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Transnational Institute: 2018 Annual Report

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Message from the Director

TNI achieved so much in 2018. I trust the productivity and reach we achieved will impress in equal proportion to my pride in our colleagues, fellows, allies and networks around the world. Two of our fellows were honoured by the Latin American Social Science Council for their life-time contributions to social science: Susan George and Edgardo Lander. A third, Jun Borras, was named by Clarivate as among the top most cited social scientists in his field for 2018.

It is always useful to remind ourselves of some of the big developments of the previous year, and to assess the relevance of TNI’s work to these. A wake-up call for the world came with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. It warned that, within the next decade, we will reach the point of no return regarding ecological breakdown of crisis proportions. The IPCC called for unprecedented transformation of the world economy. Significant new movements have emerged – Extinction Rebellion, School Strikes that have quickly globalised, and the Gilets Jaunes of France that put climate justice firmly on the political agenda. These movements are helping to shift the focus to the fundamentals of the transformation required.

Imagining post-capitalist futures was the frame for the annual fellows’ meeting. Our annual flagship State of Power report focused on how to build the popular counter-power necessary to achieve the transformations required. Our Transformative Cities project curated a showcase of some extraordinary prefigurative cases of how transformation can be achieved. TNI also began new exciting work on energy transitions, with a focus on European municipal levels, as well as ongoing collaborations with Trade Unions for Energy Democracy across Latin America and in South Africa.

Another significant revelation of 2018 – the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, which exposed how ‘surveillance capitalism’ services political manipulation – is of particular concern with the rise of the far-right. The Whatsapp-conducted election campaign of President Bolsanaro in Brazil being the latest such example. Fellows continued to produce insightful analyses of the growing pattern of authoritarian politics, particularly its notably middle-class base. The new authoritarianism was high on the agenda of the bi-annual Asia-Europe People’s Conference, as well as being the subject of a large agrarian studies conference which focused the minds of activist scholars across the world – both co-organised by TNI.

Predictably, scapegoats for the far-right have been migrants, refugees and ‘others’. We were involved in a series of people’s tribunals on violations of migrants’ human rights, and published a briefing highlighting the unconscionable criminalisation of solidarity. We also (co) published two important reports — one of which famous artist Ai Wei Wei helped publicise – concerning the externalisation of EU border policies. They drew attention to the dubious strategy of propping up dictatorships on all EU borders and the vested corporate interests that see arms exported and refugees imported.

Indeed, corporate power — and the state capture that neoliberalism has invited – has been a longstanding concern of TNI. In 2018, we finally saw negotiations begin for a new international treaty on transnational corporations and human rights. We also saw encouraging signs that the system that puts investors’ interests above the public interest (and in so doing also discourages governments taking the decisions required to rise to the transformative challenge that the IPCC urges) is proving indefensible.

In our drugs policy work, there had been much optimism that with cannabis legalisation – given decisive momentum by Canada in 2018 with TNI providing expert advice to its Senate — one might see new possibilities for impoverished small-scale farmers who have traditionally grown cannabis. The struggle now is to ensure these farmers are not pushed out of the new legal market, and the opportunity is used for rural development and the development of fair trade cannabis.

For TNI, the year began on a sombre note with the death of our beloved ‘web gardener’, Tessa Kersten. We took time to mourn and honoured her memory in numerous ways, including by planting a sidewalk garden which lends itself to the permacultural method that so enthused Tessa. We also planted a green roof on our terrace and continued to invest in energy saving for our building.

We welcomed two new members to our Supervisory Board towards the end of the year, and expressed gratitude to the two departing members, Mirjam van Reisen and Diederik van Irwaarden, who had served so loyally.

Our budget was lower than the previous year, largely due to the end of a large multi-partner project. However, we raised sufficient unrestricted funds to post a positive result. This contributes satisfactorily to our goal of building sufficient reserves to sustain us should TNI experience a significant shortfall in funds in the coming years.

We embarked on a concerted effort to raise more unrestricted funds to enable TNI to maintain its independence, take on projects that might otherwise prove difficult to fund, and to sustain us into the future as we approach our 45th year.

We thank all our funders and donors for their ongoing support to TNI’s efforts to put progressive ideas into movement.

Fiona Dove
Executive Director