Think Tanks: A Social Good for the Global Community
- 6 April 2014
What is a think tank? As director of the Brookings Doha Center (BDC), this is a question that official representatives and ordinary citizens alike often ask me, whether here in Doha, in the broader Middle East, or across the globe.
Simply put: a think tank is a research centre. It is a place where academics, analysts, policy-makers and other officials meet and work to study leading policy questions of the day.
The goal of think tanks is to develop fresh, innovative approaches for a range of issues, whether related to national security, foreign policy, economic growth, or social development.
Through publications, events, and engagement with a range of media networks, think tanks ensure the new ideas and insights they develop reach the public sphere and impact policy debates.
By bringing together key academics, public officials, journalists and business professionals in public events and private workshops, the centre works to ensure the ideas and insights reach key decision-makers, while ultimately benefiting the public at large.
Think tanks such as the BDC provide a social good - a strategic investment with rich dividends for all. Society as a whole, on the local, regional, or international level, stands to gain by their research, outreach and the policy discussions they aim to lead.
Think tanks got their start when the Royal United Services Institution (RUSI) was founded to study military science in 1831.
In the US, the think tank community began with the establishment of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1910, closely followed in 1916 by the Brookings Institution.
In the Middle East, the first independent think tank was the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, founded in 1968 in Cairo. Today there are over 500 such centres operating in the region, covering all areas of research.
In the UAE, the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies has been supporting Emirati decision-makers for 20 years with innovative research in all areas of public policy. Likewise, the Gulf Research Centre - with offices in Jeddah and around the world - has advanced quality research and analysis on Saudi Arabian and GCC policies at home and abroad. These institutions operate in the company of a range of other institutions, such as the Arab Planning Institute in Kuwait and DERASAT in Bahrain.
Think tanks have a key role to play in the Gulf and the surrounding region. They contribute to government efforts to confront difficult questions regarding economic growth, energy security, institutional capacity and the turbulent political landscape.
The BDC joined this community on February 17, 2008 as the first non-governmental organisation in Qatar. Qatar’s National Vision 2030 was launched the same year. It aims to build a bridge between Qatar’s present and its future and chart a course for economic and social progress. The BDC is proud to be a part of this vision.
The BDC is one of three overseas centres affiliated with the Brookings Institution. The BDC upholds Brookings’ proven track record for informing policy-makers through its core values of quality, independence and impact. It works to advance cutting-edge, independent policy analysis on a variety of political and economic questions confronting the Middle East today, from transitional justice in Libya to the ongoing conflict in Syria.
The BDC has a local, regional and international presence, working to develop ties and promote insightful analysis here in Qatar, around the region, and among the larger international community. Its location in Qatar positions it to build ties between institutions and actors in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
As a result, the BDC encourages a rich exchange of ideas between the Middle East and global society. Research the BDC undertakes within the region and its public and private discussions with regional actors provide valuable perspectives for policy-makers around the world.
Qatar benefits directly in its support for the BDC and other research centres; with Doha rapidly becoming a hub for regional scholarship, Qatari officials and experts stand to enjoy stronger ties with the international community.
The BDC also works to contribute to the local society, supporting the National Vision’s goals of human and social development in Qatar. Through its collaborations with Qatar University and Education City, including a BDC-Qatar University Joint Fellowship and internship programmes, the Center encourages emerging scholars and young students to partake in activities and programming.
In this way, the BDC is part of a growing network that binds education, research, and practical application of that research. At the same time, the Center’s publications and public events foster Qatar’s “knowledge economy” by promoting a culture of informed citizenship.
During my time as director of the BDC, I have witnessed amazing growth in the scope and scale of the BDC’s activities, against a backdrop of profound developments in Doha. I am excited for what the future holds, both for the Center and for Qatar.
- Salman Shaikh is director of the Brookings Doha Center and Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.