At Freedom Dinner 2022 on November 17, Advocata Institute, based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, was announced as this year's winner of Atlas Network's prestigious Templeton Freedom Award and its US$100,000 prize. The Templeton Freedom Award is generously sponsored by the Templeton Religion Trust.
Advocata Institute spent years seeking to reduce the severity of Sri Lanka’s then looming economic crisis, and the organization gained a reputation as a reliable voice on economic analysis. Now that the crisis has come, food inflation nears 100%, and shortages abound, Advocata continues its efforts to advance sound market-based policy. Their work focuses on improving outcomes in the short term, such as ending price controls to ease shortages; as well as the long term, such as reforming the tax structure, privatizing Sri Lanka’s loss-incurring state-owned enterprises, and restructuring the public debt. The government’s new leadership is open to new ideas, particularly market-based ideas, and Advocata Institute is excited to continue speaking to a growing audience and working towards policy that enables better lives for all.
“Contributing towards a larger cause by working as one team to advance markets and freedom in Sri Lanka is an extremely satisfactory and fulfilling journey," said Dhananath Fernando, CEO of Advocata Institute. "To now be recognized for our work by the prestigious Templeton Freedom Award is deeply encouraging - taking one day at a time, we at Advocata will continue to serve our cause of uplifting the living standards of our fellow Sri Lankans, even during difficult times.”
Sri Lanka is in the midst of the worst economic crisis it has experienced in its post-independent history, marked by a spiraling cost of living; shortages of necessities like food, medicine, and gasoline; and blackouts that have become a normal part of everyday life. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it became an easy scapegoat as an explanation for Sri Lanka’s economic problems. Although this was the popular narrative used in the media and by politicians, Advocata Institute was one of the few voices at the time calling for larger-scale reforms to address the failing economy.
In September 2020, Advocata released the start of a three-part lecture series called “DeepDive,” which sought to open people’s eyes to some of the underlying causes of the debt crisis outside of the COVID-19 pandemic context. Topics covered through the series, including debt sustainability, fiscal performance, and international trade, prompted discussion among academics and policymakers at a time when no one else was really broaching the subject. The series would become one of the most important springboards for a more nuanced conversation about Sri Lanka’s debt crisis at a larger scale.
Advocata became a leading voice pushing for Sri Lanka to stop making debt payments, to restructure debt, and to turn to the IMF for assistance. When, in April 2022, Sri Lanka defaulted on its debt, the work that Advocata had already done to plan for the scenario came into play, and the country was poised to immediately begin negotiations with the IMF for restructuring the debt. With that process underway, Advocata has now turned toward other reforms, such as privatizing state-owned enterprises, central bank reform, and promoting free trade.
Sri Lanka’s new president is supportive of Advocata’s policy recommendations, which opens up many possibilities for continued work together in managing the outcomes of the economic crisis.
Advocata Institute not only has a team of fellows to invest in top-tier research, but they have also excelled in communicating their findings and recommendations to the public, through content that is both accessible and relevant. Advocata maintains active collaborations with media institutions; has grown an active social media following (which now reaches over a million people throughout Sri Lanka—roughly 10% of the voting population); and circulates content with a network made up of policymakers, bloggers, and other civil society organizations. Advocata has also been quoted in a range of international media coverage of the Sri Lankan economic crisis by leading media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, CNN, and Al-jazeera News.
Advocata has established strong trust from the public and now holds credibility that is built on a foundation of accuracy and preparedness. They have modeled a thoughtful and level-headed approach to the current economic crisis that emphasizes managing expectations and recognizing that sound policy reform will take time. Sri Lanka has a significant path ahead to heal from its current crisis, but with Advocata at the lead, it is working toward a more prosperous and sustainable future.
About Advocata Institute:
Advocata Institute is an independent policy think tank based in Colombo, dedicated to economic development through free-markets. They conduct research, provide commentary, and hold events to promote sound policy ideas compatible with a free society in Sri Lanka.
About the Templeton Freedom Award:
Named for the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the Templeton Freedom Award has annually honored his legacy. Since 2004, the Award has identified and recognized the most exceptional and innovative contributions to the understanding of free enterprise, and the public policies that encourage prosperity, innovation, and human fulfillment via free competition. The Templeton Freedom Award is generously supported by the Templeton Religion Trust and was presented during Atlas Network's Freedom Dinner on November 17 in New York City. The winning organization will receive a US$100,000 prize, and all other finalists received US$20,000 prizes. Find out more about the award HERE.