FGV ranks among World’s Top Thirty Think Tanks

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The new Global Go To Think Tanks Report, published last week by the University of Pennsylvania, is the most comprehensive ranking of the world’s top think tanks. It is based on an annual global peer and expert survey of almost 1500 scholars, policymakers, journalists, and regional and subject area experts. Given the rigor and scope of the process, the Report, which evaluated over 5000 think tanks, has been described as the insider’s guide to the global marketplace of ideas.

Think tanks matter not only because they serve as a bridge between academia and policy, but also because they are instrumental actors in the formulation of the global discourse. Economic think tanks influence the way citizens and policy makers around the world think about growth, development and inequality. Environmental think tanks provide the information necessary to form opinions about global warming, pollution, etc. Foreign policy think tanks, for their part, fundamentally shape the way we think about issues such as human rights, global governance and humanitarian intervention.

Traditionally, the global discourse has been dominated by the United States and Europe, but the shift of power to emerging actors such as China, India and Brazil may begin to change that. When I recently told a Brazilian diplomat that established actors had increasing difficulties to control the public discouse, he questioned my assessment, saying that the Western media, think tanks and academia were still overwhelmingly dominant. While this is no doubt the case - an Indonesian who seeks more information about Brazil is still most likely to read the Financial Times, and not The Hindu or the Folha de São Paulo - one cannot deny non-Western agenda setters are slowly emerging. Think tanks from emerging powers play an important role in this process.

Over 1800 think tanks from the United States and over 1500 from the European Union were evaluated, compared to only 495 from China, around 300 from India and 82 from Brazil. Yet the global rankings shows that despite their lower number, think tanks located outside of Europe and the United States are increasingly influential.

As an example, Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV), based in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, ranks 27th in the list of the World's Top Think Thanks, followed by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). Both institutions lead their respective regions, South America and Asia. In the theme-specific evaluations, FGV ranks in the 30 most influential think tanks in the areas of international development (13th), domestic economic policy (18th) and social policy (18th). A mere ten years ago, such a prominent role for an institute in Brazil would have been unthinkable. This shows that global thinking today is far more distributed today than we may think.

Yet, as I have pointed out in a recent article about a global ranking of universities by the New York Times (in which FGV ranked among the top 100), emerging powers still have a long way ahead of them before they can truly compete with established actors in the fierce struggle to define the global discourse. Universities, think tanks and the media in the United States and Europe still have greater resources and continue to attract talents from all over the world. Still, on all levels, the global hierarchies are increasingly in flux. Think tanks such as FGV and CASS are set to turn into global agenda setters. In the New York Times ranking, Fudan University ranked closely behind Berkeley and ahead of Georgetown. Al Jazeera has turned into a true alternative to CNN, and newspapers such as The Hindu are beginning to seek an international audience.

Such a development is to be welcomed by both emerging and established powers. The global discourse can only gain by a greater number of participants who can offer different perspectives and help governments learn from each other and design smarter policies.

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