Publication

Think tanks and the private sector: opportunities and challenges

[This working paper was published as part of the Working Paper Series.]

Abstract

Think tanks and private sector engagement is increasing across the world, yet little is little known about how they happen. This scoping paper seeks to address how and why think tanks engage with the private sector, as well as the challenges they face in doing so. Through a literature review and interviews to think tankers and key informants, this study found that the motivations for think tanks to engage with private sector actors are greater than accessing funds and resources, for some it is also ingrained in their organisational setup (e.g. they were founded by corporations or businesspeople), and for others stakeholder engagement is a key motivation (providers of access to others and an avenue for increased impact). The main risks found for think tanks are loss of self-determination, and stakeholder and reputational risks, both of which have the potential to affect the credibility of the think tank and their ability to engage with other actors. To address these risks and protect their credibility, organisations engage in several strategies: controlling funding sources and mechanisms, maintaining a strong intellectual, transparency, and risk and due diligence assessments. Addressing these challenges gives way to interesting engagement opportunities and to capitalise on them, think tanks need to first identify the different ways in which they can (and want to) work with the private sector and the benefits to be gained by both actors. Most importantly think tanks needs to know why they are attractive to specific actors and what they are willing to offer. Capitalising and strengthening on their assets can increase their leverage when engaging with the private sector, paving the way for a more equal relationship in which both benefit.

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