First-ever think tank summit in Africa

Penn students have organized a three-day conference in Pretoria

· January 26, 2014, 9:11 pm   ·  Updated January 26, 2014, 9:58 pm

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Penn staff and students are organizing the first-ever think tank summit in Africa.

Penn International Relations’ Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, directed by James McGann, is working with student interns to bring representatives from African think tanks together for the first time. The three-day conference will take place in Pretoria, South Africa between Feb. 3 and Feb. 5.

Related: Penn ranks world’s top think tanks

TTCSP researches the impact of policy institutes on civil societies and governments around the world. Last Wednesday in Washington, D.C., it released the 2013 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report, which provides the only comprehensive global listing of think tank rankings in the world.

The African summit is one of several conferences TTCSP is organizing around the world and follows a Middle Eastern and North African summit, which was held in Istanbul in December.

McGann explained how the summit was designed as a forum where the issues facing think tanks can be discussed. He outlined how these institutions are currently facing “fundamental and existential challenges,” which are arising from “the intensity and velocity of information and technological advances” that are transforming methods of analysis.

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McGann said the response to the work that TTCSP has done has been “incredibly positive.”

While TTCSP had expected 40 or 50 think tanks to register for the conference, McGann said that currently 71 organizations have decided to attend. He added that this “overwhelming” interest means the summit will almost definitely become a yearly event.

The summit will consist of panel presentations and round-table discussions under the working title “Think Tanks and the Transformation of Africa.” TTCSP’s Global Summit Intern Coordinator Erin McCabe, a graduate student in the School of Social Policy & Practice, said the role of TTCSP at the summit will be that of “a neutral party but also an authoritative voice.”

The organization aims to help unlock the potential in Africa’s diversity by “fortifying the think tanks” so they can have “fertile resources to stay alive and stay active,” she said.

McCabe will be traveling to the summit in Pretoria and writing a comprehensive report after the event so participants can “walk away with a really strong deliverable,” she explained.

McGann said that summits provide the opportunity for think tanks to network and transfer identified best practices, which have been freshly analyzed in TCCSP’s think tank report.

Lauder Institute Director Mauro Guillen explained how the Go To Report and international think tank summits are making TTCSP, an organization which the institute provides funding to, the “gold standard” of think tank research and technical assistance.

As think tanks are becoming more important in contributing to global policy making, Guillen said that it is “a good moment for Penn to become the hub” of these organizations.

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