Considerations on international think tank summits

16 December 2015

[Editor’s note: Over the last few years we have been confronted with the question of whether think tanks ought to be networking beyond their countries and regions. Is it worth all the hassle? In the last few weeks I’ve had the chance to experience the interaction between think tanks from different regions. I was invited to a meeting of European and African think tanks and to another of health policy think tanks from around the world. At both events, the subject of funding came up; the general assumption being that developing country (and Spanish) think tanks have it worse than their counterparts in Britain or the US. But the participants from these countries were able to discredit this view. They, probably even more so than think tanks in some developing countries, face great struggles when it comes to funding: they depend on far more funding sources, each offering relatively low amounts, researchers are more often than not responsible for raising their own funds, they are restricted from taking funds in any form that may look like a consultancy, etc. If anything, then, thee international events can help to clarify assumptions. All parties can learn from each other and about each other.]

International think tank summits are good opportunities for think tanks to learn from experiences that go beyond their immediate national partners. They can also be an important part of international diplomacy because, in a way, they provide a space where countries (or country conglomerates) can negotiate the scope of their soft power. International think tank summits also offer a window to explore the development of international relationships between countries and regions.

Here is a brief outline of think tank conferences and summits of the past and current years:

Inter-regional think tank summits

Other international think tank summits convene think tanks from different regions of the world. They also serve as platform to exchange ideas and new ways to develop international cooperation.

Examples of international think tank summits that convene different regions are:

Regional think tank summits

International think tank summits are quite different from national summits. The latter serve as a common platform for a country’s think tanks to converse and discuss policy issues, as well as to recognise each other as part of a single community. Regional international summits also provide this space on a wider scale.

Examples of regional think tank summits include:

  • An African Think Tank Summit, which was held on 6-8 April of 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Its themes included (but were not limited to) the role of African think tanks on the African development agenda for 2063, African countries interaction with international bilateral cooperation frameworks (such as G20 or BRIC), as well as the development of African think tank’s capacities.
  • An Asia Think Tank Summit was held for the third time on 20 May 2015 in Manila, Philippines, at the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It discussed the role of think tanks in policy making in Asia, the benefits of knowledge partnerships, as well as new routes for sharing ADB’s knowledge through enhanced partnerships and platforms.
  • An European Think Tank Summit was held on 1 October 2015 in Milan, Italy, to discuss ways in which think tanks can better engage civil society and policymakers, and their role in taking on the current global political and economic challenges.
  • The most resent encounter of Latin American Think Tanks held in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 11-13 November 2015 marks over a decade of meetings. It is sponsored by the Development Bank of Latin America and the World Bank.