Charting an agenda for freedom: the essentials of think tank management in Africa

Think Tank Essentials Africa 2019

For young leaders in the liberty movement, there are few opportunities to learn how to take a good idea from theory to practice. Breaking a project into achievable outcomes can be daunting, often creating enormous challenges for intellectual entrepreneurs.

In the days before the 2019 Africa Liberty Forum in Nairobi, Atlas Network hosted simultaneous workshops to help both new and experienced think tank leaders develop critical skills in organizational management, using peer-to-peer engagement that placed project plans in a local context.

Think Tank Essentials is designed to provide hands-on, practical skills training on the basics of think tank management. During the three days of workshop time, 25 participants from 17 countries created a fictitious African think tank in order to understand the role of think tanks in society. According to Associate Director of Training Tarun Vats, who is actively involved in the workshop’s curriculum and execution, the group developed strong mission and vision statements as part of their strategic plans, developed marketing and fundraising plans that aligned with their mission statements, and learned practical skills on project planning and execution.

"We started out with an initial pilot of Think Tank Essentials training for the very first time in Nigeria last year,” said Vats. “It is exciting to see how the training program has evolved over this past year -- what is even more exciting is to come back to Nairobi a year later and see participation from countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritania, Gambia, and Liberia, where we previously weren't able to engage.

Atlas Network's Training Manager Alex Cordell assists an attendee during Think Tank Essentials.

For more experienced think tank leaders, an intermediate workshop to develop and implement fundraising strategies was an excellent opportunity to understand how established project management skills can improve the way organizations solicit financial support. The three-day workshop was facilitated by Manali Shah, who uses interactive engagement strategies to help participants build confidence while acquiring new teambuilding expertise. “Establishing clarity of purpose is critical to success,” said Shah. The 23 participants, who hailed from 8 countries, honed their understanding of the need to nurture donor relationships with compelling stories about the benefits of liberty with experienced fundraising mentors from Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“I feel charged already!” said Abisola Olaiya, who is the communications manager for Nigeria’s Chale Institute and a graduate of Atlas Leadership Academy.

Atlas Network’s workshops, which are held all over the world, are designed to meet the needs of think tank leaders at all professional levels. In developing the workshops, Swim concentrates on the potential for change for each participant. “Everyone starts to see where the opportunities are,” he commented. “They see the chance to do better and go bigger, and everyone walks away with concrete tools that they can apply to take their organizations to the next level.” Swim also believes that the connections and relationships forged among participants give them a new perspective on their own challenges and strengthen their ability to succeed.