Clara Richards writes about think tanks in India based on a study of economic think tanks in BRICS countries. She finds an interesting and changing environment that presents both challenges and opportunities for think tanks. in light of the new President's call for more and better think tanks, how ready are they?
Posts tagged ‘India’
Think tanks find it difficult to fundraise in developing countries. Outside of the usual international development agencies, few domestic private funders exist. The new Indian Government offers new arguments in favour of funding think tanks that should be considered by think tanks and their supporters alike. If it is good for India (and China) ...
Think tanks can be very valuable convenors of dialogue between parties that would otherwise not find it possible to meet and discuss common interests. This example from Kashmir illustrates this important role.
Think tanks can be used to reach out to the middle classes and the general public, too. It is not just a matter of influencing high level policies and policymakers. This education function, however, could be achieved by supporting the development of a more diverse and dynamic research and policy community.
Should we worry about US think tanks opening offices in developing countries or emerging economies? While the model could present unfair competition to smaller domestic think tanks it can also have positive effects by encouraging new domestic philanthropy and developing research quality.
The rise of the BRICS bloc in the last decade, since its conception as an economic group by Goldman Sachs in 2001 as a counterbalance to G7 countries in the world scene, has seen a growing cooperation between its members (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and, as a country added in later years, South Africa), specially on economic and diplomatic grounds, as well as the building of an institutional framework, having already held four summits, the last one in March in New Delhi. There is more trade within the bloc, estimated to reach USD 500 billion in 2015, and the contact between their governments is ever growing. However, BRICS countries have big differences, among them their political and cultural values, the composition of their economic structures and outreach, and, above all, the lack of a common history (with exception of some bilateral relations). Nonetheless, even if links between these countries are questionable, the group has been consolidating for the last five years.
The recent publication of The BRICS Report, on the occasion of the last summit, calls for a harmonisation of economic and diplomatic policies, as well as for forging stronger links between the five countries. In the Sanya summit in 2011, the declaration included the need of research cooperation, and the formation of meeting groups for think tanks. In November 2011, the BRICS Trade & Economic Research Network was launched in Shanghai by five think tanks:
- Fundação Getúlio Vargas (Brazil)
- Eco-Accord (Russia)
- CUTS International (India)
- Shanghai WTO Affairs Consultation Center (China)
- South African Institute of International Affairs (South Africa)
Although all five of them are focused on different subjects in their own countries, in this agreement they have focused on three objectives related to trade and economics:
- Promotion of fair markets,
- Inclusive growth, and
- Sustainable development.
As reported in their strategy paper, their work will consist of publications, policy research and advocacy, as well as highlighting the role of government funding for the growth of their activities. It is clear that trade tariffs and conditions are a key matter for the BRICS countries, as they face protectionist measures from developed countries in sectors like agriculture or manufacturing, where they are actually more competitive. These agreements for a BRICS research group were confirmed in the New Delhi summit this year, where talks about greater public policy research where on the agenda.
There are other efforts that look for a common BRICS policy and commitment to its development inside those countries has been getting ever stronger. In Brazil, the BRICS Policy Center (BPC), founded by PUC-Rio and the City of Rio de Janeiro, is dedicated to BRICS studies by means of analysis, further cooperation between the governments, and cooperation between their societies. The BPC receives visitor researchers and fellows from the other BRICS countries and they have a very active agenda on economic, commercial, political and cultural subjects, publishing research papers, organising conferences, monitoring work, etc.
This is an interesting transnational initiative in which think tanks have been given a key role by their respective governments. Do think tank networks in other regions play similar roles?
Both Brookings and the Carnegie Endowment have been working to move into India and set up shop there. According to the story on the Economic Times they have raised at least US$10 million. This is equivalent to the combined size of three of India’s top think tanks: the Centre for Policy Research, the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), and the International Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER).
This is interesting; I have written about funding for think tank in India before, but what really captured my attention this time is the strategy of the foreign think tanks.
This is not the first time they have done this. Carnegie has offices in several countries (they call themselves a global think tank); Brookings has a centre in Beijing and another one in Doha; and other organisations like the Overseas Development Institute have staff and projects based within centres in several countries, too.
For the most part, however, these are initiatives to support in the delivery of their work and to claim greater relevance before their traditional funders. What has been reported in India, however, seems new. Large think tanks like Brookings and Carnegie (both with budgets above US$250 million) could be seen as the equivalent of Tesco or Walmart entering a village full of small corner-shops.
Sure, consumers will win in some respects: high quality research can be guaranteed by these centres. But at the same time diversity will be reduced (or at the very least limited) and it is diversity (in ideas, values, methods, and approaches) that think tanks’ contribution to society is best felt. Those US$10 million could go a longer way if they were provided to more local think tanks. And these would be, in turn, better prepared to handle these new big players.
Arguably, Brookings’ and Carnegie’s influence can take place even if they are not based in India. The internet and their reputation makes it easier than ever for them to influence policy anywhere in the world. But politics are still quite local and think tanks need to be present (physically) to make a real difference: be at the events, meetings, cocktails, join the right clubs, schools, etc.
Over the last few years, several international development think tanks based in developed countries have expressed an interest in building networks and links with think tanks in developing countries: they recognise that they have to be ‘there’ to be relevant and to tap into funds that are increasingly only available in-country as more and more donors award more power to their country offices. But they have faced serious challenges in finding competent think tanks in the countries where the opportunities are higher (where more aid fund are available, at is).
So far the idea that they could set up local offices has been treated with care: among international development think tanks this rings of neo-colonialism. But now that Brookings and Carnegie (and maybe others) are adopting this strategy wholeheartedly, will they reconsider? And is this a good idea?
On the one hand we could think that these US$10 million are US$10 million being ‘lost’ for local think tanks (in this case, much of the money is likely to come from foreign funders, anyway). On the other hand, at least they stay in the country. And let’s be honest, most of the countries where this may happen are places where local think tank capacity is unlikely to develop anytime soon -regardless of how much money funders pour into research. Furthermore, these foreign think tanks may be able to encourage local philanthropists to ‘give it a go’ in ways that local think tanks may not be able to. After a while, who knows, they may choose to fund local think tanks, too (or instead of Brookings or Carnegie or any other foreign think tank). Similarly, local think tanks may learn from these foreign ones: pick up new research and communication practices that could strengthen their capacity to influence policy and raise new funds locally, for example.
I have argued that programmes like the Think Tank Initiative or the Think Tank Fund, funded by people like Gates or Soros, could use their funders to encourage local philanthropists to take on the responsibility of funding think tanks in their own countries. Bilateral aid should do that too: leverage domestic funds, don’t just create dependency.
So both foreign funders and think tanks have a responsibility, whether they are filling a funding gap or capturing domestic resources (or resources normally destined to domestic centres), to encourage domestic philanthropy to local think tanks and develop the local think tank community.