The CEO Notes

BRICS think tanks in the changing world

Over the last decade, a major shift has taken place in the balance of global power in favour of emerging markets. This is especially true of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries. The developing world, and in particular the global South, has experienced an economic boom that is generating rapid growth, prosperity and increasing confidence in those countries.

The shift of balance includes the “Arab Spring”, giving rise to a political activism of unprecedented scale in that part of the world, rattling the cages in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria. In Africa, a democratic wind began to blow giving rise to economic growth, growth of the middle class and intraregional social and economic cooperation. China and India became economic giants, with China replacing Japan as the second largest world economy. The BRICS grouping was established against this background, comprising countries with growing economies that promise to change the economic, social and political landscape of the world.

Representing the voices of the Global South, BRICS intends to reform the Bretton Woods Institutions, consisting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and establish the BRICS development bank. This would offer preferential funding schemes for infrastructure development in developing countries, thereby unlocking resources from regions such as Africa, with its rich natural resources.

BRICS also advocate democratic and balanced change in global governance, including introducing financial regulations to prevent the global economic crisis from deepening; pushing for a multi-polar world and promoting peace and security through settling conflicts using non-confrontational approaches. The path for the BRICS countries to achieve their goals will not be an easy one; it will involve managing simultaneous transitions of the economy, culture and politics, coupled with possibly unmet expectations that will need to be managed along the way.

Prior to the 2013 Leadership Summit, hosted by South Africa, BRICS countries set up a BRICS Think Tank Council (BTTC), comprising the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA, Brazil), National Committee for BRICS Research (NRC/BRICS, Russia), Observer Research Foundation (ORF, India), China Center for Contemporary World Studies (CCCWS, China) and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC, South Africa). These think tanks will work towards articulating a long-term vision for BRICS, the outcome of which could be the coalescence of different world views into one that is inclusive and beneficial to all.

Central to the rationale of the BTTC is the need for greater understanding between and within BRICS countries, which will further strengthen and deepen diplomatic, political, economic, social and cultural relations. While bilateral relationships also serve to address such issues, the BRICS Think Tank Council, as a multilateral institution, is assuming an important and strategic role in the creation of a new, more equitable world order. This will require, among other things, research and knowledge sharing. What is the role that the BRICS think tanks and more specifically, the BTTC, can play in shaping policy at a time when the world is rebalancing? How can think tanks bridge the gap between research and policy, and how their impact on policy be accurately assessed? And how can the think tanks translate scientific knowledge into clear and understandable information that would be appropriate for informing the leaders and governments of the BRICS countries?

Independent analysis is becoming ever more crucial, given the growing attention and focus on BRICS and its activities and pronouncements on global issues. BRICS think tanks and the BTTC could consolidate the status of BRICS as an important grouping in the international community, and act as policy guides and incubators, providing strategic inputs for intra- and inter-BRICS cooperation. The final home of the think tank will be a BRICS Centre of Excellence, which is at a planning stage.

The chairperson could further assist in developing strategies for BRICS research, coordinate BRICS related activities and develop academic products and publications. Furthermore, the paper will discuss the process of establishing a databank that will generate new indicators to measure the socioeconomic and political progress of these countries as they engage with the changing world. The assumption is that BRICS itself could become an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – a new source or model for providing global political and economic data which shares best policy practices.

Dr Olive Shisana chairs the Interim South African BRICS Think Tank.