On Saturday, November 4, the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative, in collaboration with the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Fundação Getulio Vargas, and the Wilson Center hosted 30 researchers and leaders from think tanks from around the world to discuss the future and enrichment of Africa’s think tanks. The forum aimed to both discuss substantive areas—economic, social, and good governance—and policies think tanks can inform, and explore options to internally strengthen them and increase their impact.
Scholars came from across the continent, including from Botswana, Morocco, Ghana, Tanzania, Libya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Côte d’Ivoire, among others. Representatives from South Korean, German, and Brazilian institutions were also in attendance as were U.S.-based scholars from Brookings, the Wilson Center, the Migration Policy Institute, and other American think tanks.
The convening began Friday, November 3, with a roundtable discussion at the Wilson Center on “Understanding the think tank sustainability crisis in Africa and its potential impact on think tanks, policymakers and the public,” in which participants shared the experiences of their respective think tanks, discussed their particular obstacles, and identified shared challenges.
In the first session at Brookings on Saturday, “The quality-capacity conundrum: How to enhance capacity and maintain quality and independence with limited or no institutional support,” panelists examined strategies for ensuring that their research remains high quality and impartial in environments that may be hostile to their findings. Participants also considered different approaches to sustainability given the various structures and goals of their institutions.
The second session, “Why think tanks matter in Africa: forging strategic partnerships with policymakers, donors and the public,” explored the ways in which think tanks engage other stakeholders in order to maximize their impact. During the third session, “Taking think tanks off the endangered species list: Strategies for enhancing the capacity, quality, and independence of think tanks in Africa,” participants discussed their experiences and objectives in building their research capacity, creating innovative and impactful content, and maintaining objectivity in their research.
Finally, in the session “Realizing sustainable future for Africa’s think tanks: An action agenda,” participants explored positive, concrete steps forward for enhancing the impact of their own institutions as well as collective action to proactively support higher education and research to inform policy on the continent.