International Geneva: 12 faces of tomorrow

They are the ones that make the wheels of Geneva go round. In one way or another, these 12 directors, experts, advocates of international organisations, among many others are shaping the future of multilateralism.

Annika Erickson-Pearson

Community Management Lead, Geneva Peacebuilding Platform

At 30 years old, the American leads a network of over 400 experts worldwide on the links between peace and environment for the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform, an inter-agency network founded in 2008. Her craft, as she puts it, is “the fine art of engendering collaboration”. In Geneva’s old-fashioned humanitarian world, she’s a breath of fresh air, pleading for “radical inclusion of perspectives off the beaten path”. The international community will need it to face the security challenges posed by climate change, Erickson-Pearson says.

Nicolas Walder

National Councillor, Green Party

At Bern, he’s the man in International Geneva’s corner. The Green Party MP is on the commission on foreign policy, where he pleads its case. It’s a world that he knows well, having grown up in the district of Petit-Saconnex, home to permanent missions and international organisations, and having worked for the ICRC. Geneva’s diverse ecosystem has a key role to play in peacebuilding, climate change, migration and other global challenges, he says, but its “organic way of working can be disrupted at any time, just like with Covid-19”.

Alexandre Munafò

Head of Global Engagement, Geneva Call

The 39-year-old Bernese-Jurassian has been fascinated with International Geneva since his time as a Graduate Institute student. After eight years at Interpeace, he recently became head of global engagement at Geneva Call, a discreet humanitarian NGO engaging with armed groups in hostile settings, which recently arranged a visit from the Taliban to Geneva. A firm believer of the need to bridge the gap between local and International Geneva, he’s the co-founder of AGIR, a networking initiative, and a member of the Diplomatic Club of Geneva.

Pascal Hufschmid

Executive director, The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

The art historian has been running the iconic museum since 2018 but his story with Geneva started in 2003, when he worked as a UN tour guide while studying at the University of Geneva. He recalls being in awe of the UN’s majestic premises, a feeling that has stayed with him. Today, he wishes that these spaces were more accessible to the public. It would “nurture so many more opportunities to interact and share between different cultures,” he says.

Sandrine Salerno

President, Sustainable Finance Geneva

Already an established name in political circles, Geneva’s ex-mayor made her move into sustainable finance two years ago when she became executive director of Sustainable Finance Geneva, and has been shaking up the sector ever since. As an outsider, she understands the need to mainstream sustainable finance and is on a mission to strengthen its ties with International Geneva and other countries. It’s about “trying to build a dialogue that goes beyond different ecosystems, breaks down the silos and contributes to the Geneva of tomorrow,” she says.

Alain Werner

Director, Civitas Maxima

Geneva has been playing an increasingly important role in the field of international criminal law, and star lawyer Alain Werner is one of the figures leading the way. His NGO, Civitas Maxima, has helped bring a number of warlords to justice including Alieu Kosiah, who was sentenced in Bellinzona last year to 20 years in prison for war crimes committed during Liberia’s civil war.  Known for his contagious energy, Werner says Geneva’s role in fighting impunity “will only keep growing in the future and be essential for our children’s future”.

Marie-Laure Salles

Director, The Graduate Institute, Geneva

You don’t have to be from Geneva to embody the spirit of International Geneva, Marie-Laure Salles recently noted at a dinner in honour of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s outgoing president, Thun-born Peter Maurer. The same could be said for Salles, who arrived from Paris two years ago to take up her post as the first female director of The Graduate Institute, Geneva. Salles has since cemented her place as a leading figure within the International Geneva community and its intellectual hub, with the ear of Bern.

Maria Isabelle Wieser

Co-president, AGIR

An observer of the world of diplomacy, she’s worked for the Swiss embassy in the US, then lead Foraus’s Think Tank Hub and co-founded its gender programme. For the 34-year-old Zurichois, “Geneva has the potential to play a crucial role in future challenges such as cybersecurity and digital governance”, but it needs to wake up and smell the fierce competition as cities worldwide bloom into global hubs. For that, initiatives like AGIR, which she co-presides, are key to “bringing a bit of dynamisme” and dusting off the city of Calvin.

Shirin Heidari

President, Gendro

Research has long ignored the gender question. That is the realisation the health specialist came to when she first arrived in Geneva in 2007 to work at the International AIDS Society. It also prompted Heidari to launch Gendro, an NGO promoting gender-sensitive research. A senior researcher at the Graduate Institute’s Gender Centre, Heidari also advises the World Health Organization on gender mainstreaming. “There’s less resistance to gender issues than 10 years ago, but the translation into concrete actions is slow,” she notes.

Trineesh Biswas

Speech writer, World Trade Organization (WTO)

Like ghosts, speech writers are invisible to the public eye, yet their words can reach thousands of ears, especially when they’re uttered by WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Arriving in Geneva 20 years ago for an internship at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Indo-Canadian went on to write speeches for the likes of the International Trade Centre’s Arancha Gonzalez and the WTO’s Roberto Azevêdo. “My job is to help leaders get their message across,” he says, noting humbly that “most of the best lines come from them”.

Irène Challand

Co-director general, FIFDH

Challand began her career in Berlin following the fall of the wall and spent the following decade reporting on the emergence of a new Europe as a correspondent for RTS and Arte. She later founded the Documentary Film Unit at RTS, where she sought to champion independent filmmakers in Switzerland and abroad. In her new role as co-director of Geneva’s International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights, she hopes to consolidate the city’s culture of “dialogue around the fundamental, urgent and current themes of human rights”.

Mirjana Spoljaric Egger

Incoming president, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Her diplomatic career followed a Master’s degree from the University of Basel and the University of Geneva. She spent years at the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs in New York and Bern, helping to shape Swiss UN policies. After four years with the UNDP, she returns to Geneva in October as president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The first woman to hold the position, she hopes to “embody the humanitarian values that the organisation is built on and relies on to reach communities affected by conflict and violence”.

This article was published as part of a special 2nd anniversary print edition of Geneva Solutions, published in collaboration with Le Temps.