Alumni Interviews

IHEID Alumni Journeys #3: Dr. Claire Galloni d’Istria , United Nations Development Programme

Interview conducted by: Tanvee Kanaujia, PDC President.

The Graduate Press (TGP) and Professional Development Committee (PDC) have teamed up to publish articles highlighting the professional and academic journeys of IHEID alumni working in different fields, sectors as well as different continents. Interviewed alumni will also share their experiences while studying at the Institute, including the activities and/or initiatives they participated in. We hope that, through these interviews, current students will get a better idea of the scope of work and possibilities that are open to them after completing their degree, whether it is an interdisciplinary Masters or a PhD.

Dr. Claire Galloni d’Istria, Manager, Roster of Experts, Nature, Climate and Energy Unit (UNDP) 

Dr. Claire Galloni d’Istria – Short bio:

Fluent in French and English, I am a manager with over 15 years of progressively responsible senior experience in the field of education, environment, human rights, philanthropy, grant-making, development of social and environmental safeguards, social justice, and protection of traditional knowledge. As a leader, I enjoy listening and encouraging participatory dynamics as well as collective spirit. I am a dynamic bridge builder with negotiation, decision-making and complex problem-solving skills. 

With an interdisciplinary background in human and ecological sciences, and an extensive field experience in Europe in ethnography, I continue my anthropology work as a researcher by advocating for local communities in various projects.

Could you walk me through your career path before your role as a manager and an expert in the Nature, Climate, and Energy Unit at the UNDP?

When I started as a Master’s student in Development Studies, I already had a Master’s degree in Science and two years of experience in Costa Rica as a biologist. I wanted a complementary education because issues in the field had components of international affairs and human rights. 

During the M Dev programme, I went back to the field in Costa Rica to conduct a short research project, and that experience confirmed that it was a good decision. I also interned at UNITAR and IUCN in Brussels which provided institutional “top-down” experiments, knowing already that I would apply to the Ph.D programme at the institute. 

When I was about to defend my PhD dissertation, I started to work as an independent for the Small Grants Programme at UNDP, the German government, small NGOs and passed an exam with UNDP to become a part of the roster of experts in the Nature, Climate, and Energy Unit. I became a member of 3 IUCN commissions of experts. In parallel, I also have worked for 5 years in the philanthropy sector in the Arc lémanique region, for WWF and a Geneva-based donor foundation. 

How did the Institute contribute to your professional journey? 

The Institute had a crucial role in my professional journey, I felt like I was at home, welcomed and heard. I enjoyed the multicultural community of students and professors. The professors are outstandingly competent and students are able to build strong and dependable relationships with them. 

If I can say this, the Institute is an excellent knowledge-sharing platform and place to start building a network.

Geneva is also a very good place to study and start your professional life in, with so many NGOs, associations, the UN, as well as the public sector. You can get a lot of perspectives here at the same time. 

Could you tell us a little bit about your Ph.D thesis?

Based on an analysis of relevant international and European policies, and on an ethnographic study, my PhD research focuses on the underlying motives and mechanisms of the socio-economic and political conflicts related to wildlife protection in Western Europe.

An in-depth case study of the gradual reestablishment of the wolf in the Western Alps (Haute-Savoie and Valais) investigates our relationships with (symbolic) animals and nature, based on predation and protection, in terms of dependency and co-dependency. Its sheds a new light on what is really at stake for the “people of the mountains” and society, and formulates several recommendations designed to lead to a sustainable implementation of related policies.

Could you tell us more about the career stage you are in now? 

I am now about to take a new exciting challenge as director of the Vaud section of an amazing Swiss association. 

To continue my anthropology work, I have been writing 2 books related to my PhD research, which will be published in 2024 by a Swiss editor. I am also part of a project uniting ethnography and photography about the relationship between people and wolves in the Alps, in collaboration with an artist.

This is a different way to build a career, and I am truly happy to have been able to find my balance in combining my 2 favourite types of activities.

Which skills are most important for a job like yours? 

All the skills that the Institute teaches are important. My work requires strong analytical skills, organisation, and interpersonal skills. One more thing that is really helpful is having patience. 

What does your day-to-day work look like? 

No day is the same. Sometimes I work from home, other times I am at the office, or attending meetings with my peers or the State, I am also required to do field work. My work environment is varied which I enjoy.

What advice would you give to students?

Have faith in your journey, and enjoy yourself. Study hard, work hard and don’t be afraid to  et out of your comfort zone. I truly believe that anybody can make it, if you do what you really like, one way or another, you will end up being with the right group of people in the right place. Lastly, I would also like to say that most of us go through the same journeys of doubt but at the end of the day, you have to trust that everything will be possible!

Whilst you are here!

The Graduate Press is currently raising funds for our 5th-anniversary print edition and we need your help. The last 5 years at the institute have seen some incredible highs and lows and TGP has been there for them all. Now TGP wants to immortalise that history.

If you can, we are currently accepting donations via our GoFundMe page.And if you would like to be involved with The Graduate Press and the 5th anniversary edition you can email us at or via Instagram.

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