Traveling, especially by train, often provides time for reflection and writing. I am spending the end of the year traveling in India. Here are some of my reflections on the year that is about to end:

1. Post-2015 – Although many deadlines can seem artificial, years can be useful barometers for looking at what has been accomplished, what still remains to be done, and what changes are needed. The end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) period in 2015 is one of those. The past year has been full of discussions about what the MDGs have accomplished and what should come next. Hopefully 2014 will give us a better sense of how much of the lessons learned are indeed incorporated into what comes next.

2. The challenges of democracy – Elections in India as well as budget negotiations in my own country have me reflecting on the challenges of democracy. It is certainly a more complicated process than we often acknowledge – creating and nurturing voting rights, the need for literacy and the ability to make informed decisions, a free and responsible press, and space for civil dialogue and disagreement are just some of the variables that need a lot of continuing attention.

3. The challenges to civil society – It has been a challenging year for civil society in a variety of ways. In some countries (such as Egypt, Russia, Sri Lanka and Zambia) governments are chipping away at the ability of CSOs to function. In other environments, CSOs are facing diverse pressures from young activists, technology and other changes that are pointing to the need for different ways of operating. In 2014, I will be initiating a project that I hope will at least make a small contribution to looking at how CSOs can respond to some of these pressures.

4. The death of Nelson Mandela – The year is coming to end with the death of Nelson Mandela who reminded us with integrity and grace what inspiration is all about. Here’s to an inspirational 2014.