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2021 Leaders in Graduate Education in International Affairs

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Northwestern University, Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Bridging Differences Is the Path to the Future

Annelise Riles, Executive Director, Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, Northwestern University

Annelise Riles grew up as an expatriate in France, with a burning curiosity and a keen understanding that her own perspective wasn’t the only one to consider. She brings that fascination with other viewpoints to her job as associate provost for global affairs and executive director of the Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs at Northwestern University.

The COVID-19 pandemic, along with globalization, has highlighted the value of being able to work with people from different countries, cultures, political persuasions, and academic disciplines. Northwestern Buffett is focused on teaching those collaboration skills and on knocking down silos between different disciplines.

Riles is a silo-buster herself. She’s a professor of both law and anthropology and speaks six languages (including Fijian, which she learned while working on her PhD).

In 2011, when Riles was a visiting scholar at the Bank of Japan, she used her multilingual talents to create Meridian 180, a global forum for academics and policy leaders that translates discussions on issues—such as how to combat COVID-19—into five languages. After Riles assumed her position at Northwestern University in 2018, Meridian 180 became a part of Northwestern.

I was trained to be a racehorse in my own lane. That kind of individual genius is a thing of the past. Today requires a more collaborative genius. Northwestern Buffett is a new kind of global affairs institute that sees collaboration as the engine of global social change.Annelise Riles“I was trained to be a racehorse in my own lane. That kind of individual genius is a thing of the past. Today requires a more collaborative genius,” Riles says, noting that global affairs will be a far different discipline in the future. For instance, delivering COVID vaccines to rural Mexico involves engineers who understand cold storage of vaccines, business leaders who are aware of supply chains, and medical experts.

Northwestern Buffett encourages conversations between different disciplines on topics such as climate change, migration, and disinformation, by pulling together students and faculty from varied backgrounds.

Riles hopes students will chart their own paths, as she did, breaking through the barriers of discipline and more. “There are so many new and emerging pathways to making a contribution to the world now,” she says.

Program Highlight: Fellowship Helps with Finances, Job Prospects During Pandemic

COVID-19 has made doctoral work more difficult, but the Northwestern Buffett Global Impacts Graduate Fellowship Program is designed to help. The program is providing financial assistance and professional development opportunities to PhD candidates this academic year. Fellows receive dissertation research support, mentoring, and opportunities to explore career paths in international affairs, policy, and development. The students represent a wide range of disciplines, including law, history, philosophy, languages, sociology, theater, and African American studies.
)))The program includes a Global Careers Speaker Series, featuring Northwestern alumni and other PhDs working in international careers. Among the speakers: US State Department negotiator Rebecca Webber Gaudiosi, and human rights and LGBT researcher Ari Shaw.

Northwestern University, Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs  
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