Equilibrium CenDE caught my attention for two main reasons: its Latin America focus and its foreign founders. In Peru, it is not common to find researchers or research centres with a regional vision. Peruvian think tanks are very good at studying national problems, but they generally stay there. This is a shame. Peruvian researchers could play an important role in the region. And think tanks, generally, benefit from having greater connections and being involved in policy debates beyond their national boundaries.
After talking with Equilibrium CenDE’s director Gustav Brauckmeyer, two more things caught my attention: its strategy to work through alliances and the business background of its founders. It is not normal to find think tanks that work hand in hand with others; there is too much competition and only a handful of cases in which one centre celebrates the work of another. Equilibrium CenDE has done very well, for example, in partnership with the Universidad del Pacífico. It is also not common to find entrepreneurs interested in investing their time and resources in research.
I asked Gustav Brauckmeyer to tell me more about the origin and trajectory of Equilibrium CenDE.
Enrique Mendizabal: What is the origin of Equilibrium CenDE?
Gustav Brauckmeyer: The Equilibrium group, mainly under its consulting companies, led by David Licheri and myself, had already been operating in Peru since 2018. For obvious reasons, we started studying and monitoring both the phenomenon of Venezuelan immigration and the economic and social situation in Venezuela. At the end of 2019, we made the decision to create Equilibrium CenDE as a non-profit organisation dedicated to research.
EM: What motivated you to form Equilibrium CenDE?
GB: Equilibrium CenDE was born out of the need to better understand both the Venezuelan migratory phenomenon and the challenge it presents for the region, as well as the challenges that arise in Venezuela in areas such as education, employment, entrepreneurship and civil society development. In general, there was a clear need to generate more research and data to understand these challenges, and that data could drive the debate and the creation of innovative solutions to face them.
EM: What sets your think tank apart from other research centres?
GB: Equilibrium CenDE focuses precisely on the generation of debate and promotion of actions, policies and projects that encourage the socioeconomic development of Latin America. In this sense, we see research as a tool to generate change both at the national level and at the level of civil society and general public opinion. With this perspective, and understanding that we have a young and diverse team, we seek to be innovative in the way in which research is used and transmitted to have a greater reach and add more people to the exchange of ideas.
EM: What are your goals?
GB: Our main objective is to encourage the socioeconomic development of Latin America, with a special focus on improving the living conditions of the Venezuelan population inside and outside their country. To achieve this, we have more specific objectives in the generation of purposeful and actionable research; the creation of spaces for debate and exchange of ideas; informing and educating the population on issues relevant to development through various media and spaces; and construction of inclusive and sustainable public policies, projects and programmes at all levels.
EM: What has been the main challenge you have faced so far?
GB: I think there are two major macro challenges that we have faced. In the first place, gaining legitimacy and trust in the environment of research centres (a relatively exclusive space that is difficult to penetrate in Peru), and in turn, with government authorities, the press and public opinion.
I believe that we have been able to overcome this challenge to a large extent by working together with already recognised actors, filling information gaps and generating research content that was both of high quality and actionable.
Second, the transformation of our dense research content into palpable and digestible content for a wider audience. This is a constant battle that requires innovation and creativity in communication strategies.
EM: How are you financed? (I ask this because at OTT we promote transparency of think tanks)
GB: Equilibrium CenDE is financed in the first instance by private donors, including the members and companies of the Equilibrium group, and in the second instance by international cooperation for specific research projects (we are currently working on a project with financing from the German Cooperation through GIZ, for instance).
Gustav describes a relatively closed sector of research for public policy. In my last interview, Diana Torres also mentioned this in reference to the origin of another Peruvian research Centre URBES-LAB. It has been difficult for them to make a name for themselves, said Gustav, but they have achieved it, in part, through alliances with existing and recognised institutions.
Also important for this has been finding a niche. Even today, research on migration in Peru is limited to just a handful of researchers (mainly women) at three universities in Lima. Finding a niche certainly helps to develop credibility and legitimacy with public and private decision-makers.
The challenge today is surely to keep this agenda alive during the pandemic and to position itself in the regional debate on migration.
Equilibrium CenDE is also interesting because it was founded in Peru, but with the explicit purpose of studying another country. Regardless of the nationality of its founders, or the ability of the centre to influence the Venezuelan political debate, this is not common practice in Peru. There aren’t any international studies or foreign policy think tanks – certainly not that are independent. We do not study our neighbours in a systematic way. This is certainly a weakness of our think tank community. I hope that Equilibrium CenDE marks a turning point.
Finally, it could offer inspiration for diasporas elsewhere. I think more Latin Americans in the US or Africans in Europe could take advantage of more amenable contexts for policy research to establish new think tanks.