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This paper is the first in a project initiated by the Institute for Research on Public Policy to contribute to a discussion of Canada’s role in democracy promotion. The project is concerned with democracy-promotion policy as a whole, but it is focused primarily on direct assistance because of the scope of the activities direct assistance encompasses and the scale of the financial commitment it involves. The purpose of this first paper is to provide an overview of the collective international effort. It describes the nature of direct assistance in this field and introduce issues that bear on its effectiveness.