Think Tanks

Think Tanks

Conducting field research in Uganda. Working in partnership with the International Development Research Centre in Canada, the Think Tank Initiative provides grants to improve the quality and effectiveness of research in the developing world. Photo: Peter Bennett, IDRC.


To create sound public policy, decision makers everywhere need sound research. In the United States and other developed nations, research centers like Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace help enrich policy discussions, develop policy alternatives, and train policy experts.

For many reasons, such institutions are less common in the developing world. Researchers trained in the developed world may be reluctant to return home to a lack of financial support or strong local institutions that might provide the opportunity to build careers. The international aid community often has compounded the problem with short-term support for one-off projects that are designed and directed by the donor. The result has been policy research institutes doing work that responds to a donor’s interests rather than letting local needs and trends set their agendas. It also has meant that little is done to strengthen the research institutions themselves.

If there is a key lesson for donors interested in supporting research in the developing world, it is that public policies work best when they are informed by the research of local scholars.  The corollary is that good local research requires strong local research institutions, and that it will take international donors offering the right kinds of support to help those local institutions flourish.

To respond to these problems the Hewlett Foundation has launched a ten-year, $100 million initiative to strengthen independent research centers in the developing world. The goal is to support high-quality research that developing countries can use to formulate national policies. Working in partnership with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a quasi-public Canadian agency with forty years of experience supporting research on development, the Think Tank Initiative provides grantees with a combination of long-term general operating support and technical assistance so they can improve the quality of their research, expand links to policymakers, and strengthen themselves as institutions.

The Hewlett Foundation and IDRC invite other international donors to join with them in this effort to create a pooled fund that would expand support to local think tanks throughout the developing world.

The initiative provides support to research centers in four regions of the developing world: East Africa, West Africa, Latin America, and South Asia.

East Africa

West Africa


Burkina Faso

Latin America

South Asia

El Salvador

Sri Lanka


Further Reading
2010-2011 Annual Report (PDF)
2008-2010 Annual Report (PDF)
Think Tank Initiative Executive Summary
, November 2007 (PDF)
Think Tank Initiative Overview, April 2007 (PDF)
Think Tank Initiative Rationale, February 2006 (PDF)
Best Practices for Funding and Evaluating Think Tanks, December 2006 (PDF)

The Global Development and Population Program does not accept unsolicited Letters of Inquiry for The Think Tanks Initiative - all inquiries should be directed to IDRC.