Fellow Since 2008
Asociasion por los Directos Civiles
This profile was prepared when Roberto Saba was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Roberto is at the forefront of the movement to promote democracy and civic engagement in Argentina. As director of the organization Poder Ciudadano (Citizen Power) in the 1990s, he fostered democratic debate and community at the grassroots level. During the first stages of Argentine democracy, Roberto played a pivotal role in engaging citizens who distrusted government and were skeptical of politics. In the late 1990s, he led a major campaign against government corruption that put the issue on the Argentine people’s agenda for the first time. Corruption became a central issue in the national election, and the newly elected president created an anti-corruption office. Roberto has always acted on the belief that democracy must come from citizens who own their rights and proactively push for them. He and others founded the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) to use law as a tool for social change and to advocate for civil rights and minority rights. There was no other organization in Argentina using litigation in this way. Today ADC is one of Argentina’s largest citizen organizations (COs), and may be compared to the American Civil Liberties Union. Director of ADC since 2001, Roberto has led the organization to a unique focus on the right to information as a key leverage point for protecting civil rights and fostering democracy. As with his anti-corruption campaign, his goal is to show Argentineans how they are directly affected by lack of government transparency and limitations on press freedom. Through awareness-building and public policy change, Roberto has enabled the public to learn information about the activities of government and political leaders, such as the salaries of public officials and all public tenders for government contracts. On the regional level, Roberto has forged a coalition of organizations working to shine new light on the soft censorship prevalent in young democracies across Latin America.