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Event Report: Why Think Tanks Matter

C3S Event Report No: 001/2018

“Why Think Tanks Matter” was a one -day international conference that was held in the Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA), Chennai, on the 30th January 2018. It was jointly hosted by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania, Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) and National Maritime Foundation- Chennai Chapter (NMF).

The Welcome Address and Opening remarks was given by Commodore R. Seshadri Vasan, Indian Navy (Retd.), Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S); Regional Director, NMF-Chennai Chapter; and Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Centre for Asia Studies (CAS). He talked about the significance of Think Tanks especially, in the policy making and “Why it Matters”, As well enunciated about C3S contribution to Think Tanks. After his speech, a video about Think Tanks was played.

The keynote address was given by Ambassador M. Ganapathi IFS (Retd.), Former Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India; Member, C3S. He started with assertion that Think Tank was a ‘western term’ and how it evolved in the context of Indian policy makings.  He mentioned the citations of the great political advisor Kautilya and Mahatma Gandhi. He listed out the purpose of Think Tanks in the 21st century, as well as from Indian perspective. He talked about the importance of private Think Tanks. He concluded with saying the challenges facing by Think Tanks.

The first panel was on the subject of the ‘Assessing role of think tanks’ and the session was chaired by Commodore R. S. Vasan, Director, C3S.

Ms. Raakhee Suryaprakash (Founder Director, Sunshine Millennium; Associate Member, C3S) presented about the ‘Role of think tanks in fostering people-people contacts: Cultural organizations’ perspective’. She started with the quotations from Samuel Huntington’s remarkable book “The Clash of Civilizations” and stated that the clashes of cultures are threats to peaceful coexistence. These threats can be transformed into opportunities to build peace, prosperity, and sustainable development through effective cultural organizations that foster people to people contact while providing insights and introductions to different cultures. She referred to “culture” as an effective “soft power” strategy. She mentioned the recognition of Chennai as UNESCO Creative Cities for its contribution to cultural diplomacy. She emphasized the role of Think Tanks to harnessing culture to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. She insisted the need for Think Tanks in elevating people from the poverty trap while fostering understanding and building bridges.

Dr. Uma Ramachandran, (Senior Research Manager, Environment and Climate Change, IFMR Lead) presented about ‘A Think Tank’s perceptions on Environment and Climate Change sector’. She talked about the key roles of Think Tanks in environmental governance including “climate change” at all levels- global, national, regional or local levels.  She proposed that gaps in governance structures acknowledge Think Tank’s contribution adequately. She stated that however, Participation of Think Tanks need to be enhanced through strengthened, more formalized structure for engagement. UN programs seek legitimacy for policies through TTs/ civil societies, yet formal mechanisms of participation within many parts of the UN system still remain limited. And she gave some Suggestions, Recommendations for positioning Think Tanks in decision-making processes.

Dr. Rajendra Baikade, (Ph.D.), Fellow, Mumbai School of Thoughts (MST), presented about ‘Youth Power in think tanks’. He presented about the role of youth and their opportunities in policy shaping, Think Thank space for youth in that and what think thanks can do for ensuring youth participation in policy formulation. He emphasized that Youth need to fully participate in democratic and development processes, play active roles in peace building and civil society. He asserted that International Relation can be achieved effectively through using youth power. He concluded by addressing problems facing by India especially in youth development.

The second plenary session was panel discussion ‘Media’s and civil society’s expectations from Think Tanks’ and the session was chaired by Dr. Geeta Madhavan, President, International Law and Strategic Analysis Institute, Chennai. She introduced all the panellists.

R.K. Radhakrishnan, (Associate Editor, Frontline, Chennai) recited the topic from the journalist perspective. He emphasized mainly three things. First, there need to be “crisp quotes” for every story (i.e.) word limit should be there in the news paper which might be a tough task for journalists. Second, Journalists were not provided with any structural training program, even Think Tanks are unable to offer such programs for journalists. Think Tanks can encourage News paper organizations through these programs. Third, he interpreted the contribution of journalists in the case of “Okhi cyclone-kanyakumari” and the issues regard that.

Col.Hariharan, VSM (Retd.), Retired Officer Intelligence Crops, Government of India; member of C3S. He listed out the difference between NGO and Think Tank. He listed out funds for social development programmes. He asserted that Media has failed to add value to the news and information’s, and advertisement is interrupting the news which was he pointed as Crime. He advised the journalist and host of any program that they should have some background knowledge about the issues and event. He criticized NGO’s that unable to communicate in simple and understandable words. Even Think Tanks lack that. Therefore, Think Tanks should teach them. He concluded by stating that Education is another area where Think Tanks work is needed much.

Mr.Peer Mohamad, Founder and CEO,, Chennai. He talked about 2004 tsunami and 2017 Okhi cyclone issues. He questioned media and Think Tanks for what it had done from 2004 to 2017. Especially he related the issue of Okhi cyclone with the role of Media and Think Tanks what they had done, what they don’t, what they need to be done. He criticized that Media and Think Tanks did not encourage involving more people.

Third plenary session was Open Interview conducted by R.K.Radhakrishnan,  Associate Editor, Frontline, Chennai, with Panel of Civil Societies’ Members and a former Civil Administration Member on the theme “Synergizing role of Civil Societies, Civil Administration, IGOs/NGOs & Think Tanks”.Panelists are Mr. K. Subramanian, Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Government of India; Treasurer, Col. Hariharan, VSM (Retd.), Retired Officer of Intelligence Corps, Government of India; Member, C3S. Mr. Satchitananda Valan Michael, Associate Repatriation Officer, UNHCR Field Office, Chennai. And Deepa Karthykeyan, Founder Director of Athena Infonomics. First R.K.Radhakrishnan raised the question about Rohingya issue to Satchitananda Valan Michael. He elaborated the actual issues end facts associated with it. They talked about Sri Lankan refugees, Chakma refuegees and Afghanistan refugees’ crisis. Col.Hariharan criticized that media shows interest in only projecting negative news. Deepa Karthykeyan, related the topic from the corporate perspective.

Fourth plenary session was panel discussion on the theme ‘Discourse on gender issues among civil societies and think tanks’. The session was chaired by V.S. Sambandan, Chief Administrative Officer, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public PolicyPanelists were Swarna Rajagopalan, Political analyst, writer and consultant; Founder, Chaitanya–The Policy Consultancy, Chennai; Founder and Managing Trustee, The Prajnya Trust, Chennai. Ms. Raakhee Suryaprakash; Founder-Director, Sunshine Millennium; Associate Menber, C3S. Arjun Sundar, 2nd year M.A International Relations, Dept. of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras.

Raakhee Suryaprakash talked about gender issues and gender bias in the society in general. Also mentioned the activities of Red Elephant foundation. Arjun Sundar talked about youth perspectives on gender issues. What is gender justice and examine the MeToo movement and the Women’s March of 2017 and 2018 and how they approach the cause of seeking gender justice. Why it is important to maintain integrity to the cause and not succumb to political rhetoric, which takes the focus away from the cause. Swarna Rajagopalan asserted that Think Tanks in India largely became “Guys club” never there be platform for social transformation. Most of the position was headed by older and privilege men.

Fifth plenary session was on the subject of ‘Thinking forward in the 21st century’. The session was chaired by Mr. L. V. Krishnan, Former Director- Safety Research Group, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam; Member, C3S.

Mr. Peer Mohamed talked about digital media. He stated that Digital media entities are having an advantage over legacy media outlets in enabling thought leadership. The Gate Keeping behavior of traditional media entities may take longer time to build consensus around really innovative thinking on issues of paramount importance. The cases of The Wire or Ippodhu in Indian national and regional media markets are pointers in this direction.

Ms. Preethi Amaresh is Secretary, Young Minds of C3S.  She talked about Women leadership in think tanks. She emphasized that women around the world are underrepresented at both leadership and management levels where women hold less than 1/3rd of senior and middle management positions. Gender discrimination still persists and male employees in the organizations would hesitate to accept a female as their superior and rarely as the chief executive. Most women who lead think tanks work in fields like social development or economics and they have an education comparable to their men peers. She mentioned that In India, we still have few women as leaders in think tanks as compared to countries like U.S and Europe. She concluded by saying that there should be balanced approach about gender and women in leadership roles can help restore balance and wholeness to our communities.

Cmde. R.S. Vasan gave the vote of thanks.

View presentations at this link: Presentations

(Compiled by Aswini Kumar, Research Officer, C3S.)

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