This is the introduction to a five-part series on Key Institutions as highlighted by the Framework for a Free and Open Society, envisioned by Charles Koch. 

If you attend any of our Grassroots Leadership Academy trainings, you’ll probably hear a lot about Key Institutions. When they function properly, Key Institutions strengthen society, allowing us to maximize peace, civility and well-being for everyone.

Institutions are the stable and lasting structures that guide how people interact with one another in society. Over time, they’ve evolved as society progresses through human action and cooperation.

Take a minute to think of the institutions in society that are responsible for shaping how our culture thinks and behaves. Can you think of entities that we place our trust and confidence to advance a free society?

There are many institutions, but we focus on four types of Key Institutions that can help advance free societies. Here’s a high-level view of what this looks like:

  1. Education: Schools and universities must maintain a culture of toleration where the right to express differing views and opinions is protected. We also need to promote challenge in order to ensure a diversity of ideas, which is essential for students to properly develop, contribute and succeed.
  2. Community: A robust civil society – like families, churches, social clubs and other voluntary associations – maintains a culture of mutual benefit that leads to safe, constructive communities.
  3. Business: Companies should use principled entrepreneurship to create products and services that not only improve their customers’ lives but society as a whole. They should also inspire their employees to create value for others outside of business.
  4. Government:  By limiting its actions to a few areas where force works better than voluntary cooperation and competition, government succeeds in securing people’s rights and providing the foundation for its citizens to flourish.

Let’s consider the large and small roles that each Key Institution plays in your own life. Does government intrude disproportionately into any of the other Institutions? Have you noticed a decline in the importance of Community or any of the other institutions because of government’s involvement?

And can you envision a scenario where Key Institutions such as Education, Community, and Business can fail in their responsibilities, giving government an opportunity to increase its influence in our lives? Can you think of any areas where these Institutions have excelled in shaping society for the better?

In the coming weeks, we’ll take a closer look at each of the four Key Institutions and the role they can play in advancing a free society.

To learn more about the Framework for a Free and Open Society, click here.

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