faculty & experts
21 February 2022

Reinventing Executive Education

Interview with Professor Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, Director of Executive Education.

You are Professor of International History and Politics, you headed the Department of International History and Politics for the past five years, and are now the Director of Executive Education at the Graduate Institute. What motivated your acceptance of this new position?

Two things. Firstly, the Executive Education Programme is one of the pillars of the Institute’s mission. It stands at the crossroads of everything the Institute has to offer, intellectually, professionally and historically. We should recall that, traditionally, the Institute’s outlook has always been to open spaces for practical engagement between global academia and the international policy world, and this translates primarily into programmes deepening knowledge and expanding skills. Secondly, the Institute has, since the arrival of Director Marie-Laure Salles, embarked over the past year and a half on an important series of reforms, which this core programme needed, in my view, to support and lead on to shape that next phase of learning.

Precisely, what inspires you to lead these programmes?

In a nutshell, quality and relevance – to which I might add the exciting challenge of exploring intellectual worlds to come. The principal value of the Institute’s Executive Education courses lies in their anchoring in the research and teaching conducted at the Institute. This natural anchor, so to speak, provides an intellectual depth that allows course participants to benefit directly from the findings and insights garnered here. In addition, the forward-looking aspect of the programmes – short or long – starts with the timeliness of the topics identified and their material pertinence to existing or new careers in the field of international affairs. The programme also emphasises a close-knit relationship with the participants and this makes it easier to conduct deep-dive sessions – thus ensuring that the graduates of our certified programmes come out with a genuine edge and a competitive profile.

Executive Education stands at the crossroads of everything the Institute has to offer, intellectually, professionally and historically.

What then are your priorities and the main elements of the new Executive Education strategy?

Together with my colleague Eliane Ballouhey, the Executive Director of Executive Education, and all the members of the Executive Education team, we have embarked over the past few months on an in-depth reimagining and restructuring of the programme. The new strategy we adopted in late 2021 is built on the triple objective of coherence around the Graduate Institute’s singular identity and strength in international affairs, growth and enrichment of our modular programmes, whether on-demand or open-enrollment, and responsiveness to the fast-changing context – both as regards fast-paced international developments and in relation to the evolution of executive education itself.
Specifically, we are updating the existing core programmes on, respectively, negotiation, advocacy, environmental governance and Sustainable Development Goals investing, alongside those on development and conflict project management and our LL.M. in international law, and launching in the next phase a new generation of short courses on key current issues. These will tackle, notably, global health, sustainable finance, antiracism and diversity, technology and diplomacy, trade, migration and cities, and innovative financing in education amongst other topics we will introduce. We will also be launching a newly designed Executive Master in International Affairs offering working professionals and others an opportunity to gain a degree in the Institute’s main field of expertise. Several partnerships with other organisations are under active development and we have recently renewed our Swiss quality label EDUQUA certification and become a member of the UNICON global consortium of university-based executive education programmes.
In that context, how do you see the role of Executive Education in today’s professional world, and who benefits most from your courses?

The field has profoundly changed in recent years, making executive education I think even more relevant to making sense of the global transformations taking place. The focus on expert-provided solutions and hands-on impact is still there, as it should be, but there is an increased experiential, mutual-learning participatory aspect, as well as an elevated measure of inquiry and reflection on complex problems, lasting uncertainty and unsettled or emerging issues. That development squares well with the critical thinking we insert at the core of our reading of the world. Our programmes have the advantage of being naturally focused on participants already engaged in international affairs, writ large, but also being open more widely to all those – regardless of specialisation or professional background – interested in updating and sharpening their knowledge and skills. In that sense, our approach combines executive education and continuing education, thus also bridging short- and long-term needs. The Graduate Institute Executive Education course participant is by nature versatile and inquisitive, coming from government, international organisations, corporations, private foundations or civil society, and interested all the time to learn and apply. We embrace such multitude and variety, which in fact echoes how one functions professionally today, as we seek to provide an expanded and deepened set of skills or what I call “intelligent” executive education.

This article was published in Globe #29, the Graduate Institute Review.