You can find plenty of business-advice books, strategy consultants, inspirational posters and divorce counsellors who tell you that Plan B is often better than Plan A.

They’re right. In life, you must be ready to correct your course. Those who stick stubbornly to a wrong path may fail, while — as sailors know — those who constantly change tack in the face of strong headwinds are more likely to reach port, safe and sure.

And so it has proven to be with CIGI’s new initiative, the International Law Research Program.

As early as 2007, CIGI’s founder, governors and leaders had a vision to create a hub of excellence in international affairs. In Plan A, this hub was to include several institutions: (1) a think tank on global governance, (2) a school of international affairs, (3) an international law school and (4) an international trade school, focusing on issues including finance and business in the global economy.

The noble intent, in all of this, was to help Canada to be a constructive player in an increasingly globalized world, helping to write rules that are fair for all — policies and laws that promote shared prosperity, economic and environmental sustainability, peace and good governance. This goal, it was believed, could be accomplished through excellent policy-based research and analysis, interaction among policy makers and policy thinkers, the convening of dialogues and interactions at a global level.

It was, and remains, a grand ambition, based on high ideals yet offering gritty and real applications. In practical terms, some of the pieces for this group of institutions were already, or soon to be, in place.

The first institution already existed, in CIGI, a think tank founded in 2001 through a generous donation by Jim Balsillie, and matching funds from the government of Canada.

The second institution was formed in 2007 as the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA), a partnership among CIGI and two universities in Waterloo. Partnerships are usually trickier than doing things alone, as they require relationships, mutual understanding of different cultures, cooperation, collaboration and compromise. But the benefits can be enormous.  This one had its challenges, sorted out over five years, with the governance arrangements finally agreed to by all parties in 2012. It is gratifying to see the governance model for the BSIA now praised as exemplary, according to a new analysis by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) which looked at 12 private-public collaborations at universities, and found others sorely wanting. This was also reported in The Toronto Star. As the CAUT analysis declares of the BSIA:  “In our view, the collaboration under review is an example of one that maintains the academic freedom of faculty and researchers, the institutional autonomy of the university, and the integrity of the academic mission.”

Funding to build a fitting home for this hub of excellence came from the government of Canada, province of Ontario and Jim Balsillie again. The City of Waterloo donated land. The CIGI Campus was opened in December, 2011.

But creating the third institution — a law school — proved more challenging. Plan A was to create another partnership, this time between CIGI and an existing faculty of law in Ontario. Efforts got underway in 2009-10, with consultations among experts, lawyers and scholars on how to proceed. In this process, the first to show interest was the University of Ottawa, but, as has since been widely reported in the media, the negotiations were protracted and did not lead to a final agreement. A little farther down the road, York University also expressed interest, and discussions with that administration proved both speedy and fruitful, with an agreement in principle in mid-2011 that still required further approvals by the Ontario government (as a co-funder) and other university bodies such as the York University Senate and the Osgoode Hall Law School faculty. The proposal was a 10-year, $60 million graduate program in international law, granting Master’s Degrees and PhDs in law, with funding for research in the areas of intellectual property (IP) law, environmental law, and economic law including finance and trade. Because of the IP, trade and economic components, the proposed Centre for International Law in the Global Economy, as it was to be dubbed, was also seen as fulfilling the final spoke of the Waterloo-based hub of excellence — the international trade school.

As the York community debated this offer, the headwinds rose up, with some faculty raising fears that it might intrude on academic freedom. To allay these concerns and guarantee respect for academic freedom and academic integrity, CIGI signed protocols — provided by the university — saying it would abide by York’s existing rules and practices regarding these matters. Nevertheless, faculty voted it down.

Onward, then, to plan B. As it publicly stated after York’s decision, CIGI remained committed to the primary goals of the law program: capacity-building and policy research to strengthen the role of Ontario and Canada in the global frameworks of international law, the environment and trade. Fortunately, the government of Ontario shared the view that these are vital issues of concern to our future prosperity, worthy of investments in research.

Rather than try to form a partnership with one school, or ruddering straight upwind, CIGI set out in a new direction: it would focus entirely on the research component, and leave to others the business of degree-granting — which CIGI always saw as the proper domain of academia.

And therefore, this past week, CIGI and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities announced they will co-fund the new 10-year, $60-million CIGI International Law Program, with CIGI’s $30 million contributed by Balsillie. These funds will support a program of up to 19 fellows and up to 20 graduate scholarships, in the same three areas of research originally intended. The program will be based at the CIGI Campus in Waterloo. Unlike the Plan A model, however, this program is open to participation by all Ontario faculties of law. That is, would-be fellows can seek a sabbatical from their faculty and spend a year or more conducting their research at CIGI. Graduate students in law from any of these schools can apply for scholarships, in amounts to be determined but possibly in the $20,000-a-year range, arranging to conduct the research component of their Master’s Degree or PhD through the CIGI program – presumably with formal approval from their home university. In the longer run, the program could even be open to those from other disciplines, such as business studies where law is an important component. It could also be open to legal practitioners taking a leave of absence from their law firms. And it could open its doors to fellows from beyond Canada, including excellent law schools in other countries.

Because of these changes, the new version of the International Law Research Program can put more of the funding directly into research and can draw on a much wider pool of human talent and scholarly thinking. These improvements can only strengthen the program's outcomes — and deliver a superior result.

Plan B has turned out so much better than Plan A, offering a more direct route to the original vision for the hub of excellence in international affairs. We now look forward to all that lies ahead, as the program sails ahead on fairer winds and following seas.

CIGI and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities announced they will co-fund the new 10-year, $60-million CIGI International Law Program
The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.