Atlas Network's training program, Atlas Leadership Academy, is proud of its network of 67 graduates working to advance freedom with our partner organizations throughout the world. To highlight their work, we’ve chosen to cast the spotlight on one alum each month, in hopes that their stories and experiences will inspire upcoming leaders in the freedom movement.
Guillermo Peña Panting is the executive director of Fundación Eléutera, a classical liberal think tank in Honduras. He is also a political analyst and economist, and has worked with think tanks in the United States and United Kingdom. His writings have appeared in national and international media, most recently the PanAm Post. Guillermo sketched out plans for his think tank in 2013 through Think Tank Navigator, then in 2014 attended Think Tank MBA and graduated from Atlas Leadership Academy.
Tell us a little about your organization and career history. What inspired you to work for a free-market group?
The idea to start a think tank came to me in 2006, right as I was leaving college after an eye-opening internship at the John Locke Foundation, where I learned firsthand that politics could be heavily impacted from civil society, away from party politics, while keeping your personal principles and values intact. As I was returning to Honduras in 2006, I looked for organizations doing similar work with free-market ideas back home, but couldn't find any. I was introduced to Atlas Network just in time, where I found open doors and advice from the first day on.
Fundación Eléutera was founded in 2013 and is my third attempt at establishing a free-market public policy think tank in Honduras, and it seems like this time we are here to stay. Fundación Eléutera is public policy think tank that focuses on demonstrating that good rules, access to and protection of the legal system, and a path to prosperity are possible without having to leave Honduras. In the last decade, we have had thousands upon thousands of people fleeing the country each year in economic despair or because of personal insecurity, and we are trying to play a part in breaking this cycle.
Through fate or luck, as the support for our think tank project grew, I came across the opportunity to participate — independently from government — in what can be called one of the most exciting public administration reforms in the last 50 years in Latin America: The Zones for Economic Development and Employment, or ZEDEs. These are special administrative zones that have to comply with the Honduran Constitution and international treaties, but have a high degree of flexibility to set internal regulations, including but not limited to fiscal, monetary, corporate, regulatory bodies, zoning, home owners associations, and special purpose districts. Eléutera has played a direct role in trying to get the zones on the ground, and have for the last year been leading an effort to start a zone of our own.
Our planned zone would begin on privately held land, not a government concession or through eminent domain, and Eléutera would move from being a policy advocate to being the nonprofit that sets up the administration of this ZEDE. The administration model has been influenced by the Reedy Creek Improvement District (and other improvement districts), the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, several modern International Arbitration Courts, and Polybius' influence on the Founding Fathers of the United States (Hamilton in particular) and his theory of “anacyclosis.”
We plan to use a “good neighbor policy” with our surroundings — human and nature — and are especially open to the tremendous knowledge and experience that the organizations and friends of Atlas Network can provide to help us reduce the risk of costly mistakes.
I firmly believe I will never come across another opportunity of this magnitude in my own country, and for this, we plan on doing the best we can with it. We are actively seeking individuals, nonprofits, and corporations who would like to venture into this project with us.
How did you learn about Atlas Leadership Academy, and what drove you to get involved?
I had done some early training programs, but felt I needed something more. I attended the Atlas Network Liberty Forum (back when it traveled around the U.S.) when Atlas Leadership Academy was first publicly announced, and it immediately caught my attention. Atlas Leadership Academy is a great way to access information and best practices from your own house/office and at your own time, and puts the responsibility on each individual's lap. The practical educational method is great for immediate application in your daily activities with your organization.
What were your biggest takeaways from the training you received?
The training is like your favorite greatest hits music compilation, where you get a wide variety of successfully proven think tank knowledge all in the same place. It's rewarding to know that many of the course instructors have been through the early, difficult stages of starting a think tank themselves, just like many of us. And if you follow through the course catalog, you can get to meet many of them face to face at the Atlas Network Liberty Forum and in the training programs.
One very important lesson is that you must be aware of what other friends of Atlas Network are doing — many times, the solution to your policy/advocacy problem is no more than two email connections away.
What advice would you give someone aspiring to work in the liberty movement?
Whether you are single subject–driven or like to know everything in the inner workings of the free world, there is a think tank out there waiting for you. If you can't find it, create it, and don't worry, Atlas Leadership Academy is there to get your feet wet and your sails ready to set you on your way. The road is not easy, but if you stick to your principles, you will lead a fulfilling professional career.
One last thing, make sure you surround yourself with people who strengthen your weaknesses — you will need them more than you can imagine.
Learn more about ZEDEs in the Fundación Eléutera article “ZEDEs: Una oportunidad historica para el desarrollo de Honduras.”