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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

From the executive director: strategic planning update

Annelise RilesThis spring, I have had the wonderful opportunity to begin working with faculty, students, staff, alumni, and University leadership on Northwestern’s strategy for accelerating its globalization: Northwestern’s Global Strategic Plan.

Following a recent meeting of a group convened to discuss our strategic goals, I received an email from one of the faculty members in attendance: “What a luxury to think about innovation and moving forward… and in collaborative sessions with such great and thoughtful people from many different disciplines.”

To come together and think hopefully about the future of our University and its place in the world alongside colleagues who care so deeply about Northwestern and about making a difference globally through teaching and research is, truthfully, inspiring, enriching, and fun. But at the same time, there is real urgency to this work. 

We have a responsibility to engage with people around the world, both inside and outside of academia, to better understand and address the world’s critical challenges. We must serve the world through our research and public engagement, and prepare our students for global leadership, at a time of significant global challenges—a time when many societies around the world are taking an inward-looking turn.

The writing of this strategic plan builds on more than a decade of strategic-planning initiatives for globalization at Northwestern, and significant progress has already been made. Northwestern has remarkable faculty leaders and a track record of unique and exemplary institutional relationships that are ripe for expansion.

At the core, the University’s strategic plan will be built around partnerships: partnerships across disciplines and schools at Northwestern, and partnerships with people and institutions around the world.

Through these partnerships, we imagine a world in which Northwestern researchers and students understand themselves to be a part of a global network of universities, and movement, collaboration, and resource sharing throughout this network are as seamless as possible. 

We hope to mount research initiatives through our network that will enable us collectively to address the greatest global challenges of our time. We are interested in developing multi-faceted collaborations with our partners that include teaching, learning, research, shared access to collections, and public engagement. 


We believe that this will usher in a new mindset in which a global perspective is simply a given. It will change how we think about community, inclusion, and diversity; how we think about merit and about impact. It will change how we collaborate. These relationships and the knowledge they fuel will change how and what we teach. They will increase our teaching potential and learning opportunities. They will give us a new, more global identity and expand our recognition globally as an accessible, connected University.

We recognize that in order to succeed, we must be willing to take collective risks toward innovation and seize opportunities for engagement. Success will mean the proliferation of innovative, interdisciplinary research that is inclusive, relevant to the global challenges of our time, and positioned to influence subsequent social action. It is a challenge, no doubt, but also an opportunity to be a model of what a great global university can contribute to the world.

As always, I would be very grateful for your feedback and ideas. Please email me at