Twenty years of supporting policy development through research and dialogue

The origins of TIPS are rooted in the period between the unbanning of the ANC and the first democratic elections in 1994 when the preparation for the transition to a democratically elected government required a rethink of South Africa’s economic policies. In 1991 the Trade Policy Monitoring Project was set up and run by Alan Hirsch within the Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU) at the University of Cape Town’s School of Economics where Hirsch was a lecturer.

The rationale for the project was to open up the debate on trade policy with stakeholders and to engage on research commissioned by the ANC. Funding came through the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, an important player in the period.

The IDRC was active in supporting the transition from the apartheid government to the new government. They supported the work of the Trade Policy Monitoring Project and to build on that work the Trade and Industrial Policy Secretariat (TIPS) was established in September 1996 as an independent secretariat under the auspices of IDRC Regional Office for Southern Africa with a grant of one-million Canadian dollars of core funding.Rashid Cassim was appointed as CEO in 1996.

1996 to 2000 – Trade & Industrial Policy Secretariat

TIPS’s mission during this early period was to support the new administration and enhance the dti’s ability to implement new policies by drawing on a pool of economists with experience in applied policy analysis. Through its research network TIPS was able to commission and provide significant research support.

The organisation also played an important role by facilitating the exchange of views and information between policymakers and researchers, hosting forums, workshops, seminars and conferences. These were crucial in building expertise and were well attended by government officials at various levels, academics from South Africa, Southern Africa and abroad, researchers and regulators. They provided an environment for dialogue between researchers and policymakers, and grew the skills base in South Africa and the region. The Annual Forum, started in 1997, became particularly influential.

2001 to 2012 – Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies

In 2001, TIPS graduated from being a secretariat within the IDRC to a Section 21 non-profit company in South Africa and changed its name to Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies.

TIPS continued its close working relationship with government, specifically the dti. Over time the research focus evolved as the organisation repositioned itself in the context of South Africa's changing policy landscape. This included producing applied economic research around trade, industrial and small business issues, as well as economic regulation and local economic development.

In 2003 Stephen Hanival became CEO of TIPS.

Funding sources broadened to combine donor and contract funding with users also contributing towards the costs of its research and policy analysis activities.

During this period Australian aid agency AusAID contracted TIPS as one of its local partners to implement a three-year project focused on developing the research infrastructure to accelerate SADC trade analysis. This programme led to the creation of the SADC Trade Database, which provided trade statistics for the region as a public good.

TIPS expanded the scope of projects it was working on and provided support for the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) process. It also began to focus on research and policy around economic marginalisation with support provided to the Presidency’s Second Economy Strategy Project. TIPS mandate also broadened to take in the Southern African region and the organisation became active in the economic policy arena and co-ordinated a network of researchers, the Southern Africa Trade Research Network (SATRN), which aimed to mobilise the capacity for research and policy analysis across Southern Africa.

Stephen Hanival left TIPS in late 2008 and Ximena Gonzalex-Nunez was appointed CEO in 2009.

By 2009 TIPS had transformed into an independent, not-for-profit research organisation that had formed a partnership with the South African government across different departments and tiers of government. The organisation’s traditional area of focus, namely trade and industrial policy, was extended to other areas with work being done on sustainable growth and the green economy.

2013 to 2016 – New directions

In 2013 TIPS entered a new phase, spurred by the need to diversify its funding base in anticipation of core funding from IDRC and other donor organisations coming to an end.

With financial support from the IDRC, TIPS embarked on a process to redefine its business model and look at options for its future viability. The organisation also narrowed its focus on three main areas: trade and industrial policy, inequality and economic inclusion, and sustainable growth.

The model adopted was TIPS as a research organisation, which combined research or projects either on a commissioned basis (funded by an external partner) or as in-house thought leadership (funded internally). As part of this, TIPS hosts its regular Development Dialogue Seminars, reintroduced the TIPS Annual Forum, and strengthened its capacity building and training aspects. TIPS also developed its project management capacity to run economic conferences for other organisations as well as to support key government initiatives such as the Electricity War Room and the Mining Phakisa. During this period Saul Levin took over as Executive Director of TIPS.

Turning 20

After 20 years of democracy the landscape has changed but the demand remains for an organisation to support policymakers in dealing with the challenges of a modern economy facing significant threats of deindustrialisation, the need to shift onto a path of green growth, and the persistence of massive and systemic inequality.