“The IHEID aims to be a key player in sustainable finance”

The French 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 to us the evolution of the identity of this prestigious establishment (also called Graduate Institute Geneva), which notably saw passing on its benches Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN and Nobel Peace Prize, as well as Micheline Calmy-Rey, former Federal Councilor and President of the Confederation. The Building Bridges event, organized in Geneva and whose objective is to accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable economy in Switzerland and abroad, ended on Thursday 1 December. How does the IHEID fit into this transition?

Marie-Laure Salles — How does the institute define itself, how do we project ourselves into our future? Since my arrival, one of my first objectives has been to carry out a collective work of reflection on our identity, with the idea of ​​remaining consistent and faithful to our history but also of adapting to the world as it is today. All stakeholders have been involved: students, alumni, administrative staff, professors, Foundation Board, etc. Out of all this work came a new charter in March 2021.

Has the IHEID repositioned itself?

Let’s say his DNA has evolved. Originally, nearly 100 years ago, the Institute was created to accompany the emergence of the League of Nations around a clear objective: to promote peace by relying on 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 are convinced that peace will be impossible without a strong concern for broader sustainability and equity. A triangle therefore 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 importance. We have had a strong presence for a long time on the themes of development, we are going to extend it to issues of inequality in the broad sense, including their political impact, particularly 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 players who are aware of the sustainable development objectives, 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 a collective objective of building bridges between the world of international organizations and international collaboration, the private sector and the academic world. Each having, in interdependence, a key role to play. One thing is certain today: we must reverse the vision of the world which affirmed that the common good emerged naturally from the maximization of individual interest. Without collective work on the issues of common goods 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 start of the 2022 academic year, a master’s degree in sustainable finance will be launched. In our interdisciplinary master’s, 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 announced today the creation of the “Swiss Lab for sustainable Finance” (Swiss laboratory for sustainable 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 vision on this issue of skills. To train citizens who will be engaged and active in the positive transformation of the world, it is not only necessary to be in the acquisition of knowledge but also in the development of skills. We thus seek to mobilize the minds of our students in a way that is perhaps less analytical than in the past, but more rooted in reflexivity. Creativity is also essential.

While yesterday’s solutions no longer work, you have to be able to innovate to challenge existing models and think outside the box. We want to put our students in positions of positive contributors. They are already working in small groups on issues brought forward by international organizations, NGOs or private companies. But we are going to create at the beginning of next year a real policy labkind of public policy incubator.

I am convinced that it is also necessary to develop skills that mobilize the heart, the “guts”. A key skill for the leader of tomorrow is empathy, the ability to interact with the world and others through emotions.

The higher education sector has been globalized over the past two decades. But the pandemic has passed by. What has this meant for your institution?

To tell the truth, the impact was real but not destructive. Because of 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 follow our masters or do a doctorate. 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 over the past 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 a lot…

You are right. My other objective is to bring back the excellent Swiss students. There was a time when more of them frequented our benches, but we lost the connection with them when we stopped offering Bachelor programs. To increase our workforce, we must in particular go to German-speaking Switzerland, where we are still too little known. We must also continue our actions to be more anchored in the city, for example by creating more bridges with schools and by affirming our desire to affirm our anchoring in this rich soil from which we draw our unique identity: Geneva!

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