Message from the Director of Cepei

March 3, 2022
Philipp Schönrock 
March 2022

It was time to cross the Atlantic! On a chilly afternoon, overlooking Montmartre from my flat window, I was packing to leave the city of lights and travel to Colombia to set up a think tank that could create and transfer knowledge from the Global South around the most pressing issues concerning sustainable development. At least that was my idea 20 years ago, as a university student in Paris and working part-time in a philanthropic foundation with strong ties with Latin America.

At twenty-two years of age, certainly, I lacked the experience and knowledge to embark on this endeavor. But I did have a clear vision that we would exist and provide value to the development community only through co-creation with an interdisciplinary team and finding the right partners.

The journey has taken us from setting up Cepei, finding a reason to be, and turning into survival mode more than once –an experience common for southern-led institutions– to becoming relevant and generating a positive impact through our work.

In 2022, Cepei will turn 20. We will be 20 years in the making. Allow me to make a hard stop here and go back to basics. 

How were we able to continue driving action, creating innovative projects, and how could we steer a southern-based think tank through a pandemic that within days changed our modus operandi and posed for many of my colleagues and friends’ organizations existential threat?

It was possible to drive action because we found the right partners and built a team that delivers and inspires others. Precisely, we needed operating financial and technical support more than restrictive revenue. So we had to experiment, adjust, and-–in a nutshell– gain our partners’ trust to get the job done by bringing our expertise, resilience, knowledge, and technology to work together. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a data tsunami with it. Everything we do becomes digital and creates data. To thrive in this environment, we needed to strengthen our data culture, which drove a massive change in how we work and the digital infrastructure we need to evolve with our value proposition.

This is why we never work alone! Besides partners like Tableau Foundation, the International Development Research Center (IDRC), the UN System, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Latinamerican Governments, and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (among many other amazing funders and allies); Cepei is privileged to count on a brain trust of advisors who have in-depth knowledge of the issues and understand the value of a Southern think tank contributing with independence, reliability, and the highest level of quality.

As we look forward to what comes next for Cepei, the future invites optimism. For example, we’re looking at Artificial Intelligence’s role in bringing advanced data science and making it usable for everyday development practitioners. 

In the months to come, we will be sharing how you and your organization can connect with us on our digital platform of knowledge. This platform facilitates access to data, the ability to analyze it in real-time, and deploy a dissemination strategy focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 Agenda in the Global South.

We look forward to what comes next and hope we stay connected with you.

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