What is a rebranding?
For us here at Atlas Network, rebranding means so much more than refreshing a logo or creating a new website. Instead, it’s all the new things organizations and movements do to cause their audiences to love and/or respect them. And there have been some great efforts by Atlas Network’s independent partners around the world that are causing an exciting rebranding of liberty.
Today the term “liberty” is more and more associated with a movement that is youthful and youth-led, pro-market rather than pro-business, keen on emotionally engaging storytelling rather than exclusively communicating with white papers, and intent on seizing the moral high ground.
But this hasn’t always been the case.
“Today the term “liberty” is more and more associated with a movement that is youthful and youth-led, pro-market, keen on emotionally engaging storytelling, and intent on seizing the moral high ground.”—Daniel Anthony, vice president of marketing, communications, & events, Atlas Network (United States)
I left my role at a division of Saatchi & Saatchi, a global ideas company, some years ago to help be part of liberty’s rebranding effort. And it was the free-market nonprofit talent scout, Claire Kittle Dixon, executive director of Talent Market, who formally introduced me to the “liberty movement.”
“I distinctly remember being referred to Daniel and thinking there was no way he could be passionate about liberty,” said Kittle Dixon. “After all, a free-enterprise-loving MarCom professional was an oxymoron. Thankfully, I was wrong. And if we're going to successfully rebrand liberty, we will need many more people just like Daniel to join our movement. Hiring from within our echo chamber will only get us so far. Bringing in new talent with fresh perspectives on messaging is essential.”
On the call with Kittle Dixon I told her that I had grown tired of hearing people assume that I must be in favor of big business at all costs, or that my free-market mindset wasn’t compatible with helping lift people out of poverty, or that liberty-oriented writing was the exclusive domain of wonky old ivory tower academics out of touch with the realities of the day and incapable of putting the core ideals of classical liberalism into an emotionally engaging story.
I was tired of what liberty’s brand had become. It felt damaged, unattended to, and plain ol’ unappealing. Kittle Dixon assured me on that call the role I was interested in at Illinois Policy Institute, headquartered in Chicago, would give me a real shot at being part of the rebranding of liberty.
And she was right. I loved the work I got to do with the team in Illinois, and thought ‘this is why I came to the liberty movement!’
It was not about protecting big business, it was about promoting the market; it was not about neglecting the poor and disadvantaged, it was about breaking down the barriers to prosperity and opportunity for everyone; and it was not about the ivory tower academics, it was about developing a brand of well-designed, emotionally engaging stories that reach the masses with the core ideas of a free-market, liberty-oriented economy.
I cherish my time working with Illinois Policy Institute. It was that time that eventually led me here to Atlas Network. And my former colleagues in Illinois are as intent as ever to keep the rebranding of liberty moving forward today.
Emotionally engaging storytelling
Illinois Policy Institute’s focus on emotionally engaging storytelling is leading the movement. Its vice president of communications, Hilary Gowins, discusses their philosophy:
“When we talk about public policy, we show—front and center—how it affects people's lives. That means telling the stories of and explaining why everyday people should care about things like pensions and excessive layers of government by showing them that waste, bloat, and crisis-level pension debt is why property taxes have grown six times faster than home values in Illinois over the past decade. Why is that so important? Because it allows regular people to become fully engaged in their government and to hold their lawmakers accountable for bad decisions. People in our state are feeling the pain. They deserve to know why. There's only one real reason to do the work that we do—and that's to help the people of our state, no matter their circumstance or walk of life, engage in the public debate to help create a fair, responsible, and accountable government.”
“There’s only one real reason to do the work that we do—and that’s to help the people of our state, no matter their circumstance or walk of life, engage in the public debate to help create a fair, responsible, and accountable government.”—Hilary Gowins, vice president of communications, Illinois Policy Institute (United States)
Thankfully, Illinois Policy Institute is not the only organization in the worldwide freedom movement making great strides to rebrand liberty. There is a renewed emphasis on storytelling industry-wide.
Earlier this summer, Avik Roy, co-founder and president of the Austin-based Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP), attended Lights, Camera, Liberty, an Atlas Network branding, storytelling, and film workshop. “At FREOPP, a core part of our strategy is to find ideas that are broadly appealing to rising generations—to skate to where the puck is going—by combining traditionally progressive goals like social mobility with traditionally conservative ones like economic liberty," said Roy. "And if you really want to expand the reach of your ideas to people who don’t already agree with you, storytelling is key.”
Roy was one of the 57 participants from 35 organizations in 15 countries gathered in Los Angeles to rethink their approach to marketing, communications, and storytelling. During this powerhouse 4-day interactive workshop, participants learn to use best practices in product and idea messaging and film production. Atlas Network partners with Taliesin Nexus to bring Hollywood talent to help coach and consult our partners on how to develop amazing stories and then how to bring them to life in films and short videos. The workshop started as a 12-person, 2-day training at a small hotel in Venice Beach. It’s now become Atlas Network’s largest in-person training. And the stories and films think tanks work on during the workshop go on to have a real impact.
“If you really want to expand the reach of your ideas to people who don’t already agree with you, storytelling is key.”—Avik Roy, president, Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (United States)
In 2015, Arlington-based Institute for Justice (IJ) released the short film Everything. The concept for the film had its genesis in the Lights, Camera, Liberty program. The film is inspired by a true story about a mother forced to take desperate actions to save the life of her cancer-stricken daughter when a bone marrow donor suddenly backs out of a life-saving procedure. The world premiere of the film was shown at Atlas Network’s Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner in 2015. From there it went on to win multiple awards and was named an official selection of numerous U.S. film festivals.
John Kramer, vice president for communications at IJ and executive producer of the film, completed the Lights, Camera, Liberty program in 2014, and used his new storytelling and filmmaking skills to develop and refine the script for Everything, spearheading the casting and production of this touching narrative.
“Our partnership with Lights, Camera, Liberty helped IJ to raise its storytelling skills to the gold standard—to the Hollywood level,” said Kramer. “That yielded two significant results. First, our short film Everything was released at a critical moment in time, which enabled us to lock in our legal victory on behalf of cancer patients and their families when the Obama Administration sought to negate it through rulemaking. Second, our experience with Everything gave us a strong and confident foundation to work off of as we teamed up with feature filmmakers Courtney and Ted Balaker to transform the book Little Pink House into a major motion picture. That film—starring two-time Academy Award nominee Catherine Keener as IJ client Susette Kelo, and Emmy nominee Jeanne Tripplehorn—was released this year to critical acclaim and even earned a screening in the U.S. Capitol. We expect to employ Little Pink House as a vehicle to inspire legislative reforms in the years ahead.”
Kramer continued, “From IJ’s founding, storytelling has been an essential part of how we’ve presented our cases in the court of public opinion and in the courts of law. Data, legal analysis, and policy studies are important, as is having a philosophical underpinning for your work, but when you can add a human face to all of that—when you can pull all of that traditional policy work together and add to it real-world examples of people suffering from the abuse of government power—that helps the world understand why what you’re doing is so vitally important and why things need to change.”
Pro-market, not pro-business
The rebranding of liberty has to include more than just great storytelling. It often means having to correct the record on some things like just how many think tanks are proposing policy reforms and running advocacy campaigns that are not explicitly pro-business, but rather pro-market.
“Too often, when we defend capitalism, people think we're defending cronyism,” said Brad Lips, CEO of Atlas Network. “We need be proactive in showing that being pro-liberty means being for the individual, and against entrenched interests and their systems of political privilege.”
“Too often, when we defend capitalism, people think we’re defending cronyism. We need to be proactive in showing that being pro-liberty means being for the individual, and against entrenched interests and their systems of political privilege.”—Brad Lips, chief executive officer, Atlas Network (United States)
In New Zealand, Jordan Williams, executive director of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, has been a big part of correcting the record on the topic of corporate welfare in his country.
“Corporate welfare occurs when politicians try to pick winners, and that causes the taxpayers to lose,” said Williams. “It robs middle-class taxpayers to reward the well-off and politically connected while also hurting the private entrepreneurs creating jobs in industries that don't qualify for government handouts."
Williams and his team have a campaign intended to broadly expose the recipients of the corporate welfare.
“In our most recent report on corporate welfare, ‘Socialism for the Rich,’ we showed that the annual cost of corporate welfare is now $1.6 billion NZD—a significant burden for a country with a population of only 4.7 million. Per Kiwi household the cost is $931 NZD.”
Williams continued, “We also found that our corporate welfare campaign attracted supporters that don’t usually support our fiscally conservative message. For example, Green Party and Labour Party politicians have lent their names to this campaign—well at least they did. Now that we have a Labour/Green Government, they’re just as bad, pivoting toward ‘green’ style corporate welfare and handouts in this year’s budget (the first for the new government).”
From his headquarters in Wellington, New Zealand, Williams is exposing the ills of corporate welfare; and 6,803 miles away in Mexico City, the team at México Evalúa is working on, among many other innovative efforts, helping entrepreneurs of all types have a fair shot at succeeding in the marketplace.
“In ‘Socialism for the Rich,’ we showed that the annual cost of corporate welfare is now $1.6 billion Nzd—a significant burden for a country with a population of only 4.7 million.”—Jordan Williams, executive director, New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union (New Zealand)
"At México Evalúa, we work to implement good corporate governance practices as well as anti-corruption policies in Mexico’s state-owned energy enterprises,” said Susana Donaire, institutional development coordinator at México Evalúa. “We do this in order to reduce corruption and create a fair playing field that allows private enterprise to break into the energy industry. By focusing on good governance, we are working to ensure that Mexico has a business environment in which entrepreneurs from all walks of life may thrive."
Donaire and her colleagues have been hard at work this critical election year in Mexico proposing a series of 10 public policy reforms. They turned the 10 reforms into the book Read, If You Want To Govern (Seriously) [Léase, Si Quiere Gobernar (En Serio), 2018 México Evalúa, Centro de Análisis de Políticas Públicas, A. C.] with the goal of presenting a more prosperous and free vision of Mexico’s future.
In Indonesia, being pro-market means advocating for changes that help the consumer, many of whom are living on or below the poverty line. Food security is a hot topic these days, and for the team at Jakarta-based Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS), it is one of their most important campaigns.
“Food security is more than just the simple supply of sufficient amounts of food,” said Rainer Heufers, executive director of CIPS. “It is equally important that the food is nutritious and meets the specific demands and preferences of the people. No government or any particular business player can satisfy that demand. The research and advocacy work of CIPS has consistently demonstrated in Indonesia that food security requires the free exchange of goods in domestic and international marketplaces. Food trade restrictions might help to avoid insecurity in the short term, but they also induce restrictive business practices and monopolistic behavior. In the long term, this leads to chronic food insecurity as shown in Indonesia. Domestic rice price increases pushed 1 million Indonesians below the poverty line in 2015, while international markets offered large supplies of affordable quality rice. Indonesia is the world’s 10th largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity, but 37.2 percent of all children under the age of 5 remained chronically malnourished in 2017. Insufficient food supplies are not the cause of these problems. It is the specific distribution system that matters and the marketplace appears to outperform all other systems.”
“CIPS has consistently demonstrated in Indonesia that food security requires the free exchange of goods in domestic and international marketplaces.”—Rainer Heufers, executive director of Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (Indonesia)
CIPS won Atlas Network’s Think Tank Shark Tank competition in 2016 for its pitch to create a massive open online course to engage university students as part of a wider plan to open up food trade in Indonesia—specifically to move the country away from its protection of the local rice industry. In a sign of growing traction of CIPS’ efforts, the Indonesian government decided, in early 2018, to import 500 thousand tons of rice from Vietnam and Thailand.
Youthful and youth-led
Along with a renewed emphasis on storytelling and pro-market reforms, the rebranding of liberty has been advanced by efforts that are both youthful and youth-led.
Peter Bismark Kwofie is the founding president and CEO of ILAPI-Ghana, a think tank in Tema, some 30 miles northeast of Ghana’s capital city Accra. He’s a young entrepreneur and is dedicated to educating and encouraging a new generation of young people in his country to challenge the status quo and adopt a liberty-based mindset.
“Sadly, students in Ghana often trust the government more than ever before when they are on campus,” said Bismark Kwofie. “Throughout their upbringing and education they’ve heard the state cunningly preach dependency and servitude as patriotism. Aside from the intensive public policy advocacy on classical liberal principles, ILAPI is focused on educating these students to create a new crop of young leaders to advocate for the principles of liberty for a prosperous Africa.”
To tackle this problem, ILAPI launched the “National Undergraduate Debate and Essay Competition” for students in Ghana late last year. The goal of the competition was to help the students learn the basic principles of freedom and classical liberalism as a pivotal part of creating prosperity in a free society. Peter originally pitched the idea for the debate and essay competition in the 2017 Africa Think Tank Shark Tank Competition during Atlas Network’s Africa Liberty Forum in May of that year. During the forum in Johannesburg, he won the seed funding to launch the debate and essay contest.
Overall, his contest brought together nearly 500 students at three separate universities across the country. “For the first time, most students are believing in themselves after learning of economic freedom, property rights, and about how they can see themselves as future entrepreneurs.”
In addition to Peter, when I think of the people building a youth-led and youthful liberty movement around the world, I think of Admir Čavalić in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Admir is the founding director of Tuzla-based Association “Multi”. I’ve gotten to know Admir and his hometown of Tuzla—about 75 miles northeast of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital city Sarajevo—through the many Atlas Network training programs he has participated in over the years.
Admir knew that liberty would not survive in Bosnia and Herzegovina if he and his team didn’t repackage and re-approach how it was shared with the next generation of young people in his country and the broader Balkan region. So he and his team launched a revolutionary event in 2016 called OPEN Fest.
—Admir Čavalić, founding director, Association “Multi” (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Over 2,000 people participated in the festival in 2017, with a few more thousand attending at least some of the associated programs. The event lasted a total of five days, combining concerts, art exhibitions, films screenings, book translation launches, and engaging talks by academics, authors, business leaders, and government officials. OPEN Fest has become—in just two short years—a regional cultural event, and organizers are capitalizing on the momentum of its success and are busy planning the 3rd annual OPEN Fest for late October 2018.
OPEN Fest was another project that came out of Atlas Network’s Think Tank Shark Tank Competition. Admir won the competition and the associated seed funding in New York in 2015.
With OPEN Fest, for the first time in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the broader Balkan region, young people have an attractive option of different ideas; ideas that are open and welcoming of them and their lives.
“New generations want to discover the ideas of liberty in their own way,” said Čavalić. “I know that this can look strange to us who first read the books and started with a more academic approach, but now this is the way the market of ideas works. That is why we need to start thinking about entertainment, that is, how to attract young generations to attend our events, and then eventually how to ‘sell’ them on our ideas but in a language they understand. Festivals, like OPEN Fest, are great for that. That is why we in Association ‘Multi’ like to focus on these kinds of events, that are fun and entertaining, but also have a depth of impact on young peoples’ minds.”
Another youth-led liberty movement can be found a short flight away from Bosnia and Herzegovina in Ukraine.
“Ukrainian youth-led liberty reached its peak in 2014, when young people constituted the vast majority of the million-people protests, demanding impeachment of then-President Yanukovych after he backed away from signing an association agreement with the European Union,” said Andriy Shpakov, executive director of Kyiv-based EasyBusiness. “The success of the ‘Revolution of Dignity’ in Ukraine has brought new faces to Ukraine's public policy arena. New young leaders emerged both in government and parliament, while civil society organizations, driven by reform-minded youth, reinvented themselves as the watchdogs to keep politicians accountable. Fortunately, four years after the Revolution, a critical mass of bright and pro-market young reformers—from 25-year-old Deputy Ministers to student-leaders of NGOs—has been and still is contributing to the structural reforms in our country. I and my team at EasyBusiness are proud to be a part of the new Ukraine.”
“New young leaders emerged both in government and parliament, while civil organizations, driven by reform-minded youth, reinvented themselves as the watchdogs to keep politicians accountable.”—Andriy Shpakov, executive director, EasyBusiness (Ukraine), speaks at Liberty Forum and Freedom Dinner 2017 in New York City
Seizing the moral high ground
In the course of my four-and-a-half-years with Atlas Network I have met some incredibly courageous and inspiring people. These are the people who work to advance freedom and human flourishing, and often in hostile settings. Our CEO Brad Lips has traveled all over the world on behalf of Atlas Network, and he has encountered similar experiences.
“Two decades ago, at my first Atlas Network conference, I met a Ghanaian think tank leader who explained to me how the effects of big government in his own country were even more pernicious than they are in the U.S.,” said Lips. “I wished so badly that some of my friends from college could have heard him! Progressives often think they have the moral high ground on issues like poverty, simply because they want to throw the most government money at the problem. They look down upon us free-market folks and call us cold-hearted without even listening to our arguments. At that 1998 Atlas Network conference, I had an epiphany that Atlas Network's independent partners around the world—if given a big enough stage—could explode stereotypes about who really is a friend to communities at the margins.”
One of those friends exploding stereotypes and seizing the moral high ground is the talented team at the New Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society (CCS). I got to meet most of their team during Asia Liberty Forum 2017, held in Mumbai. But the first CCS team member I met was Baishali Bomjan, a few years earlier. She gave a memorable talk at Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner in New York on “Why is India Poor?” and on how CCS approaches its work.
“CCS is a unique free-market think tank in that it has, from the beginning, chosen issues and strategies that have put a human face on classical liberalism—championing the causes of street entrepreneurs like vendors and cycle rickshaw pullers; poor parents who can access only government schools, often times failing ones; and farmers and tribal peoples,” said Bomjan. “In all of our projects, efforts, and campaigns, we are consistently demonstrating that the classical liberal approach is beneficial to the poor in urban as well as rural areas.”
Seizing and maintaining the moral high ground requires recognizing illiberal ideas and actions wherever they occur and from whomever may commit them. That means calling out the bad ideas of both the political left and the political right, which we as classical liberals are well-positioned to do. One partner, Timbro, based in Stockholm, Sweden, has built its impressive credibility and reputation in this fashion.
“The freedom movement have always been very quick—and good—at highlighting the authoritarian thinking behind the left’s hunger for control over the marketplace,” said Timbro CEO Karin Svanborg-Sjövall. “But the authoritarian right is more nebulous than the left. They usually want some kind of crony capitalism, but their selling point is not so much to restrict business as to restrict the market place of ideas. Freedom of religion is important—unless you´re Muslim. Freedom of expression is important—unless you´re Muslim. It is a deeply troubling development, and an attack on individualism.”
Timbro’s Authoritarian Populism Index has become one of its most famous products. The first iteration of it came two years ago, and it chronicled the popularity and influence of populist parties on the left and right in 33 European countries from 1980 to 2016.
“One of the most important lessons to draw from our Index is the importance of both institutional and ideological safeguards from the majoritarian thinking of the populists,” continued Svanborg-Sjövall. “We need to stick to our principles: public polls can never tell us right from wrong. Especially from a European perspective, we also need far more constitutional protection of our basic rights than what we have today.”
A free-market approach to do development differently
At the end of 2017, Atlas Network began a campaign to draw attention to a promising strategy for aiding the world’s poor. We now can show that directing philanthropy toward the locally grown research and advocacy agenda of independent, market-oriented think tanks can strengthen the institutions that foster economic opportunity for those in poverty.
Benchmarking their reform efforts to global indices like the Economic Freedom of the World Report or the Doing Business report, our partners are making measurable progress. The results are encouraging. In fact, according to research commissioned by Atlas Network and led by Simeon Djankov, the founder of the World Bank’s Doing Business report, improving scores on economic freedom indicators can mean less poverty at the country level.
The findings support the growing consensus among experts that question the efficacy of the predominant top-down, foreign aid strategy. In an effort to start doing development differently, Atlas Network works with more than 480 independent research and advocacy organizations in over 90 countries, identifying and funding the most promising reform projects that are likely to improve low-income peoples’ chances of lifting themselves out of poverty and on to the road to prosperity.
New levels of enthusiasm for the rebranding efforts
There has been a renewed and concerted effort among our partners to cause their audiences to love and respect them in their respective countries. And it is working. The rebranding of liberty has been in the works for a few years now, and its snowballing has given great momentum to our work to bring about increased freedom and prosperity in places that have historically been underserved by both—places like Indonesia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Brazil, India, Mexico, and more.
This was more evident than ever just recently as Atlas Network’s Templeton Freedom Award application period came to a close. This year there were more high caliber projects than ever before vying for freedom’s highest prize for think tank achievement. The judging will be difficult indeed, but come November, six finalists will be on stage, and one will be named the 2018 Templeton Freedom Award winner in NYC at Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner.
Chicago, Austin, Arlington, Wellington, Mexico City, Jakarta, Tema, Tuzla, Kyiv, New Delhi, and Stockholm—these 11 cities all have something in common. The people that live in them all deserve the new brand of liberty. One that leads with emotionally engaging storytelling; one that is pro-market, not pro-business; one that is youthful and youth-led; one that is seizing the moral high ground; and one that is more enthused and excited than ever.
I consider myself fortunate to have worked with so many people responsible for the ongoing rebranding of liberty. This is why I came to the liberty movement, and this is how we will stay competitive in the marketplace of ideas for many years to come.
“People deserve the new brand of liberty. one that leads with emotionally engaging storytelling; one that is pro-market, not pro-business; one that is youthful and youth-led; one that is seizing the moral high ground; and one that is more enthused and excited than ever.”—Daniel Anthony, vice president of marketing, communications, & events, Atlas Network (United States)