20 August 2021

Interview with Alumnus and Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Rafael Grossi received his PhD in International History and Politics from the Institute in 1997. Since 2017, he has also been an International Gender Champion, promoting gender balance in the nuclear field.

What are the challenges for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and for you as director?

The IAEA has a vast mandate ranging from issues of international peace and security, like the proliferation situations in Iran or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), to nuclear medicine or climate change.

The Agency is the impartial technical authority when it comes to informing the international community about the situation in certain hot spots. At the same time, we must care for those for whom our contribution comes first by curing illness or protecting crops through nuclear application techniques.

Nuclear energy is growing and as we set the standards of safety and security worldwide, you can see there is quite a lot in front of me.

Were your studies at the Institute useful?

Of course! I was a young diplomat in my first post when I decided I wanted, in parallel with my professional duties, to study at the Institute; however, it was not easy.

The Institute gave me an opportunity and I had top-notch professors, including its current director, Philippe Burrin, who opened my perspectives, helped me round my preparation and become a better professional.

I was an unusual student – a working diplomat – but I was convinced the Institute was providing me with new tools. I will always be grateful for that.

What advice would you give to our students today?

The biggest challenge is to focus. We live in a world where access to information has been made ridiculously easy; you can do research with a smartphone nowadays. Does this mean you have it easier than we had it 30 years ago? Not at all!

My impression is that today’s students need to sharpen their critical eye. You are confronted with a sea of information, so your problem is having clarity in terms of your subject matter and being able to distill the important from the accessory.

I think the Graduate Institute has the big advantage of combining different academic perspectives in the best tradition of a city of international diplomacy and exchanges. This was at the heart of the creation of our alma mater and remains as valid today as it was many decades ago.

Rafael Grossi will receive the 2020 Alumnus of the Year Award during the 8th Annual Alumni Reunion on 25 September 2021. 

This interview was published in Globe #25, the Graduate Institute Review.