Director | Istituto Affari Internazionali
What do you do?
I have two main hats and couple of small hats.
I am the Director of Institute of International Affairs (Istituto Affari Internazionali), the largest international affairs think-tank in Italy. I started my mandate as Director last year in April, after nine years as Deputy Director.
My second main hat is Special Adviser to High Representative Frederica Mogherini. I wrote for her the EU Global Strategy, and now I am following its implementation, particularly when it comes to defense issues.
Long story short, I am mainly in the policy world be it in think tanks, be it in institutions, but I also have a foot in the academia and the private sector.
How did you end up studying international affairs?
I did not think I would study international relations. When I was in high school, I was really into economics, and I thought I would become an economist. At Oxford University, I studied PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics). Typically, students drop one of the subjects at the end of their first year. I thought that I would drop politics and continue doing economics and philosophy.
Then I had a smashing international relations professor and tutor, Ngaire Woods. She works on issues related to international organisations and economy. She inspired me to continue studying international relations. In the end, I dropped philosophy and mainly continued to study politics and IR.
At the time, although I had always been interested in studying and wanted to continue exploring, I did not believe that academia was for me. She taught me that you could be an academic in a million different ways: you can publish Penguin books, or you can publish once every four years in International Relations. She has always worked both in government and academia. That made me think- maybe I can be an academic, but just a different kind. This is how it all started.
How has the field of international affairs changed over the course of your career?
I have always worked on EU-related issues. In the late 1990s- early 2000s, there was this incredible climate of optimism, and we felt it through all our work. It was the time of EU enlargement, neighbourhood policy and all that.
This has changed dramatically for the worse, and it has changed the way I interpret my work. I feel strongly now that there is a public education function to the work that we do. We need to explain to younger generations why Europe is important because otherwise, we are being dishonest to the project we believe in. It is not good enough to merely talk to the converted and remain in the limited circle of people interested in working with Europe and foreign policy. We need to make the effort to talk to people who have very different views.
What have been some of the most significant challenges in your career?
My biggest challenge has been that I do not fit squarely into any box as an academic, a think tanker, or the private sector. I feel professionally complete and satisfied when I do a bit of everything. However, we still have systems that want us to specialise in specific areas. The paradox is that we recognise the limits of being siloed and talk about how important it is to be interdisciplinary and how crucial it is to work across different institutions and policy areas. So, I have grappled with this paradox throughout my career.
You are the special adviser to High Representative Frederica Mogherini, and you are the drafter of EU's Global Strategy- what did you learn from this experience?
The biggest lesson I take with me is what academia can teach policymakers and vice versa.
My experience writing the Global Strategy was that having been an insider of the EU institutions, the product had been 100% different. The ideas I had changed a great deal when I was exposed to the actual mechanism of the institutions. However, since I was an outsider, I brought in something that the institutions, working on a day-to-day basis with these issues, could not see.
What books are you currently reading and what would you recommend reading to anyone interested in international affairs?
I tend to read novels instead rather than political book. I am finishing up the sensational four-volume collection by Elena Ferrante, an Italian author. The story takes place in Naples over the course of 20th Century about the friendship between two women.
Regarding international affairs books, a book that touched me a lot recently was "The End of Power" by Moisés Naím. It is about how the power has transformed.
What would you recommend students do to make the most of their university experience?
Do not remain exclusively in the domain of your subject, which in retrospect is partly the mistake I made. As a student, you don't know what you want. Universities offer all sorts of other opportunities- public debates, societies etc. Just be curious and venture out.
What skills have you found to be most useful while working in international affairs?
Empathy and understanding. Being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes is skill number one. It is far more a female skill than a male, one of the reasons why I believe international affairs need a lot more women.
Do you think it is important to have a career plan?
No, I am a firm believer that you need to go where your guts and heart tell you to go, and not only where your head says you to go. If you become too rigid and go too much where your head is telling you to go, you close yourself to many opportunities that are offered to you.
When we talk about international affairs and public policy, we are not talking about a clear career path. It is a lot more complicated. You need to be open and expand. You can know that you are interested in international affairs, but you cannot know whether you want to become a journalist, diplomat or something else when you are in your late teens.
Now, as the director of Istituto Affari Internazionali, what are you looking for in people you consider hiring?
I look for a combination of three things together, which I find to be more easily seen in women.
The quality number 1 is that you have to be bright, you have to have good ideas, you must be energetic and passionate. Number 2, you have to be humble and understanding and number 3, you have to be hard working. These three things are often challenging to find together, and usually, they are more easily seen together in women than in men.
Career and gender
What are the current challenges for women in working international affairs?
The top levels of international affairs are still very much male-dominated, especially defence and energy. For women, it can be off-putting to find yourself the only woman in the room. It is more a psychological barrier, but it trickles down to practical obstacles. However, this is changing. There is a growing number of female defence ministers. At my institute, a majority of our head of the programs are women. So, things are happening.
How could we improve the gender balance in foreign policy?
I would say two things- being strict about your principles and giving time.
Firstly, if you are in a leadership position, you must be firm on gender issues. For example, here in the institute, if there is an all-male panel, I cancel the conference. I do not care if someone tells me that "oh, we cannot find a woman. She said no at the last moment." I have come to a line of "fine- we are just not going to have this event."
You must become hard about your principles; otherwise, you do not get things done.
There is a big debate about quotas. I use to be against them, but now I think that they are part of a transition towards an equal situation in international relations and the private sector.
I had a board meeting today. When I got my first mandate, Italy had just passed a law requiring having a woman on the board, which is why they involved me the first time around.
Now, I am on my second mandate and most people on the board are women. So, the minute you impose the rule, it works. They realise that women contribute competently.
Part of the answer has got to do with time and promoting women at the bottom of the pyramid to move up gradually, and the other part is about being strict about the rules to the cost of being obnoxious and rigid.
So practically speaking- what do you do when you are in this male-dominated surrounding, and you want to make a point, but it all seems just too intimidating?
Point number one- understand that others have limits too. It does not mean that you are fantastic, because you have your limits also, but it is about recognising that the others are not fantastic either.
The second point- just do it. You are sitting there, and you are absolutely petrified, just lift off that arm to say something. Part of you is, of course, hoping that no-one will notice you, but then the chair points at you being "whatever, Lady sitting in the third row" and then don't think about it too much- just do it- stand up and ask your question.
International Affairs Today
What are the current and future trends in Europe's foreign and security policy? And the EU in large?
The mood in the EU has gone somewhat negative and pessimistic, but when it comes to European security, it is the opposite. The two things are connected.
The fact that we are in a more complicated and dangerous environment today- Russia, terrorism- has woken us up to the reality. We live in a very dangerous part of the world. The silver lining is that it has mobilised the actors in Europe and the European Union.
On top of the complex environment in Europe, further uncertainty is added by US's commitment to European security.
Add the fact that the 21st Century is going to be an unstable, multipolar world. To influence in this multipolar and volatile world, you need to be a continental-size power. European countries only become a continent by acting together.
Bringing all these dynamics together, you have this mix that suggests that Europe's security and defence momentum has come.
Of course, the old obstacles haven’t disappeared- different interpretations of sovereignty, national interest connected to the defence industry, different threat perceptions- they are all still there. But what has changed is this dangerous emerging world.
In this- the world is only going to look at us when we are working together.