The Smith Fellowship, one of the many programs of Atlas Network’s Leadership Academy, brings up-and-coming leaders from around the world to Washington D.C., where they receive training and mentoring in marketing, fundraising, management, and other relevant skills.
A recent alumna of the Smith Fellowship, Aneta Vainė, Vice President of Lithuanian Free Market Institute (LFMI), spoke with Atlas Network about her history in the global freedom movement, how Atlas Network has helped LFMI in its work to advance liberty in Lithuania, and what participating in the Smith Fellowship has meant for her.
Atlas Network: How did you get involved with the international movement to advance freedom?
Aneta Vainė: When I was 15 I was part of a U.S.-based group of Soviet, Polish, and American kids who put on a musical called Peace Child for two months in Poland about world peace. During the program, I met a group of young American teenagers, and I could feel this sense of freedom that they exuded. One of the American guys from Texas gave me Ayn Rand’s book Anthem as a gift. I may have been the first person in Lithuania to read Ayn Rand! A few years later, before I joined LFMI, I got to go to Denmark and was one of the first 3 students to go on an exchange program to England. It was 1992 during the Soviet blockade; we were dependent on Russia for gas, heating, and almost everything else. They used economic pressure to suppress independence.
When I went for half a year to the U.K., the difference was massive and I realized what free-market capitalism could bring. A year after I returned, I was finishing my bachelor’s studies, and LFMI was looking for someone with English language skills. Since I was studying English at the time, and LFMI’s values resonated with me—independent, private, free-market, liberty—it all meshed together. When I started working at LFMI, everyone was talking about Ayn Rand. I got to read the rest of her books, and other readings about liberty like The Freeman. Promoting the ideas of individual freedom was so meaningful to me, and I’ve been at LFMI ever since.
Can you tell us about the work LFMI does?
LFMI does in-house research work, conducting policy analysis which covers a range of issues (taxation, finances, labor markets, competition policies, social security, pension, insurance, and more.) We also do advocacy work based on our own research, using personal testimonies, stakeholder meetings, and coalition building. We have a communication line for every major project we do, with media communication playing a significant role. We also have a separate branch that focuses on economic and social awareness education (the TFA-winning Economics in 31 Hours is its flagship project).
How does LFMI approach and take action on issues?
An important part of our work is our Government Watch Program, in which we monitor what’s happening in the government and the parliament to track upcoming legislative proposals. In many cases, we’re the first ones to react and to respond to them. We have unique responses to each individual issue: sometimes we will conduct an interview, submit an op-ed, or write a position document to send to the parliament or to the ministers, perhaps pairing it with a petition campaign. Other times we will host roundtable events to encourage debate. For pressing issues, we dedicate an episode of our weekly radio talk show, which airs on the main radio station. Other times we might just produce an infographic.
For instance, some time ago, the Lithuanian railway announced their plans to establish retail state-owned convenience stores at railway stations. After just one interview in the media from my CEO, the issue was projected throughout many outlets, and within a week the railway vetoed its plans and decided to leave railway station real estate to the private sector. We approach issues case-by-case in order to get the most effective results.
How has Atlas Network helped LFMI in its work?
For us, Atlas Network is this huge platform, connecting liberty-minded think tanks and providing a platform for exchange. Ten years ago we didn’t see nearly as much international exchange going on in the liberty movement as we see now. Atlas Network has played a huge role in connecting and bringing us all together, not to mention the amazing training opportunities from which we have been able to benefit. A few of us in the office have graduated from Think Tank Essentials, and we have all used the resources available online. And we have grown a lot in refining the way we do things. Whether in fundraising, research management, board management, or communications, these tools have been invaluable.
The forum Atlas Network provides allows many different think tanks to exchange ideas or challenges that we are dealing with and allows us to see different perspectives on those challenges, and—of course—find groundbreaking opportunities.
How has the Smith Fellowship impacted your work? What will you take away from the fellowship?
As a small private think tank, for us, it’s all about efficiency and making sure we have proper tools and processes in place to achieve our specific goals. For me, the Smith Fellowship was an opportunity to revise many of our management processes, learning what changes need to be put in place to make it even more efficient, with the help of professionals here. Also, because we are a private think tank and rely on private corporate, individual, and foundation donations, it was helpful to upgrade our fundraising processes—especially as we’re hitting our big 30th anniversary next year.
I also enjoyed connecting to the think tanks here—organizations we have previously worked with or are continuing to work with—to update them on our work and see what their programs are. Connecting to donors and foundations here is always significant, and I was able to tell them more about the work we are doing in person. I was also able to reach out to the honorary Consul General of Lithuania in Philadelphia—Krista Bard—who is an amazing person and is very willing to connect to people and organizations. I think I can expect a lot to come out of meetings that I’ve had with people here, whether it’s organizations, donors, professionals, or people of Lithuanian origin.