The Transnational Institute (TNI) is an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world. For more than 40 years, TNI has served as a unique nexus between social movements, engaged scholars and policy makers.
In April 1974, when Pakistani intellectual activist Eqbal Ahmed introduced TNI as our first Director, he did so very modestly saying he hoped “we will be known for the work we do.”
We were an unusual new actor on the international scene – a centre for research and scholarship, yet deeply engaged with emancipatory movements and far removed from the rarefied atmosphere of academia. We were, as our new strapline declares, about putting “ideas into movement.”
40 years later in 2014, we celebrated TNI’s four decades of work with considerable pride. Heart-warming messages poured in, affirming our continued value, relevance and impact.
Much has changed, but looking back we can see TNI has consistently accompanied and supported some of the most significant struggles of the times – against military dictatorships, Apartheid, nuclear weapons, Third World debt, structural adjustment programmes, corporate-led globalisation – and continues to do so.
2014 shows the power and impact that ‘ideas into movement’ can have.
With the Treaty Alliance, we won an amazing victory at the UN Human Rights Council that moves us closer to holding transnational corporations legally accountable for their actions. Our ground-breaking research on international investment has helped turn the hitherto unknown issue of Investor-State Dispute Mechanisms into the central focus of public concern around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Our long-term analysis and advocacy on the devastating costs of the drugs war is supporting a domino effect in favour of regulation and harm reduction. And our advocacy of democratically reformed public utilities has assisted a wave of cities taking back control of their water services.
Our focused work in Myanmar brings many of these issues together and has increased the capacity of their citizens to have a say in their country’s future.
Towards the end of 2014, we got the good news of a significant grant from the Dutch Ministry of Trade and Development that will give us some security up to 2020 as we seek the rest of our funds.
The challenges we face are greater than ever, but so too is the need for our work. We hope you will continue to support us as we put ideas into movement.
Few organisations manage to straddle as effectively the diverse worlds of social movements, academia and policy domains. TNI's efficacy is partly because it always works in partnerships, and seems adept at forging the right ones, magnifying and globalising its impact.
Ruth Hall - Institute for Poverty, Land & Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), University of the Western Cape, South Africa
TNI’s unique strengths lie in its forward-looking insights into critical global issues, its capacity to bridge academia, activism and policy-making, its deep engagement and involvement in and with social movements, and its willingness to find pragmatic solutions that work now while never losing sight of the radical transformations that are needed long-term to deliver social and ecological justice.
2014 marked 40 years since the Transnational Institute was set up under the leadership of Eqbal Ahmad, a Pakistani activist intellectual. TNI has over four decades accompanied the emancipatory movements of the times and mobilised the critical thinking of its scholars in their service. These movements included the resistance to dictatorships, colonialism and apartheid through the 1970s and beyond, right up to the most recent manifestations in the Occupy movements and Arab Spring.
TNI’s 40th anniversary prompted a flood of birthday wishes from around the world. These included reflections, appreciations and good wishes from renowned scholars like Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, former comrades of liberation struggles in Burma, the Philippines and South Africa, as well as contemporary leaders of social movements worldwide.
The message from all was also the same: that TNI is very much needed and wanted in the upcoming struggles over the next 40 years.
After months of public campaigning, many meetings with government officials and in the face of furious opposition by transnational corporations, the moment of truth had arrived. The atmosphere at the UN Human Rights Council meeting on 26 June was palpable. Then the vote count flashed on the screen: 20 in favour, 14 against, 13 abstentions. The room erupted to jubilant cheers: an historic vote in support of binding regulations for corporations had been passed.
TNI has been at the heart of that movement that has made this happen – exposing the nature and impacts of corporate power (such as in our landmark annual State of Power reports), providing People’s Tribunals as platforms for affected communities to testify to corporate abuses, and most recently coordinating the Global Campaign to Stop Corporate Impunity and Dismantle Corporate Power, and the process of drafting an alternative vision embodied in a People’s Treaty.
The UNHRC vote might be only the start of a long road to change, but it marks an extraordinary victory for social movements and communities negatively affected by the impunity of transnational corporations.
When TNI started working on water issues in 2004, privatisation was in full force. It was frequently imposed as a condition for aid and loans by donor countries and international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank. In the face of these forces, TNI’s decision to help construct a network – in favour of both reclaiming public water and then democratising and improving public water utilities – may have seemed both idealistic and even futile.
Instead, the accelerating trend revealed in the report released by TNI in November 2014, Here to Stay – Remunicipalisation as a global trend, showed its prescience. 180 cities in 35 countries have reverted to public water in the last 15 years. Iconic cases of remunicipalisation, such as Paris, have not only succeeded in lowering water tariffs but have also increased democratic participation, improved worker rights and prioritised environmental conservation.
TNI has been at the heart of this surge, working with the Reclaiming Public Water network as well as regional networks such as the Platform for Public Community Accords of Latin America (PAPC ), offering inspiration, advice, learning and support. TNI will continue to monitor, document and showcase best practice as well as support and encourage Public-Public partnerships between public water utilities in order to deliver the human right to water for all.
TNI knows that good ideas by themselves do not lead to change. They need the backing of popular movements, but to be realised often also require conditions in which policy-makers can safely hear the demands for reform and openly discuss the ideas, dilemmas and options involved in change.
TNI’s work on international drug policy, in particular, has perfected the art of bringing the right mix of affected communities, activists, academics, experts and policy-makers to the table to discuss how to advance drug policy reform.
In 2014, TNI facilitated dialogues on drug policy reform with authorities in India, Spain, Colombia, Ecuador and Greece. These dialogues enable participants to speak freely , on the condition of anonymity, opening up discussion on hitherto ‘taboo’ issues and allowing policy-makers to freely discuss dilemmas and challenges with experts and activists.
TNI’s Agrarian Justice work too has created similar spaces to deepen engagement and discussion between activists and academics. TNI’s co-sponsored landmark conference on food sovereignty in the Hague in January was typical and widely praised for the way it reinforced academics’ commitment to social justice while deepening understanding amongst social movements of the concept of food sovereignty and its potential for transforming agriculture.
I like working with TNI because they are serious campaigners. They know their stuff, are great at building alliances and most of all because they listen and respect us. This helps us link worlds together - North and South - which is critical in our globalised capitalist world.
Josua Mata - Alliance of Progressive Labour, Philippines
Dr. Gonzalo Berrón
Dr. David Bewley-Taylor
Dr. Ricardo Vargas
Dr. Tom Reifer
Dr. Boris Kagarlitsky
Dr. Howard Wachtel
Dr. Jochen Hippler
Dr. Joel Rocamora
Dr. Kamil Mahdi
Dr. Kees Biekart
Dr. Marcos Arruda
Myriam Vander Stichele
Dr. Walden Bello
Dr. Godfried van Benthem van den Berg (Netherlands)
Bob Debus (Australia)
James Early (USA)
Halle-Jorn Hannsen (Norway)
Hermann von Hatzfeldt (Germany)
Christine Merkel (Germany)
Prof. Jan Pronk (Netherlands)
Peter Weiss (USA)
Roger van Zwanenburg (UK)
Fiona Dove (Executive Director)
Lia van Wijk (Finance Manager)
Rozemarijn Vermeulen (Bureau Manager)
Martin Jelsma (Drugs Programme)
Pietje Vervest (Economic Justice Programme)
Bea Martinez Ruiz
Hilde van der Pas
Dr. Gonzalo Berron (Brazil)
Diana Aguiar Orrico (Brazil)
Tim Feodoroff (France/Netherlands)
Lyda Fernanda Forrero Torres (Colombia)
Sol Trumbo Villas (Spain/Netherlands)
Tom Kramer (Netherlands/Burma)
Dr. Jennifer Franco (Netherlands)
Sylvia Kay (Netherlands)
Dr. Vicki Sentas (Australia)
Dr. Gavin Sullivan (Australia/Netherlands)
Dr. Louise Boon-Kuo ( Australia)
Kevin Woods (Research associate, Burma)
Antje Ifrik (Netherlands)
Sebastian Stellingwerff (Netherlands)
Teuntje Vosters (Netherlands)
Alberto Alonso Fradejas (Netherlands)
Manuel Perez Rocha (Mexico/USA)
William Kemp (UK)
Meaghan Li (New Zealand)
Valerio Loi (Italy)
Eise Moonen (Netherlands)
Laura de Ruiter (Netherlands)
Katie Sandwell (USA)
Jorge San Vicente Feduci (Spain)
Hijke Schennink (Netherlands)
Lavinia Steinfort (Netherlands)
Andrea Tognoni (Italy)
The community of those who will forever seek to change the world for the better and never be content with the status quo, has been immeasurably strengthened and enriched by TNI.
Patrick Costello - Chef de Cabinet, Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, European Commission