Frenchwoman Marie Laure Salles has been directing the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva since September 2020. In a world with complex and multiple challenges, she explains the evolution of the identity of this prestigious establishment (also called Graduate Institute Geneva), which notably saw on its benches Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize winner, as well as Micheline Calmy-Rey, former Federal Councilor and President of the Confederation.
Heidi.news — The Building Bridges event, organized in Geneva and aimed at accelerating the transition to a more sustainable economy in Switzerland and abroad, ended on Thursday 1 December. How does IHEID fit into this transition?
Marie-Laure Salles — How does the institute define itself, how do we project ourselves for our future? Since my arrival, one of my first goals was to carry out a collective work of reflection on our identity, with the idea of staying consistent and faithful to our history but also of adapting to today’s world. All stakeholders were involved: students, alumni, administrative staff, faculty, Foundation Board, etc. From all this work a new letter emerged in March 2021.
Has the IHEID repositioned itself?
Let’s say your DNA has evolved. Originally, almost 100 years ago, the Institute was created to accompany the emergence of the League of Nations around a clear objective: to promote peace through international collaboration. It was therefore necessary to train actors capable of understanding these issues and the emerging multilateral world.
Nearly a century later, our compass remains peace, but we believe that peace will be impossible without a strong concern for broader sustainability and equity. A triangle thus becomes our new projection: sustainability, equity, for peace.
Concretely, what does this mean?
In our academic programs and in our research, environmental and social sustainability issues are already present, but we will give them much more prominence. We have had a strong presence in development issues for a long time, we are going to extend it to issues of inequality in the broadest sense, including its political impact, namely in terms of political and democratic destabilization.
Sustainable finance is also becoming a strong strategic axis for the Institute and we aim to be a key player in Switzerland. We want to train actors who know the goals of sustainable development, the 2030 agenda, and know how to create a link between this agenda and its necessary funding. The Institute has a unique role to play in the collective aim of building bridges between the world of international organizations and international collaboration, the private sector and academia. Each one having, in interdependence, a fundamental role to play. One thing is certain today: we must reverse the worldview that held that the common good naturally arose from the maximization of individual interest. Without collective work on common goods issues such as the environment or inequalities, the reality is that our individual well-being is seriously threatened in the short or medium term.
How to become a key player in sustainable finance?
At the beginning of the 2022 academic year, a master’s degree in sustainable finance will be launched. In our interdisciplinary master’s degree, which is the flagship program of the Institute, a specialization in sustainable finance and trade will also be created there in September 2022. We also announce today the creation of the “Swiss Lab for Sustainable Finance” finance), based here at the Institute, and in which the E4S center (EPFL, IMD and University of Lausanne), Unige and the University of Basel are involved.
What new skills do students need to develop to meet today’s challenges?
We are currently formalizing our view on this issue of competencies. To form citizens who are engaged and active in the positive transformation of the world, it is necessary not only to acquire knowledge, but also to develop skills. We therefore seek to mobilize the minds of our students in a perhaps less analytical way than in the past, but more rooted in reflexivity. Creativity is also essential.
While yesterday’s solutions no longer work, you need to be able to innovate to challenge existing models and think outside the box. We want to place our students in positions of positive contributors. They are already working in small groups on issues brought up by international organisations, NGOs or private companies. But we will create at the beginning of next year a real policy laba kind of public policy incubator.
I am convinced that it is also necessary to develop skills that mobilize the heart, the “viscera”. A fundamental skill for the leader of tomorrow is empathy, the ability to interact with the world and with others through emotions.
The higher education sector has been globalized in the last two decades. But the pandemic passed. What did that mean for your establishment?
To tell the truth, the impact was real, but not destructive. For what we are, internationalization takes place here, at the Institute. With 110 nationalities represented, our 1,300 students come from all over the world to pursue their master’s or doctoral degrees. We have about 90% foreigners: 30% from Asia, 25% from Europe, less than 20% from North America, 10% from Latin America, 7% from Africa. We have also lost many African students in the last ten years. My goal is to bring them back. Africa is the continent of the future in terms of demographics, but also of new ideas and innovations.
10% of Swiss students is not very…
You’re right. My other goal is to bring back the excellent Swiss students. There was a time when they frequented our banks more, but we lost connection with them when we stopped offering bachelor’s degrees. To increase our workforce, we must go especially to German-speaking Switzerland, where we are still very little known. We must also continue our actions to be more anchored in the city, for example, creating more bridges with schools and affirming our desire to affirm our anchorage in this rich soil from which we derive our unique identity: Geneva!