I’m A Latin American Influencer, Pro-Freedom Think Tanks Should Be Influencers Too
Antonella Marty | Associate Director at the Center for Latin American at Atlas Network
This op-ed was first published by News Americas.
When people think of the word “influencer,” “think tank” probably doesn’t come to mind. The likes of Kim Kardashian or Cristiano Ronaldo are the world’s most recognizable influencers, dominating public discourse with Instagram posts and product endorsements. In an influencer-dominated 2023, it is even commonplace for celebrities to appear at the White House and commemorate important legislative wins.
But think tanks—policy- and advocacy-focused research institutes—are the truly indispensable influencers in an increasingly complex world. Even if they fly under the radar, think tanks are some of the world’s fiercest fighters for free markets, with nonprofit leaders advocating for individual liberty and economic freedom in their respective countries.
From educating people on the ground to drafting legislation and securing its passage, there are hundreds of global nonprofit organizations that push back against government expansion on behalf of everyday citizens—the Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit organization Atlas Network partners with over 500 such think tanks. Brazil’s Instituto Liberal de São Paulo, for instance, has helped empower countless workers in recent months to enter hundreds of different types of low-risk jobs without burdensome government licensing requirements. The think tank’s efforts have expanded economic opportunities for literally millions of Brazilians, while also limiting the corruption of local government officials.
And that’s just one example. In the African nation of Burundi, female entrepreneurs have benefitted from looser restrictions on cross-border trade, allowing trade goods to flow more easily than ever before.
Of course, even the largest think tanks aren’t necessarily household names. Their leaders typically aren’t celebrities. Nor do they go “viral” for posting sensational YouTube videos that rack up millions of views. But they are influencers in every sense of the word, interacting with people across the socioeconomic spectrum.
From op-ed columns like this one to videos, podcasts, conferences, and blog posts, think tanks have various tools to reach the masses. They should utilize any and all of them. And the think tanks in my orbit do so, reaching millions of people. They are essentially “ideas influencers,” introducing concepts like entrepreneurship and free trade to make sure that local citizens understand them in full. The key is finding the right brand ambassadors who can champion freedom, but also influence people at a local level. Localization, not centralization, is what makes freedom a digestible concept in neighborhoods and communities themselves.
Consider Atlas Network’s new partnership with the Mexico-Based Centro Ricardo B. Salinas Pliego and Universidad de la Libertad, a new academic institution that will educate people about classical liberal values and teach them how to best communicate those values to others.
It is a step in the right direction, especially in light of Latin America’s long, sordid history of government interference in the private sector. In recent months, the region has seen an uptick in socialism and nationalism, with both the Left and the Right embracing regressive ideas of “nation.”
The path forward is laced with potential stumbling blocks—and not all are external threats. Too often, the freedom movement’s overreliance on theory undermines the delivery of its argument, with think tank experts spending too much energy explaining the philosophy of F. A. Hayek and too little time applying his teachings to real-world issues like inflation, taxation, or the plight of women in developing countries. Real people, as a result, tune out instead of conceptualizing how liberty can actually improve their everyday lives.
It’s important for ideas influencers to mount their own flag. People need to identify influencers with subject matter expertise in one or two ways. Specialization is rewarded because people turn to experts in time of need.
There is no secret recipe to influencing people. But the freedom movement needs to demonstrate how freedom helps people to actual people and in real terms—not theory, but practice. With that in mind, there are no better champions than the think tanks who already advance freedom at a local level. Their presence is already established, as is their target audience.
The influencer model clearly works in 2023. Now, it’s time for the world’s think tanks to harness their full potential, mobilizing ideas influencers on behalf of freedom—and all who benefit from it.