[Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of interviews with Directors of Latin American think tanks addressing different aspects of think tanks’ management and leadership. You can access the series at the On Think Tanks interviews Topic page. This interview has been originally published in Spanish at VIPPAL.]
Leandro Echt: How did you become Director of the Institute of Peruvian Studies?
Roxana Barrantes: The position of director is elected from amongst the researchers; it is not a contracted position. So I am also still a researcher. Each term is of two years, with a possibility of renewal. Right now, I am finishing the first year of my second term – I have been director for three years.
LE: What were the main challenges you faced in becoming director?
RB: Within IEP, because the position of director is an elected position, the selection becomes a political decision, which requires building coalitions, support, and understanding. Dealing with these coalitions was, for me, the greatest challenge. Another challenge was beginning to deal with aspects related to institutional management. It was extremely difficult, because I needed a “right-hand man” with experience to accompany me in my work. Lastly, becoming director did not prevent me from remaining part of the institute´s economics team. Within a few months, two key economists left the team to join different ministries. I didn’t just take on the position of director, but also remained the senior economist on the economics team.
LE: It seems that at the IEP there is a clear tension between management and research within the role of director.
RB: It is a very complicated situation. In fact, sometimes I think it would be good to follow an institutional model in which the president takes on responsibility for issues of protocol, which demand a great deal of time. The Institute is 50 years old, so there are many protocol tasks: dealing with various networks, book launches, seminars, events, etcetera. This day-to-day whirlwind makes it very difficult to think about the long-term, which the director should also be concerned with.
LE: In your time as director, what do you think has been the main contribution of your administration to the IEP´s work and to Peru´s public policies?
RB: The IEP operates under a creative tension between the development and consolidation of each of the researchers and their agendas, and the development and consolidation of a collective consciousness that allows us to look at Peru in a comprehensive and global way, with a long-term vision. What makes me proud of my administration is the fact that we have helped researchers establish relationships with key actors in the design and implementation of public policies, and these actors know that the researchers have institutional support and it is not just the initiative of a single person knocking at their door.
LE: Is there a foreseeable challenge that you would like to focus on during your last year as director?
RB: I still face the challenge of laying a solid foundation for the general modernization of the IEP. One component of this modernization has to do with administrative areas. In IEP, every project contributes to indirect or institutional costs. But this contribution is small in terms of percentage, and depends largely on the researchers’ hours of work. Ideally, researchers should dedicate themselves to thinking and not necessarily to administrative matters. There is space here to make researchers’ lives easier.
LE: Peru has often been regarded as a favorable environment for researchers to build bridges with the public sector. Why is that?
RB: Right now, there is certainly a space that promotes the link between research and officials. But this depends largely on the current government. The previous government was much more political, and had clear ideas that it wanted to pursue. The current government seeks more technical support, which as generated interesting opportunities for dialogue.
LE: How do you see the future of the sustainability not only of the IEP, but of other think tanks in light of withdrawals from donors in the region?
RB: IEP has managed to overcome many crises. On one occasion, the Ford Foundation had the intelligence, will, and commitment to support us with an endowment that fund us for two years of operation. Crisis has also forced us to be creative: for example, in the early years of the last decade we began to associate with national companies that wanted to implement social responsibility projects in a more reflective way. Additionally, we received donations from abroad and participated in calls for public sector studies. Participating in the Think Tank Initiative (IEP is one of twelve think tanks in Latin America supported by TTI) has also allowed us to invite young researchers and modernize the organization. Essentially, I think the key is to diversify our funding sources to be able to alleviate potential future crises.
LE: What assessments have you made about the experience of the Think Tank Initiative thus far?
RB: It has been and is essential. It has allowed us to look inward, question ourselves, evaluate ourselves, and from there design and implement new processes. It has accelerated our modernization process. For example, we have put the matter of communication on the map: we now have a communications office, which we didn´t have before. We are also upgrading our systems, and we have conducted a series of research projects that otherwise would not have been possible.