April 22, 2020 Print

A still from Akash Shrestha's (Samriddhi Foundation, Nepal) pitch during the first-ever online Asia Think Tank Shark Tank competition.

Liberty was front and center at Atlas Network’s 2020 Asia Liberty Forum, which launched with a new online format that gave participants from around the region the opportunity to exchange and engage with friends and colleagues from around the region.

Atlas Network COO Lyall Swim started the proceedings off with a hearty welcome, inviting attendees to meet via several online platforms that feature breakout channels, chat rooms, and other ways to continue conversations. Calixto Chikiamco, president of Foundation for Economic Freedom in the Philippines, echoed Swim’s welcome to the group of more than 140 think tank leaders and spoke of the challenges that COVID-19 is presenting for free-market institutions. The Foundation for Economic Freedom, which won the 2019 Templeton Freedom Award for their work to promote land reform for agricultural patent holders, were official co-hosts of the two-day event. Chikiamco reminded attendees of the need for liberty to prevail, pointing out that the choice is a complicated one when government begins to exceed its authority. 

Yazad Jal of the Centre for Civil Society delivered the opening keynote on concrete plans of action that free markets and liberal societies can take during a time of pandemic. He opened with a Venn diagram that illustrated the overlap between people taking COVID-19 seriously, people concerned about economic devastation, and people concerned about the expansion of authoritarian government. Those who care about liberty, said Jal, are those who find themselves at the nexus of these ideas. By establishing six areas where the private sector and civil society can step in to make a difference, Jal made a strong case that free trade and globalization are good for health—and that centralized decisionmaking is a proven way to undermine liberty.

A still from Yazad's presentation—the Venn diagram illustrating overlap between people taking COVID-19 seriously, people concerned about economic devastation, and people concerned about the expansion of authoritarian government.

After the presentation, participants joined breakout rooms to continue the conversation about what was happening in their respective countries and discuss the problems created by the newly acquired powers of government.

The first online Asia Think Tank Shark Tank featured three outstanding presentations, all focused on ways to advance liberty in contestant’s respective countries. In another first, an online poll was opened up, enabling event attendees to vote on the winner alongside the four main judges, Wolfgang Heinze of Friedrich Naumann Foundation in the Philippines; Marc Chenn of SaltStack in the United States; Casey Pifer of Atlas Network; and Simon Paterno of Foundation for Economic Freedom in the Philippines. Finalists Prashant Narang of India’s Centre for Civil Society, Casey Russell of New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, and Akash Shrestha of Nepal’s Samriddhi Foundation used their five minutes to make strong cases for their projects, and then the judges grilled each contestant in a live Q&A. “It was wonderful to see everyone’s pitches—great, great work from all over!” said Russell after the trio were finished. The winner of Think Tank Shark Tank will be announced on April 23.