foraus global: The Tinder for foreign policy enthusiasts

13 November 2017

Is foreign policy sexy? If one would ask this question in a survey in Switzerland, the vast majority would most probably answer with a clear “No”. The response wouldn’t be any different asking people if the foreign policy of their country is democratically legitimated. Nevertheless, in Switzerland and in a growing number of other countries, a wind of change has started to blow.

The concept of our think tank, foraus, and our international branch, “foraus global”, is increasingly shaping the foreign policy debates in different countries. The wind of change has already reached Germany, France and the United Kingdom and there are some strong innovative “gusts of wind” in other countries such as Austria, the U.S., Italy, Macedonia, Ireland  and in the center of the EU, in Brussels.

But why do some people consider us being the “Tinder” for foreign policy, like a Swiss newspaper characterized us earlier this year? The first answer would be: We try to be the matchmaker and decisive tesserae between brilliant ideas from citizens and politics. To illustrate our activities, we basically play the same role as “Tinder” creating a “match” between an unknown researcher and policymakers. Secondly, we promote a more inclusive process of policymaking, which brings good ideas out of the ivory tower. This happens through innovative and modern event formats such as human rights poetry slams, migration policy hackathons and peace & security speed-dating.  Moreover, our publications are less dry, much shorter and more concise than most of the academic literature which helps us to bridge the gap between academia and the political sphere.

In 2009, the foundation of the grassroots think-tank foraus paved the ground for this new foreign policy enthusiasm. The foundation is based on two pillars:

  1. Creating high-quality scientific research explained in short and comprehensive publications and
  2. Crowdsourcing ideas throughout the whole population.

These activities are characterized by a strictly, politically impartial approach. Briefly, the think tank foraus was founded by a couple of fellow students who aimed at promoting a bottom-up and crowdsourcing approach of research on foreign policy. In the meantime, foraus has become the biggest Swiss think tank on foreign policy without losing its basic-democratic roots including authors from different backgrounds and empowering particularly a young generation of thinkers.

With over 1,000 members, outlets in all university cities of Switzerland and two main offices in Zurich and Geneva, foraus is omnipresent. foraus generates independent, high quality recommendations for Swiss foreign policy decision makers and the public with the goal to bridge the gap between academia and politics. With its non-partisan approach foraus aims at promoting an open, constructive dialogue and informed decision-making. Its success as a think tank is based on currently 13 paid workers (6 long-term contracts for permanent staff and 7 short-term contracts for interns) and first and foremost, on the voluntary commitment of a high number of active members. The main activities of the think-tank are the publication of policy recommendations, the moderation of the public dialogue through the organization of events, talent promotion and the collaboration with the Swiss foreign Ministry (for example with the Think Tank Hub in Geneva which offers a co-working space for visiting think tanks).

In 2016, the foraus model went global and foraus created its new branch “foraus global”; since a first gathering in October last year, we supported the establishment and further development of three sister organizations: “Polis 180” in Germany, “Argo” in France and “Agora” in the United Kingdom.

foraus global” is still a working title as the initiative has the goal to create a global umbrella organization with as many member organizations as possible held together by a common branding strategy. In order to join our network, the member organizations have to sign and follow our “letter of intent”, a constitution-like document, which has recently been signed by all member think tanks. The letter contains the two pillars, as mentioned above, as well as our ethical and programmatic guidelines which build the foundation of our work. As mentioned in the introduction, the network seeks to include more and more think tanks from other countries and in so doing, tries also to expand the network into other continents. Once a year, “foraus global” organizes a conference with all the member think tanks. The last one happened in Berlin in July 2017 and led to several multilateral projects, other initiatives and a lot of exchange on contacts and “best practices”.

At the beginning of 2017, I had the chance to participate at the first On Think Tanks Winterschool in Geneva, where I acquired important knowledge on key issues of leadership in a think tank, such as the development of a policy agenda, fundraising strategies, evaluation frameworks and innovative ways of communication. The Winterschool provides future think tank leaders the necessary tools to establish and develop new political think tanks. Furthermore, it empowers the attendees to implement their own ideas and become an active participant in the public dialogue. With this in mind, “foraus global” is looking forward to be working with these enthusiastic leaders in the near future!