Economic downturn affects think tank funding

25 February 2013

The global financial crisis has caused another kind of recession -a recession in foreign funding for think tanks. According to an article in the Research website, some think tanks in Sub – Saharan Africa are having trouble securing funds, some so much that one of them, the Institute of Public Policy in Namibia, may not make it until the end of this year. Its core funder, the Ford Foundation, cut its support in 2011. This news is particularly interesting considering that the IPP is one of Africa’s top think tanks according to James McGann’s Global Go To Index; if top think tanks can’t make it, the outlook is even worse for smaller ones.

(Of course this also calls to question the accuracy of an index that cannot take core sustainability issues into account.)

Other think tanks have also felt the strain of less and less funding. The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria), from Dakar, Senegal, has had a 16% cut from its main funders and has now had to adjust its programmes to fit its new financial reality.

“We reduced the number and duration of some research capacity enhancement activities,” says Ebrima Sall, Codesria executive secretary.

He adds some donors cut their support for overhead costs while others have gone through lengthy internal review processes that slowed down the release of funds.

This post follows up on last week’s interview of Sandra Polonia Rios on Brazilian funding models and how more importance needs to be placed on leveraging domestic funding. The 2012 University of Pennsylvania report stresses that the international economic crisis has caused funding cuts in governments, corporations and private foundations; this scenario coupled with little local funding leaves think tanks paralysed and with difficulty to function normally.

Having said this it is hard to argue that the fate of these organisations is shared by all think tanks across the region. Many, for instance, those supported by the Think Tank Initiative, still enjoy healthy incomes. And some think tank directors and researchers command salaries that are significantly higher than their peers’ in many developed countries -in nominal terms. So high are these salaries that some donors, under pressure in their own countries to demonstrate value for money, have earmarked their contributions to non-salary expenses.

So are African think tanks really losing out? Or is it just a few that have paid the price? If you have any stories of closures, new deals, and even salary levels please share them. We will treat any information with confidentiality -or as you so please.