Laura Thornton leads and manages a portfolio of programmes that supports democracy world-wide through the development and application of global comparative knowledge resources and tools, supporting democratic reforms, as well as actively contributing to shaping the global and regional policy agendas by bringing the democracy lens and perspective to debates at that level.
This portfolio includes Electoral Processes, Constitution-Building Processes, Political Participation and Representation, and Democracy, Assessment, Analysis and Advisory Unit—a unit responsible for the Institute's work on citizen-led assessments of democracy—and the integration of Gender, Diversity, and Conflict sensitivity into the work of the Institute.
Prior to joining International IDEA on 1 April 2020, Thornton joined the National Democratic Institute in 1998 and served as a global associate and senior director in Georgia since 2014. In Georgia, Thornton managed multiple complex programmes including public opinion research and disinformation research and analyses, technical assistance to parliament and local government bodies, security sector reform and oversight, civil society advocacy, political party democratization and development, and election monitoring, analysis and reform efforts.
As director of multiple Asia regional and country programmes, Thornton has published, spoken, and trained extensively on election observation techniques, parliamentary oversight, political party development, and good governance reform, including writing a book covering eight countries in Asia, Political Parties in Asia: Promoting Reform and Combating Corruption (published 2001). Under her leadership in Cambodia, NDI spearheaded a variety of complex programming, being creative about prying open the limited democratic space available and providing information to the public. The NDI organized weekly constituency dialogues for parliament, produced election research and monitoring studies, built the capacity of political parties, and spear-headed advocacy programmes for marginalized communities. She served as country director in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, and managed and evaluated Institute programmes in Bangladesh, East Timor, India, Indonesia, North Korea, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and the Philippines, and has monitored elections in more than 15 countries.
Thornton’s career encompasses design, implementation, management, and monitoring and evaluation of a broad range of programme activities, including: women's political participation; quantitative and qualitative research; political party development; parliamentary outreach and oversight; campaign and political finance reform; technical electoral analysis and advocacy for electoral reform; and multiparty parliamentary and candidate debates.
Before joining NDI, Thornton worked as a consultant for the Democracy and Governance unit at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as a survey researcher in Serbia and Kosovo. She also worked for women’s health and political advocacy organizations in Thailand and the United States. Her academic background includes degrees, course work, publications and research in international history and development, comparative government and political science, and gender issues. Thornton earned her master’s degree from Princeton University in public and international affairs.