Dozens of former world leaders, scholars, and experts gathered at a virtual forum co-sponsored by Penn’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program last week to share insights and proposals on the priorities of the G20 ahead of the group’s meeting in Rome this fall.
The Global Policy Forum “People, Planet, and Prosperity” brought together more than 1,000 attendees from more than 700 think tanks from across the world for a two-day event focusing on topics like how the G20 can contribute to building a better and fairer post-pandemic world, how to strengthen multilateralism, and what should be done to put sustainability at the core of future policies. The event was co-sponsored by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies in Milan and its T20 coordinator and chair Paolo Magri. The T20 is the official engagement group of the G20, and brings together think tanks and research centers worldwide to provide policy recommendations to the G20.
“In dark times, think tanks keep their lights on,” Magri said at the start of the forum. “It is now time to build a better and more equitable future and think tanks need to turn even more lights on.”
Jim McGann, director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, welcomed the virtual attendees by noting the importance of the occasion.
“The ability to reach out, to create solidarity and inclusion among the global thinking community at this moment, more than any other time, is both essential and critical for our countries and for the role and importance that think tanks can play in the world,” he said. He commended the attendees’ “commitment to helping save both livelihoods and lives, and our planet, in this pivotal and existential moment.”
The first day’s programming featured speakers sharing policy proposals on health, multilateralism, and migration for the first portion of the day, followed by speakers with proposals on climate, sustainable infrastructure, and energy.
Day 1 opened with a keynote speech from Sigmar Gabriel, former vice chancellor of Germany, who discussed, among other topics, his opinion that the G20 “completely failed” in its handling of the pandemic. He suggested establishing a G20 scientific advisory board to better manage future health emergencies in a less nationalistic way.
“It would be a kind of recoupling project which brings together think tanks and academics from around the globe to think about how to counter the most dangerous trend of the future of multilateralism: the return of ‘my nation first,’” he said.
Following Gabriel were keynotes from former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who discussed the importance of ideas, institutions, and leadership in making a better G20, and former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, who highlighted the measures that the G20 has taken to deal with the pandemic and what efforts they should take to better manage the current and any future global health emergency.
Day 2 focused on cohesion, development and digitalization, trade, and finance and began with a keynote address from John Allen, president of the Brookings Institution and a U.S. Marine Corps general and former commander of the NATO International Security and Assistance Force.
“These topics we consider today may seem initially disparate and diverse, but they share one thing in common: They have all been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Allen said. “As vaccines continue to be distributed and the reality of a true global reopening seems to be more and more possible, it’s becoming increasingly crucial that countries and governments ask themselves not just what our new normal would look like, but how we can take the lessons that we've learned from this crisis and put them to work to support the greater good.”
Other keynote speakers on the second day included Alicia Barcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard, secretary of the treasury under President Bill Clinton and director of the National Economic Council under President Barack Obama.
“The work of think tanks is essential for new ideas and policy proposals and for applying energy and pressures for governments to move forward,” Summers told the attendees.
The T20 was established in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, in an effort to mobilize think tanks from around the globe to provide more inclusive input into policy recommendations presented to the member countries.
The Global Policy Forum was the first of its kind to be held in advance of the G20 meeting, McGann said, and the idea behind it was to take the work out of closed meetings and into the open to allow for global input created in an accessible format.
All the speeches are available for academics, experts, and the public to view online. The videos have had more than 100,000 views as of Monday, McGann said.
From now until late summer or early fall, 11 task forces will create a final draft of the forum’s recommendations that will be presented to the G20 leaders during their two-day summit in Rome Oct. 30-31.
In closing the two-day forum, McGann told the virtual audience, “What this forum has provided is a bridge over troubled waters.”
Jim McGann is a senior lecturer in international studies at the Lauder Institute, director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, and a senior fellow at the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.