faculty & experts
09 June 2022

Interview with Monique Beerli, New Executive Director of the Global Governance Centre

An alumna of the Master in Development Studies programme, newly redesigned as the Master in International and Development Studies, Monique Beerli has now stepped into the position of Executive Director at the Geneva Graduate Institute’s Global Governance Centre, where she has been a research associate since 2018. 

Could you tell us a bit about your professional journey and how you got here?

Without narrating my life as a story told through the logical unfolding of a series of events, it reflects a good deal of disciplinary meandering. Born and raised amongst the orange orchards, carrot fields and almond groves of California’s agricultural heartland, I left home to study history at the University of California Los Angeles, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 2009. Heavily marked by the unconscionable scale of homelessness I witnessed when living in LA and with a career in the non-profit sector in mind, I gravitated to the Development Studies programme here at the Institute. Little did I know, though, professors at the Institute, such as Riccardo Bocco and Alessandro Monsutti, would drastically transform my worldview and, in a sense, my life course. 

Taking a professional U-turn, I abandoned the idea of working for an NGO, endeavoring instead to think critically about the power of NGOs and the politics of non-governmentality, with a thematic focus on global humanitarianism. This intellectual pursuit brought me to Sciences Po Paris and subsequently the University of Geneva, where I did a dual degree PhD in International Relations.  With the generous support of the Swiss National Science Foundation, my postdoctoral years were spent voyaging across disciplines and the Atlantic, thinking with/alongside, for example, sociologists at UC Berkeley and anthropologists at the New School. No matter the topic addressed, from the security practices of humanitarian NGOs working to the professionalisation reforms of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), my work essentially explored power dynamics that structure and arise in connection to global governance practices of protection, lifesaving, and care. It is this critical gaze, as well as substantial operational experience gained organising scientific events and as co-editor of PARISS, that has brought me to the Centre. 

What do you hope to develop at the Global Governance Centre?

Intellectually speaking, Professor Annabelle Littoz-Monnet, in her capacity as Academic Director, has been steering the ship that is the Centre. In line with her ambition to advance critical reflection on global governance actors and processes as articulated in the Centre’s mission, my aspiration is above all to nurture an inclusive, supportive, and caring work environment that facilitates idea sharing, transdisciplinary interactions and new collaborative synergies. 

What are some important projects that the Centre is currently undertaking?

In part a port where affiliated faculty and researchers dock their externally-funded projects, the Centre acts on its own behalf in the pursuit of its mission to stimulate critical, transdisciplinary, and yet policy-relevant reflections on global governance. In addition to managing our events and our blog series The Global, I’ve been developing an SDG Data Ateliers project, which will provide a much needed multistakeholder space for thinking about the data practices, methodological obstacles and ethics of rendering the SDGs into measurable indicators. There will be more details to come in the fall!

What are some of the biggest challenges facing global governance today?

This is a colossal question, which many have dedicated much of their lives to pondering. Drawing from my own work, though, I would say the global governance landscape and the actors that populate it face two major hurdles. 

The first is to take issue with effects generated by rearing normative, epistemic, and technocratic projects with universalistic ambitions into the world. All too often, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations present themselves as powerless agents easily undermined or disregarded by states. Such a posture, however, negates the very power dynamics and politics of acting “apolitically” in the name of humanity. At a time when the vitality of multilateralism and transnationalism are being debated, global governance actors need to be able see themselves as agents of power whose actions often have consequences for populations around the world. 

Secondly, though by no means a new feat, global governance actors must exercise prudence as we move deeper into the fourth industrial revolution. From the use of drones to deliver humanitarian relief to experimenting with machine learning to monitor conflicts using open-source satellite imagery, global responses to human suffering are increasingly hi-tech. As iterated by our Director Marie-Laure Salles alongside a number of colleagues, the trick then is to avoid technological utopianism without necessarily being a total Luddite.