By Tadias Staff
Updated: Monday, February 22nd, 2016
New York (TADIAS) — Three years ago when Professor Lemma Senbet took leave from the University of Maryland in College Park — where he served as The William E. Mayer Chair Professor of Finance at Robert H. Smith School of Business — to become Executive Director of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) in Nairobi, Kenya, he told Tadias that “My goal is to lead it to move to the next level of excellence, and I will be embarking on strategies for full global integration of the AERC and its visibility beyond Africa as an organization that is at the cutting edge of best policy research practices.”
Fast forward to 2016 and AERC is currently ranked as one of the top economic research think tanks by the Global Index. “A think tank is an institution in the core business of generating knowledge to impact or influence policy,” Dr. Lemma explained in a recent interview with Tadias. “The Global Index recognizes think tanks around the globe that have generated policy-oriented knowledge and influenced policy in several categories. Think tanks vary depending on their specialization, including, for instance, security studies.”
In the 2015 Global Index AERC was ranked among the top under the ‘Best Development Think Tanks’ and ‘Most Independent Think Tanks’ categories.
“Development think tanks are in the space of policies and research targeted for economic and social development,” Dr. Lemma said. “The ranking for independence is the first ever for AERC, and it is consistent with another global ranking last year whereby AERC was awarded the coveted/top 5 star global transparency ranking.”
Dr. Lemma added: “It is great that AERC gets ranked among global think tanks, but it should also be recognized that AERC is more than just a think tank. It is a think tank plus with a range of products and services spanning policy-oriented research, collaborative graduate training, and policy outreach, along with being a vast network of economic researchers, policy makers, policy institutions, universities, and international resource persons.”
Dr. Lemma pointed out that AERC came into existence over 27 years ago to bring “rigor and evidence to economic policy making in Africa.” It is a membership organization of global partners, including governments and international institutions.
Earlier this year AERC was also part of an international program at the University of Pennsylvania organized by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Programs (TTCSP) entitled Why Think Tanks Matter to Policymakers and the Public.
“AERC does not advocate specific policies, but has enduring delivery channels and forums for policy dialogue and research dissemination with two principal purposes – to generate more informed policy-making and foster ownership of research by policy makers, as well as do research that leads to evidence based policy making,” Dr. Lemma emphasized. “Thus, AERC is both influential and independent.”
In addition, AERC is at the forefront of efforts to scale up partnership of African institutions as well as the private sector engaged at the interface of private and public policy issues, such as risk management and financial regulation.
“It should be recognized that informed policy making has been an important contributor to the Africa growth renaissance that we are currently witnessing,” Dr. Lemma said. “In terms of enhanced African stakeholdership of AERC, things have far exceeded my expectations. In February 2015, twelve African Central Bank Governors and Deputies met in Livingstone, Zambia, with the sole agenda of sustainability of AERC. They passed a historic resolution under which each signatory central bank becomes a member of the Consortium in accordance with the AERC bylaws to provide core support, along with our longstanding member partners, including UK, US, World Bank, and Nordic countries. The AERC Governors’ Forum is, indeed, a reaffirmation of the value proposition of the institution, and it already has generated a positive leveraging effect on the other global partners, while enhancing African voice in its governance.”
Recently the African Development Bank likewise provided a $7 million grant to AERC — the largest from the Bank and an African institution — in what Dr. Lemma described as “further solidification of African stakeholdership of AERC.”
In the next five years AERC aims to focus on private sector engagement. “This is an unchartered territory for AERC, but gradually we are making progress by integrating the private sector agenda in the AERC capacity building framework and the public private sector policy roundtables,” said Dr. Lemma. With this in mind, the theme for the next AERC Senior Policy Seminar scheduled in March 2016 is financial inclusion.
Interview with Professor Lemma Senbet: New Head of African Economic Research Consortium