EGF Board President Talks to EM-BRACE

Oct 11, 2018

Ian Bremmer is founder and board president of Eurasia Group Foundation (EGF), a 501c3 public charity. A prolific thought leader, author, and noted lecturer, Ian regularly expresses his views on political issues in public speeches, television appearances, and top publications.

In 2016, Ian founded EGF which is currently developing a new learning curriculum for high-school students in rural areas of the United States. The curriculum is focused on providing accessible, current content about the implications of globalization in these communities. It also empowers students with the tools and skills necessary to understand and manage the effects of these forces on their futures, potentially for generations.

Robert: Ian, you’ve spent many years studying the world and helping your audience understand critical developments and trends globally. On a personal level, how did you arrive to this moment with this initiative, and what inspired you to focus on this new audience?

Ian: I founded EGF because I see every day the fragility of the geopolitical order and the growing political divides inside countries across the world. It’s alarming and we need to create counterweights that push back against these dangerous trends. EGF’s mission is just that—to connect people throughout the world to the geopolitical issues affecting their lives in ways that matter to them. EGF reflects my commitment, and those of so many others, to “speak truth to power” and use our networks and expertise to start breaking down these divides.

I’m particularly concerned because young people don’t have the background to understand the importance of international leadership and common values. They have little context to help them understand what, for example, led the United States to create the post-war order or what led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. We—all of us—need young people to engage in conversations about why building collaborative frameworks and understanding international affairs matters, and why it matters to them specifically.

Robert: What’s in it for the high schools and students? How do you get their buy-in and build excitement around this?

Ian: For our rural US education project, we have two sets of stakeholders we are working to engage on this project: teachers first, then students. We did a lot of exploration and talking as we formed the parameters of this effort. And we realized for this project to have the impact we want, and to create the potential to scale after our initial launch, it must be part of the everyday curricula, not something less formal or some kind of after-school program. To get it adopted in US schools, teachers are key. We have to make it easy for them to include in their lesson planning, provide them with everything they need to deliver the content, and make sure it’s free. Once we have the teachers with us, we must ensure that the content is engaging and interesting to the students. So our efforts are focused on crafting relevant content delivered in ways that capture student attention. We’ll be weaving video instruction into the curricula—I’ll be doing some of the teaching—and working to tie the content to the realities of the students’ lives. And to make sure we are successful on both fronts, we are teaming with Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok’s Marginal Revolution University (MRU). EGF knows geopolitics; MRU brings an economic lens to the effort and has produced an extensive teaching video library on YouTube.

Robert: What are some of the challenges that could potentially slow the momentum of this initiative?

Ian: EGF exists, like every other group, at least partially in a social media world that can be isolating and self-reinforcing. The environment encourages polarization and extreme points of view, and it creates a sense that can be particularly debilitating to youth—that the entire system is rigged and that they are powerless to affect change. Often attention goes to whoever yells the loudest or makes the most outrageous claim. We must find ways to be successful in that environment and to break through echo chambers. And because at this young stage we are relatively small, it takes us more energy to be seen and participate in the debates and discussions. As I discussed earlier – for the rural US education project – adoption in the classroom and buy-in from the students is key. If either of our core stakeholders don’t feel that their needs are the priorities driving this effort, and that the materials do not address their concerns, it will greatly slow our effort and limit our success.

Robert: Who do you think you’ll need cooperation from to be successful?

Ian: For EGF to continue to grow and thrive we need a few global decision makers that matter to support our efforts and spread the word about our work. But more broadly, EGF’s success will depend on gathering the support and engagement of people who care about these issues, particularly among youths. People who are curious about the world, who are hungry for knowledge and seeking ways to interact in meaningful ways with the world.

For the education project, we are building the program to ensure we include teachers from the target areas in the process from the very start. That means we are consulting teachers throughout the development process asking for their feedback and recommendations as we go. We are also including a teacher training day as part of this phase of the effort, to bring together AP World History, AP History, and potentially AP Economics teachers into a room and show them what we have developed, how it works, and to make clear how it supports them in their efforts to educate their students. Seed testing in a couple rural schools will also help us build momentum and build the network of teachers that want this material in their classroom. Together, these activities are aimed at overcoming potential adoption reluctance and encouraging the use of our materials in the actual classroom.

Robert: In your view, what does the world look like if you and other like-minded initiatives fail? In other words, what’s at stake here?

Ian: Much is at stake if EGF and other groups working to break down these barriers and silos are not successful. The world will become much less inclusive. The walls dividing us will be higher and stronger. Our worst instincts will have more freedom to prevail and our world will become more tribal. And for our education project, students in rural America are less equipped to understand the lightening-fast changes globalization is causing around them and, as a result, they will be less able to make meaningful decisions to help their families and communities respond to what lies ahead.

Robert: How can one help?

Ian: EGF is working to build a community. We hope all your readers will partner with us to ensure we have the resources and expertise to continue delivering on our mission. You can do that by following us on Facebook and Twitter, visiting our website and signing up to receive updates about our work (including the rural US education project) and sharing our information with colleagues and friends who are interested in how geopolitics is affecting the world. And we hope readers will consider supporting our work so that we continue to have the resources needed to grow our programs.

Robert: Ian, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share the genesis and goals of this timely initiative. Hopefully, it inspires many others to follow your lead.

Ian: Absolutely, Robert. Thank you for your interest in EGF and the opportunity to talk about our mission!

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For additional perspective on EM, read: “Dear Graduates: Before making the leap into Emerging Markets, read this.”

It’s also available in Spanish: “Queridos Graduados: Antes de lanzarse al ruedo en Mercados Emergentes, lean esto.”

For more interviews and information on the EM+BRACE initiative, please visit: www.embracem.org

Robert Abad is the Founder of EM+BRACE, a global advisory and mentorship initiative with the intent of supporting, developing and inspiring the next generation of emerging market professionals and trailblazers.