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  • James McGann's letter to think tanks


    Dear Friends, Colleagues and Partners:

    Let me start by wishing everyone the courage, hope, determination and strength to get through this public health crisis but especially to our government officials, doctors and nurses who are on the front lines, and above all, those who are most at risk for COVID19 and those who are vulnerable to the economic and social disruptions it will create. We must put aside our differences, cross party lines and borders if we are to mount a successful response to this global menace. It will also mean that we have to engage in a radical transformation of our public policies and institutional priorities to meet the immediate crisis and its long-term impact.  

    Think tanks around the world need to think and act outside the box and comfort zone and take the lead in addressing this crisis. This means reorganizing our research and mobilizing our staff to help policymakers and the public make the difficult choices that we face now and in the future.      

    Over the last week I have heard from many think tank scholars and executives around the world who are struggling to deal with the existential crisis brought on by the COVID19, its economic impact, the tough policy choices we are going to have to make and the operational and strategic challenges that threaten all of our institutions. The only silver lining is that in times of adversity, individuals and institutions emerge to provide leadership, expertise and a spirit of cooperation that cannot be defeated. I am reminded of the owners of boats--large and small --who came together on Dday and Andrew Jackson Higgins, an out of the box thinker who designed and mass-produced the landing craft that ”most famously landed troops during the amphibious invasion of Normandy on D-Day in 1944”. I cite these two examples to demonstrate what individuals and groups of people can do when the odds and obstacles are daunting. I am also moved by our colleagues in Italy and specifically in Milan who in the face of a great tragedy have came out on their balconies to sing and to embrace the lyrics of Pucini--- Vanish, o night! Set, stars! Set, stars! At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win! (Pucini's Nessun Dorma’)

    10 years ago when I set out to create a community of think tanks, I did this with the belief that by identifying and connecting the leading think tanks in the world I might help foster meaningful partnerships between scholars, institutions and countries and in doing so it would help improve national, regional and global policies and strengthen think tanks around the world. 

    I am writing today to urge you to reach out to your colleagues and to share innovative policies and programs that you may have developed to deal with the Corona-virus and provide innovative ideas and support that will help sustain our colleagues during this difficult existential moment.  I am pleased to say there is now a community of think tanks as evidenced by the comments of the think tank executives who attended the Global Think Tank Summit in Brazil in December 2019 Video Link

    As you know, I am always examining trends that will impact society and the policy environment in which think tanks operate. The Coronavirus clearly drives home the reach and disruptive dimensions of pandemics and most importantly it represents a important trend that we need to understand--the viral effects of issues and events and the rapid and devastating impact they can have on countries and people around the world. This new reality expands the meaning of “going viral” and is directly connected to what I have described as the “increased velocity of information and policy flows” where information and events spread around the world at warp speed. Coronavirus and economic and social fallout from it have swept across the globe in the blink of an eye. It underscores the fact that we think tanks must become smarter, better, faster and more adaptive if we are to help people cope with what I predict will be an endless stream of natural, health, political and social viruses that will sweep around the globe. We have the institutional capacity to meet this challenge if we transform how we operate and how we think about policy problems. 

    I firmly believe that we will overcome this invisible adversary, but we must prepare for a future where disruptions and the increased velocity of information and policy flows will keep us constantly on our toes. 

    Let’s support one another in the face of this global challenge and demonstrate to people around the world that leadership, facts and think tank matter now more than ever before.


    Be safe and stay healthy, Jim McGann



    I leave you with a few quotes that I found both inspirational and comforting. 

    Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable. Milton Friedman

    A time of crisis is not just a time of anxiety and worry. It gives a chance, an opportunity, to choose well or to choose badly. Desmond Tutu

    I have a theory that women are generally given space and appointed to jobs when the situation is tough. I've observed that in many instances. In times of crisis, women eventually are called upon to sort out the mess, face the difficult issues and be completely focused on restoring the situation. Christine Lagarde

    I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts. Abraham Lincoln

    When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity. John F. Kennedy

    Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Steve Jobs

    The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Winston Churchill

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