carter group shot

The first election that the Center observed in Africa was in Zambia in 1991. My grandfather led that election observation mission. It was a crucial moment in the history of Zambia, and it became a fundamental part of the Carter Center’s efforts to enhance democracy worldwide.

The Center has long viewed elections through a human rights lens, with core civil and political rights as defining features of genuinely democratic elections. However, women, youth, persons with disabilities, and other marginalized populations often face barriers that hinder their full and equal participation in elections and politics. The Carter Center’s initiative on Participatory Rights assists marginalized populations in overcoming key obstacles, including political barriers and those rooted in economic, social, and cultural forces.

Women and youth compose a large majority of voters in Zambia, yet they continue to be underrepresented in local and national decision-making, and their concerns are often inadequately addressed. The Carter Center has worked with Zambian partners since 2019 to remove hindrances to women and youth political participation. The Center is working in all of Zambia’s 10 provinces and, to date, has supported the efforts of more than 500 long-term and emerging civil society leaders at the national and district levels. The Carter Center can provide technical assistance to these local leaders and suggest strategies based on what we have seen in other countries, but the work is only effective if it is carried out by Zambians, in Zambia, for the Zambian democracy.

My entire family was thrilled to see the success, quality, and passion of these Carter Center partners whose membership reaches numerous communities across Zambia. We met with representatives of the Carter Center’s partner organizations, including the Non-governmental Organisations’ Coordinating Council, Zambia National Women’s Lobby, Young Women in Action, Generation Alive, Free Press Initiative, Zambia Council for Social Development, and Alliance for Accountability Advocates Zambia. We closely listened to their perspectives on the positive developments and key challenges to democratic development. We shared their recommendations with the Electoral Commission of Zambia and the Gender Unit Permanent Secretary, among others. All agreed to work together to address them long before the next election in 2026. We also met with our key partners in the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, who support the work with these partners, and in the Embassy of Ireland, who are working with us to build on these efforts in 2024.

  • Jason Carter and wife dine with Zambian leaders.

My family was also pleased to meet with traditional chiefs, who are crucially important community leaders in Zambia and have enormous influence over cultural issues in Zambia. We listened to their experiences and were grateful for their wisdom. We are confident that they will continue to uplift the voices of women, youth, and persons with disabilities, and we hope that they will continue to raise their voices to other chiefs and broaden support for these issues among the traditional leadership in Zambia.

We all noted the many parallels between Zambians’ struggle for inclusive democracy and our challenges in the United States. At home, politics are polarized; women, youth, and those with disabilities still seek a significant place at the leadership table, and more remains to be done to ensure that the rights of every minority are respected. We need to do more at home and are inspired by Zambia’s similar struggles. As global advocates for democracy, we must share stories and strategies and work together to support democracy and human rights for all.


  • Jason Carter sits under a tree with women in Zambia.

Because of our close relationship with many community leaders in Zambia, in 2022, The Carter Center was able to launch a pilot initiative to develop strategies for coordination between national civil society organizations and local community-based organizations to influence policies on the impacts of climate change on youth and women in Zambia at the local level. In this pilot, the Carter Center and its partners worked with citizens and leaders in four rural districts to develop climate action plans. The plans make community members aware of the impacts of climate change on women and youth, prepare community members to engage local officials on climate policy, and put in place a mechanism to ensure that recommendations from youth and women inform decision-making.

To see one of these communities, we drove for five hours to a small community in Gwembe District in Zambia’s Southern Province, where the consequences of climate change are real and immediate. Of course, my grandparents grew up in a 600-person village, hours from the capital of Atlanta. And when The Carter Center goes to a village like this, we know that it has people who have the power to change the world. We arrived in Gwembe with that in mind. We were all deeply touched by the inspirational stories of the people we met.

We met with the community task force our partners had created and supported. The community members told us about the first time they noticed the impacts of climate change, about six years ago. The rainy season began arriving later in the year. Then the main river ran dry. They experienced floods followed by extreme droughts. They said they hadn’t had a good harvest in many years. Families have gone hungry, and schoolchildren are sent in search of work during the worst conditions.

  • Jason Carter and son prepare soil as Zambian children look on.

Hearing from people, particularly children, who have gone hungry drove home that the effects of climate change are not generations away—they are occurring right now in very human ways, and they are striking with particular force on the most marginalized people in the world.

In addition to hunger, floods have overtaken bridges, making movement impossible. Several parents, teachers, and children told us that children cannot attend school during extreme flooding because the schools are inaccessible. And in times of extreme heat, it can get too hot for children to walk long distances to school. Kate and I spoke to a girl who told us that the single paved road many children use to get to school can get tacky in the heat. And for the children who cannot afford shoes, it is impossible to walk on it.

All in all, we visited the Forestry Department, where community members keep and distribute trees for community planting initiatives and are taught techniques to grow trees and protect them; Fumbo Elementary School, where teachers, students, and families confront hunger because of climate change and work to sustain a community garden; and the home of a community leader, whose extended family works together to plant shade and fruit trees on a common plot. They also integrate a few small solar panels in a practice that would surely warm the heart of my grandfather, an early solar energy champion.

  • Forest in Zambia showing how trees have been cut down.

It was striking that this community not only must adapt to the reality of climate change, but they are looking at ways to combat it. One of the main ways the community members, primarily women, can make a living is by making and selling charcoal, mostly supplying buyers’ demand in the capitol, far outside their community. They cut down and burn trees to make charcoal. It takes 10-15 trees to fill one bag; Zambia is losing more than 740,000 acres of forest annually. Responding to these issues is a complex challenge that should be led by the Zambian government, along with its politicians and traditional leaders, with the participation of local community members helping to determine the best approaches. Providing alternative ways for people to earn a living is key. The Carter Center might be able to support community-led strategies to confront climate change; however, this issue requires a broader response from all of Zambian society.

Though our trip was short, it was remarkable. The programs in Zambia are innovative and at the cutting edge of what The Carter Center is doing. Being able to bring my family along and see the work through their eyes made it an even more special experience.