29 July 2021

The “Think Tank Talent for the Future Forum”, which was organized by TRENDS Research and Advisory in partnership with the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, for two days at the Dubai World Trade Center, was concluded yesterday evening, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. The event was attended by 35 heads of global think tanks, executive directors, experts, analysts and executives, in addition to a number of university directors and media representatives and intellectual leaders, who discussed the strategic and operational challenges faced by think tanks in attracting and retaining young talents.

On its second and last day, the forum comprised of five sessions. The first session was moderated by Mr. Mohammed Hamdaoui, Head of the Department of Economic Studies and Director of the Energy and Natural Resources Program at TRENDS Research and Advisory, who stressed the importance of the forum in meeting the challenges facing think tanks, with the ideas and recommendations it puts forward, including practical mechanisms that help those think tanks respond to those challenges.

In a statement on behalf of General John R. Allen, President of the Brookings Institution, Dr. James McGann, Director of TTCSP of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, called for developing a strategy that supports think tanks and ensures their survival and prosperity in the future. He stressed the importance of adopting a new perspective with regard to relations and building global partnerships, as was the case with TRENDS, which has a global outlook and high standards that enables it to be among the most important think tanks in the region and the world.

Subsequently, Dr. Renata Dwan, Deputy Director and Senior Executive Officer, Chatham House, UK, spoke about the way to search for young talents. She said that individuals are the core of think tanks, and that those who join think tanks consider their choice as a profession for a lifetime. She added that what is new is that thinks tanks are increasingy reaching out to young people to offer them a career in research and global studies. She explained that competition has become fierce among think tanks around the world, and that there are various institutions, such as universities, that are vying to attract talent. She noted that many senior scholars and renowned analysts are increasingly joining think tanks to support young talents with their life-long experience. She drew attention to some of the challenges that young researchers face in think tanks that limit their chances of advancement.

Dr. Renata Dwan stressed the need to involve new, diverse segments of society in think tanks that were not part of those institutions. She referred to such individuals as being artists, designers, sustainability advocates, and architects, in order to enhance the capabilities of those think tanks in light of this crisis-ridden world. She said that Chatham House seeks to attract young people and develop their talents and capabilities so that they would be capable of developing public policies and discussing global issues based on informed visions, and that Chatham House also seeks to establish partnerships with universities and schools to search for young talents and involve students in the research process and study of international affairs. She stressed the need not to focus on experts as much, to but instead to search for those who can use their skills in a variety of research fields, and to reward and motivate them to join think tanks.

She pointed out that think tanks need to focus on new and innovative ideas, simplify complex notions, and rely on simulation systems, and apply training scenarios in the field of attracting young talents. She noted that funding constitutes a major challenge facing research and intellectual institutions. She also stressed the importance that those think tanks head towards digitization and exploration of new opportunities, rely more on technology in order to convey their ideas to various groups, and support the idea of ​​searching for young talents outside their borders, in more remote areas to create intellectual diversity.

Leaders of the future

In the second session, five new-generation researchers talked about their experiences and presented their visions and future aspirations. Introducing these researchers, Intissar Fakir, senior fellow and director of the North Africa and Sahel Program at the Middle East Institute (MEI), in the United States of America, said that the Covid-19 pandemic has motivated researchers to intensify work in the field of scholarly research. She stressed the importance of providing young researchers with opportunities and involving them in decision-making, which drives think tanks to grow and progress.

Afterwards, Dr. La Toya Waha, a researcher specializing in migration and displacement affairs, in the Department of Analytics and Consultation, at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Germany, said that comprehensive global ideas drive young people to engage in research and that they ought to translate their ideas into public policies. She stressed that think tanks should grant young people the freedom to carry out the research that they deem appropriate for their ideas and future aspirations. She stated that freedom of thought, research and establishing the link between accomplishments and fair promotional system helps think tanks to attract and retain young people. She added that creativity, innovation and flexible open up opportunities for younger generations that must be exploited to engage in scholarly research, and called on leaders of think-tank to allow, in particular, women to fulfill their aspirations.

For her part, Liliana Alvarado, Executive Director of the Ethos Laboratory for Public Policy in Mexico, underlined that think tanks have begun searching for dynamism in work to attract young people and the best talents in the field of scholarly research. She added that it was time for think tanks to promote their brands in order to attract the best young talents.

Dr. Strahinja Subotić, Program Manager and Senior Researcher at the European Policy Centre (CEP) in Serbia, indicated that the CEP is working to transform and develop the values ​​of the society to keep pace with the rapid developments. He explained that in this context, the CEP seeks to develop young talents and convince them through promotion policies and salary increases not to leave work in the future. He pointed out that age does not mean anything when it comes to professional development and advancement, and called on young people to enter the field of scholarly research.

In addition, Amal Al-Breiki, Vice-Chairman of the TRENDS Council for Young Researchers, a researcher at TRENDS Research and Advisory, stated that TRENDS focuses on attracting young research talent, and launches many initiatives to enhance their capabilities and skills. She noted that she was apprehensive when she first entered the field of scholarly research, but that gradually, she progressed in her career and assumed an important executive position within her organization.

Al-Breiki called on young researchers to discover themselves, nurture their ideas and interests, and take advantage of various opportunities to learn and participate and engage in effective discussions. She stressed that her learning process at TRENDS is ongoing, and that scholarly research requires constant thinking, planning and good preparation for the future. She added that the UAE houses major think tanks, most of which rely on young research talents. She underlined the need to introduce the concept of think tanks first before inviting young people to engage in work therein. She also mentioned that think tanks need to participate in employment fairs and carry out extensive visits to universities to introduce themselves and put forward their vision to the youth. She pointed out that many young people are interested in the field of scholarly research, and think tanks should benefit from this interest and employ it to serve societies and support decision-makers with their innovative ideas. She concluded by saying that after 20 years, she has become a researcher, and that her institution seeks to retain young researchers by building their capabilities and developing their talents.

For her part, Micky Aharonson, an international relations expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS) in Israel, underlined that men in Israel still have the upper hand and dominate think tanks, despite the existence of a gender balance. She added that existing think tanks should develop policies to guide young researchers about what they should do, as far as publishing and promotion is concerned.

The relationship between diversity and innovation

After a short break, the third session of the forum was held under the title “The Relationship Between Diversity and Innovation”. It was moderated by Dr. Ebtesam al-Ketbi, Founder and President of the Emirates Policy Center (EPC), who touched upon how think tanks can benefit from building a diverse generation of technology-savvy researchers and executives.

Rose Abdollahzadeh, Director of Research Partnerships at Chatham House in the United Kingdom, said that it cannot be asserted that Chatham House applies the principles of inclusivity and gender equality. She called for attracting young people from diverse social classes and many cultural backgrounds, and stated that dealing with digitalization was one of the biggest challenges facing Chatham House that strives to keep pace with technological developments as much as possible.

For her part, Natasha Jacome, Vice President for Operations at the Wilson Center, USA, said that the center in which she works focuses on the topics of race, age and cultural diversity, as well as representation to help make political changes. She explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has largely helped in learning the methods of virtual performance, stressing the importance of giving priority to networking in the future.

On the other hand, Natasha Hall, Senior Fellow at the Middle East Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the United States, said that her center works to promote a culture of diversity and innovation and to spread this culture among students in schools and universities. She referred to her personal experience in this regard, given that she has worked in 15 countries around the world before reaching the age of thirty, driven by the love of adventure, experimentation, and acquiring more experience and skills. She added that she was often the only person of Arab origin in think tanks, but that she was able to present new project ideas and broaden the horizons of research and academia. She mentioned that several studies indicate that diversity in the workplace increases economic returns and raises rates of profits. She added that diversity is vital and important in think tanks, especially in filling executive positions, and that efforts must be made so that diversity would become a policy and implemented throughout various organizations.

Subsequently, Paul McAllister, President of the Global Leaders Network in Unity and Evolvement, in the United States, stressed the importance of working to eliminate institutional obstacles to creating diversity and making the voices of groups that cannot express themselves heard. He said, “In our center, we invest in diversity and innovative ideas, do not look back, and aim to achieve growth and progress away from ethnic discrimination”. He explained that there are obstacles to achieving diversity, including slow economic growth. He indicated that we currently suffer most from the restrictions on finance. Thus, there is a need to invest in young talents, advance the field of scholarly research, and invest in people, given that individuals would do everything if they are given the right opportunity.

For his part, Luke Easley, Vice President for Human Resources and Operations at the Center for Global Development, USA, stressed the need to consider the financial cost, promote a culture of diversity, and adopt innovation as a modus operandi in think tanks. He said that women can improve work teams, and that they are active elements in the advancement of institutions.

Elyazia Al-Hosani, Chairman of the TRENDS Council for Young Researchers and a researcher at TRENDS Research and Advisory, presented her experience as a researcher. She said that age is not an obstacle to innovation, and that there should be no obstacles for young people to engage in the field of scholarly research. She explained that the positive work environment makes all employees want to offer their best. She pointed out that TRENDS Research and Advisory links diversity and innovation, offers opportunities, provides benefits, and attracts expertise.

Al-Hosani called on think tanks to focus on the quality of research, and to integrate modern technology to serve scholarly research. She said that TRENDS seeks to present research and studies via all digital platforms in order to reach the largest possible segment of readers. She stated that young people have considerable experience and that their ideas must be respected, developed and encouraged by those with long experience to continue research and giving, and develop their abilities and skills from an early age, in order to be ready to smoothly engage in professional life.

Kunihiko Miyake, Research Director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies (CIGS) in Japan, said that innovation is constantly on his mind, and that he provides advice to his team, regardless of their nationality or age. He added that the Cannon Institute is always working with diversity in mind, and that its job is to provide the best research and advice to everyone, both to men and women.

Team building challenges that help think tanks face challenges

This was followed by the start of the fourth session, which discussed the challenges of building a teamwork that helps think tanks face technological and administrative challenges. It was moderated by Linda Roth, Vice President of External Relations at the Wilson Center in the United States of America, who said that we must be creative in attracting exceptional talents to think tanks without heeding funding crises.

For his part, Deron Lehman, Director of Human Resources and Talent Development at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said that developing career outcomes is a natural product of cooperation and understanding between organizations and their employees, and that we, as human resources teams, should guide senior employees to our ability to develop their capabilities and upgrade their skills to keep pace with developments. He added that he advises employees not to be attached to one mentor, so that they would form their own thoughts and ideas. He explained that his center is looking for young talents who believe in its message and culture, and those who possess the skills and qualities that constitute a value-added to the institution. He pointed out that attracting young talents to think tanks requires introducing a change and a periodic assessment of opportunities and risks. He noted that the biggest challenge he faced in human resource management was to form a coherent team that is capable of keeping pace with technology and that possesses skills to develop young talents.

David O’Brien, Vice President of Development and External Affairs at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, USA, stressed that professionalizing the think tank starts from leadership posts, and that spreading this culture needs an organized method. He added that retaining the best talents is one of the most important values ​​of organizations that seek to progress and thrive, and that there is a need to follow ethical values ​​and proper methods in the process of recruitment and promotion. He stressed that the methods of communicating with the work team and organizing participatory activities earn the institutions the confidence of the employees. He pointed out that he learned over time how to add positive value to his work team, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said that the institution’s relationship with employees should be built on mutual respect, taking account of their needs and striving to meet them. He explained that sufficient openness is a prerequisite for hiring exceptional talents, given that the employee’s performance should be in line with the policies and needs of the institution, and that attracting young talents to think tanks must be based on a clear system, with supportive incentives to attract those talents.

Preparing for an uncertain future

The forum was concluded with a fifth closing session, under the title: “Preparing for an Uncertain Future”, which addressed the strategies and concrete actions that think tanks can take to meet the challenges posed by a world and workplace that have been changed by technology and the Covid-19 epidemic, and the need for a more flexible and responsive approach to developments in life, work and public policies. The session was moderated by Antonio Villafranca, Director of Studies and Co-Head of the Europe and Global Governance Center, Institute for International Political Studies, Italy. He underlined that Europe spends huge sums to support think tanks, but does not provide advice to governments.

Subsequently, Dr. Abla Abdel Latif, Executive Director of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies, thanked TRENDS Research and Advisory for organizing this distinguished global event that brought together many researchers from around the world. She added that think tanks should change their plans and strategies in order to deal in a more flexible manner with the contemporary requirements, and stressed the strong need to build trust between think tanks and decision-makers in various fields, and called for supporting decision-makers with realistic and applicable policies in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. She concluded by saying that we must free young researchers from outdated beliefs that shackle think tanks.

For her part, Lydia Ruddy, Director of Communications at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), Indonesia, said that cultural differences may be an obstacle for young talents to obtain opportunities suitable for their capabilities, and that attracting talents to think tanks requires changing thinking first, and adapting modern technology, especially social networking websites. She explained that publishing studies and research on social media platforms contributes to changing the stereotypical view of think tanks.

For her part, Elaine Ford, Director of the Democracy and Development International (D&D International), Peru, stated that medium and small think tanks have been negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic due to their poor sources of funding, and that it is necessary to encourage think tanks to expand the use of technology and adopt digital transformation policies in order to be able to keep pace and survive.

Osama El-Gohary, Chairman of the Information and Decision Support Center, the Egyptian Council of Ministers, stated that the Information Center he heads does not provide decision-makers with any recommendations based on traditional means. He pointed out that the application of artificial intelligence systems is the most important direction in which think tanks around the world must head.

For her part, Sarah Donahue, Associate Director of Operations at the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School, said that the Covid-19 pandemic forced traditional researchers to use technology and learn its skills to communicate with work teams. She called for the creation of working groups that included various professors and the involvement of teams from outside the institutions in order for think tanks to progress and keep pace with the latest developments. She noted that in the future, there will be completely different work methods than the current ones because the COVID-19 pandemic has changed work and life strategies as a whole.

Khuloud Odeh, Vice President for Technology and Data Science and Chief Information at the US Urban Institute, called on think tanks to prepare action plans that suit technological breakthroughs and rapid digital changes. She said that the use of technological expertise and talents is an urgent necessity in order for think tanks to turn digital and keep pace with modern life, and that flexibility, balance, and the formation of working groups that include different members are among the most important things that help think tanks overcome technological obstacles.

Concluding remarks

At the conclusion of the forum, Dr. James McGann, Director TTCSP of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, said that there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world, making it imperative for think tanks to be well-prepared for future risks and crises. He thanked the TRENDS Research and Advisory team for the outstanding organization of this global forum.

For his part, Dr. Mohammed Abdullah Al-Ali, CEO of TRENDS Research and Advisory, concluded the forum by expressing his pleasure in organizing and hosting this important and distinguished event, in cooperation and partnership with colleagues in the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. He said that the forum turned into an in-depth panel on the strategic and operational challenges facing think tanks in terms of attracting and retaining talent. He added: “We made sure that young researchers participate in the forum sessions along with participating experts from various think tanks, to give them the opportunity to express their opinions, aspirations and ideas”.

Dr. Al-Ali stated that the forum stressed the importance of strengthening dialogue and cooperation between think tanks, and finding appropriate frameworks for its implementation on the ground to achieve common goals and build a base of common understanding to face the challenges that confront the future of their work. He further indicated that despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, that TRENDS and their partners in the TTCSP were determined to organize this event on the ground, which has already been achieved with great success thanks to this cooperation. He stressed that TRENDS will remain strongly supportive of building the capabilities and skills of the new generation of young researchers, especially in this important region of the world.

Dr. Al-Ali thanked the forum participants for the ideas that were presented and developed, which provide an initial vision for a road map that think tanks can follow to develop the skills of the next generation of researchers and retain them. He also thanked Dr. James McGann and his wonderful team at the TTCSP of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania for their wonderful cooperation and important role in making the forum a success. He also thanked the TRENDS team for the great work they did and the huge and continuous efforts over weeks to achieve this wonderful success.

Dr. Mohammed Abdullah Al-Ali, CEO of TRENDS Research and Advisory, and Mr. Omar Mohammed Al-Nuaimi, Director-General of TRENDS Research and Advisory, with the participation of Dr. James McGann, then honored the work teams that organized the forum, and presented them with memorial shields.

  • The Think Tank Talent for the Future Forum concludes its proceedings by emphasizing the importance of strengthening dialogue and cooperation and working to empower young people.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has posed many challenges, and that think tanks develop new methods and ideas.
  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Ali: TRENDS will remain strongly supportive of building the capabilities and skills of the new generation.