Five Decades, Five Themes

by Amanda Dugan

When the World Policy Institute was founded in 1961, its goal was to facilitate the construction of a more cooperative and just international community. Although its mission was often misunderstood or dismissed for the semantics, the Institute’s approach focused on human nature and the belief that we need everyone engaged in working together for a better world.

Grenville Clark, the Institute’s founder, believed that if people understood the consequences of their actions, they would choose to do the right thing, and  wanted to empower them with the education to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. This commitment to inform the public and prepare them for political discourse was the reason that the Institute was created as an educational foundation. Beyond the formal structure, this founding belief influenced the Institute’s philosophies and the way it framed policy issues.

For the Institute, the greatest issue was simply how to make the world a better, more peaceful place. Therefore, rather than identifying individual problems, or trying to categorize concerns into separate boxes, the Institute developed a series of values that reflected various sides of the same issue. What the World Policy Institute realized from the very beginning was that because these were global problems, the solutions had to be just as multifaceted and required a global perspective.

With this philosophy in mind, the Institute identified core values that transcended national, cultural, and other barriers: economic well-being, ecological sustainability, social justice, and peace. Moving forward with these values as their framework, the Institute maintained that it was not enough to talk about disarmament as just a security issue. Instead, the Institute wanted to understand and explain to the public how disarmament affected the economy, the environment, and the quality of life for all of the world’s citizens.

The Institute believed that, perhaps, people could be convinced of the need to disarm if they could see how it related to their lives, and if they understood it beyond abstract, overblown ‘security’ terms. And, this is exactly what the Institute did by supporting work like Ruth Leger Sivard’s “World Military and Social Expenditures”; to illustrate the overwhelming disparity between arms and social spending during a time of peace and to explain the very real consequences of these skewed priorities.

The purpose of their approach was to show how interconnected the world had become and how far-reaching the consequences of individual actions actually were. Once the public realized their shared connections, the Institute hoped these ties would begin a global exchange of ideas.

But the Institute’s work is more than an interdisciplinary approach. As staff and leaders were debating the core values and themes they would focus on, they still recognized that these values would be shaded by the culture and tradition of a particular society. The Institute felt strongly that it was important for people to speak for themselves and to be able to communicate across barriers, and they hoped to build bridges between individuals, communities, and nations. Opening the conversation to new audiences and stepping outside the bounds of conservative policy perspectives has been what’s distinguished the Institute throughout its history, and these traditions are what we celebrated on May 3 with the 50th Anniversary.

The Five Themes of the evening (Water, Migration, Reducing World Financial Risk, Media and Conflict, and New Security Priorities) represent one aspect of the Institute’s crosscutting projects and programs. Although each theme represents a distinct field in which the Institute continues to make its mark, each program and project of the World Policy Institute fit together to create a ‘big picture’ view of the world, keeping it within its longstanding tradition

Allowing different programs to draw inspiration from each other creates an environment that fosters creativity and the free exchange of ideas. But this is just the beginning. As we planned the 50th Anniversary, keeping these traditions alive and honoring the vision of Hollins and Dillon inspired the decision to bring people “Around the Table.”

Over 350 guests joined us that evening as George Stephanopolous led the ceremonies, honoring Gary White, CEO of, documentary filmmaker Jehane Noujaim, and Marcus Mabry, editor-at-large of the International Herald Tribune. As diverse as our honorees, our guests and discussion leaders came from various backgrounds and experiences, ranging from MTV to the United Nations. The quality of our guests and the range of issues discussed that night helped set the tone for the next 50 years of World Policy, as we continue to build new policy platforms and bring new voices to the global discussion. 




Amanda Dugan is a Research Consultant for the World Policy Institute.

[Photo courtesy Ahmet Sibdial Sau]

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