WinterSchool for Thinktankers 2019 – a report

9 September 2019

On Think Tanks, in partnership with foraus and the Think Tank Hub Geneva organised the third  WinterSchool for Thinktankers, an initiative aimed at inspiring the next generation of think tank leaders. The 2019 WinterSchool had the support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs(FDFA) and the Think Tank Initiative.

Participants and team at the jet d’eau

Interested in attending a future edition of the School for Thinktankers? Click here for more information on when the next edition will be.

Programme and activities

Over seven days participants explored different aspects of think tank functioning:

Day 1: Setting the scene

After an introduction to the WinterSchool, participants introduced themselves and shared their personal learning goals. The programme followed with a lecture about the concept of think tanks (label and roles) and evidence-informed policy by Enrique Mendizabal. A walking tour of the city of Geneva was organised for the afternoon.


  • Enrique Mendizabal, Founder and director at On Think Tanks
  • Maria Isabelle Weiser, Deputy Director of foraus and head of the Think Tank Hub

Day 2: Governance

The day started with a presentation by Enrique Mendizabal (On Think Tanks) on the business models of think tanks and an overview of the management and leadership skills required to lead them. In the afternoon, Lukas Hupfer (foraus) presented the grassroots think tank model of foraus, followed by a workshop led by Eduardo Belinchon and Jonas Nakonz (foraus) which centred around the question: How to make think tank work be more participatory?

In the evening, participants, team members and speakers got together to share a Swiss national dish, fondue, at Bains des Pâquis.


  • Enrique Mendizabal, Founder & director at On Think Tanks
  • Lukas Hupfer, Director of foraus – The Swiss think tank on foreign policy
  • Jonas Nakonz, Project manager at foraus
  • Eduardo Belinchón, Digital innovation manager at foraus
Group activities

Day 3: Policy relevant research

Simon Maxwell, former executive director at the Overseas Development Institute and  international development expert, shared his experience and knowledge in undertaking policy relevant research. He focused on designing research projects, setting up research teams, creating mechanisms to evaluate research proposals and reviewing research outputs. Lunch was spent in a Think Tank Talk, a monthly event open to think tanks and  organised by the Think Tank Hub. The talk was led by Simon Maxwell and was titled Taming Cerberus: international development beyond the SDGs. This event was a perfect opportunity for participants to network with representatives of International Geneva.

In the afternoon, Ekkehard Ernst, Chief macroeconomics of the policy unit at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and co-founder of Geneva Macro Labs and Michaela Told, Executive director of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute, presented their topics of research and how they ensure they are relevant to their users.


  • Simon Maxwell, former executive director at the Overseas Development Institute and international development expert
  • Ekkehard Ernst, Chief macroeconomic at the policy unit of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)
  • Michaela Told, Executive director at the Global Health Centre, The Graduate Institute Geneva

Day 4: Monitoring and evaluation and UN Visit

During the morning session Stephen Yeo, former chief executive officer of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) gave a talk on monitoring, evaluation and learning, focusing on assessing the impact on an organisation and the difficulties this entails.

Participants then had lunch at the UN cafeteria and spent the afternoon in the Palais des Nations. Francesco Pisano, director of the UN Library, explained how the UN works and how think tanks do and can cooperate with the UN. This talk was followed by a guided visit of the UN Library.


  • Stephen Yeo, advisor at large at On Think Tanks and former chief executive officer at the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
  • Francesco Pisano, Director of the Library of the United Nations Office in Geneva

Day 5: Communications

During the morning session Keith Burnet, Director of communications and publishing at Chatham House, explained the logic behind establishing a communications strategy  and how to plan, implement and evaluate one. In the afternoon John Schwartz and Ellen Mather of Soapbox led a brand workshop, where participants engaged in a practical exercise focused on defining the brand values and identity of a think tank.

A networking event with participants from other Geneva organisations was organised for the evening.


Group work during Soapbox’s brand workshop

Day 6: Fundraising and financial management

Sonja Stojanovic Gajic, Director of the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, shared her fundraising and financial management experience and discussed with participants how to develop a sustainable funding strategy, evaluate and identify funding sources, and manage relationships with donors. In the afternoon, Dr Marc-André Pradervand, Head of fundraising at the Synapsis Foundation – Alzheimer Research Switzerland, focused on the process of fundraising.


Sonja Stojanovic-Gajic addressing participants.

Day 7: Adaptive thinking and lessons learned

The final day of the WinterSchool focused on adaptive thinking and integrating the different lessons learned through the week. Melanie Rayment, a social designer and strategist, offered participants a participative session and addressed the challenge of managing a think tank in a rapidly changing policy environment.

To wrap up the WinterSchool, the team and participants spent some time reflecting and discussing the key issues experienced through the week.


  • Andrea Baertl, Director of research at On Think Tanks
  • Melanie Rayment, Social designer and strategist and On Think Tanks associate
  • Maria Isabelle Weiser, Deputy Director of foraus and head of the Think Tank Hub

The full programme can be seen here.


  • Alejandra Teran, Junior researcher at the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD) in Bolivia
  • Andrea Villarreal, Coordinator of research and evaluation at Grupo FARO in Ecuador
  • Anna Bugmann, Master’s student in environmental systems and policy at ETH Zurich in Switzerland
  • Ayomi Nanayakkara, Human resource executive at the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) in Sri Lanka
  • Beth Wheaton, Senior lecturer at Southern Methodist University and CEO at Equip the Saints in the USA
  • David Gomez Alvarez Perez, Professor at Universidad de Guadalajara and Executive director of Transversal think tank in Mexico (David also participanted in the WinterSchool 2017).
  • Eric Baghdasaryan, Local economic development manager at the American fund for Armenian relief and co-founder of “Sahman” NGO in Armenia
  • Eshraq Al-Haddad, Senior project coordinator at Al-Aghar Group (Independent Saudi Think Tank) in Saudi Arabia
  • Founty Alassane Fall, Research assistant at Consortium pour la Recherche Économique et Sociale (CRES) in Senegal
  • Joseph Ishaku, Research associate at the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA) in Nigeria
  • Julien Vincelot, Urban95 coordinator at the Bernard van Leer Foundation in the Netherlands
  • Manuel Gustavo Isaac, Beatriu de Pinós post-doctoral fellow at the University of Barcelona – LOGOS Research Group in Spain
  • Maarinke van der Meulen, Policy programme officer at The George Institute for Global Health in Australia
  • Milena Gaitan, Administrative and financial director at Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP) in Colombia
  • Min Zar Ni Lin, Deputy director of research at the Centre for Economic and Social Development (CESD) in Myanmar
  • Mollie Zapata, Research associate at the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, US Holocaust Memorial Museum in the USA
  • Natalie Echenique, Research assistant at ARU Foundation in Bolivia
  • Paula Pino, Communications coordinator at Group for the Analysis of Development (GRADE) in Peru
  • Roman Kulchynskyy, Executive director at Data Journalism Agency and editor-in-chief for in Ukraine
  • Sébastien Chahidi, International law master student at the University of Zurich in Switzerland
  • Sulamba Shaaban, Chief administrative and finance manager at Science Technology and Innovation Policy Research Organization (STIPRO) in Tanzania
  • Thomas Cheney, PhD candidate: space law and policy in Northumbria University and executive director of the Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization in the UK
  • Varsha Pillai, Programme manager for policy engagement and communication at the Public Affairs Centre (PAC) in India

WinterSchool team

  • Andrea Baertl, Director of research at On Think Tanks and WinterSchool coordinator for On Think Tanks
  • Marie Juillard, Programme manager at the Think Tank Hub and WinterSchool coordinator for the Think Tank Hub and foraus
  • Enrique Mendizabal, Founder & director at On Think Tanks
  • Erika Perez-León, Director of communications at On Think Tanks
  • Maria Isabelle Wieser, Head of the Think Tank Hub and deputy director of foraus

Interested in attending a future edition of the School for Thinktankers? Click here for more information on when the next edition will be.