Giovanni Zanalda on Creating Global Connections at Duke

Zanalda shares what it’s like being one of Duke’s global leaders.

You’ve probably seen him at a Duke public lecture, either hosting a conference or leading a panel discussion. Giovanni Zanalda became the director of the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS) in the fall of 2015.

As an economic historian, with previous experience at the World Bank, Zanalda has been teaching at Duke for several years. He teaches courses on emerging markets, financial crises and the modern international economy for the department of economics, and a course on the history of globalization for the department of history and the Sanford School of Public Policy.

He spoke to us about his current work directing the international and global activities of DUCIGS.

Q: What happens at DUCIGS?

As director, I have been active in promoting activities and organizing events on global issues, supporting student and faculty work on international studies and serving the Duke and local communities. DUCIGS facilitates this effort through its own programming and the work of its affiliated centers, councils and initiatives, which each focus on a global region or theme – for example, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Duke India Initiative and the Observatory on Europe, just to name a few.

It can be difficult for students to find funding for global experiences, such as international research, language learning or academic travel. DUCIGS meets this need by awarding grants to Duke undergraduate and graduate students throughout the year. Interest in our awards has increased, and we support more students now than in the past.

In addition to supporting global experiences, we fund a network of graduate working groups here on campus. For the past three years, we have supported between 10 and 15 groups every academic cycle. The groups vary widely by topic, and membership is quite interdisciplinary. We have groups that focus on everything from microbiomes to international development.

The working groups allow graduate students to meet and discuss topics they are engaged in without the restraints of traditional departmental structures. Some say this is the best experience they’ve had as graduate students. They get to work together to present their own work, generate new ideas, organize conferences and invite outside speakers. I’m happy about how the working groups have evolved. The working groups really show how DUCIGS sustains engagement with students. We tend to work with students over the course of their academic path at Duke.

Engaging the broader Duke community with global issues is a key aspect of what we do at DUCIGS. When you look at the last academic year in its entirety, DUCIGS and its affiliated units sponsored or co-sponsored more than 200 events. We are supporting lecture series, workshops, film festivals and other academic and cultural activities to promote discussion and research on international themes and explore connections between the local and the global within the Duke campus and the greater Durham community.

Our Wednesdays at the Center, a series of talks that occur over lunch on Wednesdays, is a signature series which allows us to discuss international and interdisciplinary themes over time. This series is a popular venue for academic discourse with the community. The room is always filled with interested and engaged members of the Duke community and beyond. We’re especially pleased to see how the series promotes intercommunity dialogue.

We also organize large lectures, like the Biddle Lecture on International Studies and the Global Governance series. For these series, we invite experts to talk about diplomacy and global challenges. This past year, as part of the Global Governance series, we hosted the former president of Costa Rica and the former prime minister of Kenya. In addition to the individual lectures, we coordinate several opportunities for our guests to engage with campus including meals with students, small seminars, class visits and meetings with faculty and administrators.

Q: How does DUCIGS connect with other organizations at Duke?

I see DUCIGS as an important interdisciplinary facilitator at Duke. There is no aspect of our modern world that wouldn’t benefit from a global perspective. Therefore, we do our best to connect and collaborate not only with departments and programs on campus, but also with external partners like the U.S. State Department, RTI International, Duke Kunshan University and Venice International University. We also collaborate with the Office of Undergraduate Scholars and Fellows, the Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and Service, the Duke University Program in American Grand Strategy and other units at Duke to prepare our students to be responsible global citizens.

From left: Indermit Gill (Former Director, DCID), President of Duke University Vincent Price, economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Giovanni Zanalda (Director, DUCIGS).Photo by Emilie Poplett

DUCIGS has been working with Duke Center for International Development on a series called “Rethinking Development.” Last fall, we co-hosted Duke’s first multidisciplinary conference on international development.  Panels involved collaborations with the Duke Global Health Institute, the Sanford School of Public Policy, the Duke DevLab, the Duke Population Research Institute, the Social Science Research Institute, the Duke Policy Bridge, the Duke India Initiative and Duke Africa Initiative, and the political science and economics departments. This conference not only showed what various Duke units are doing around the theme of development, but also served as a way to create a sense of community among those who work in this area.

We also partner with the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Nicholas School of the Environment on events and projects connected to the Belt and Road Initiative. We co-organized a large conference at Duke Kunshan University last fall that was related to the initiative, which focuses on China’s investment in and connections to other countries around the world.

In addition, we host international fellows at the Center. These are scholars from various U.S. and international institutions who spend a year engaged in academic pursuits at Duke. They collaborate with us to enrich our offerings through workshops, seminars and lectures, where they share their research with other scholars and the Duke community. They work on different topics, but they also actively participate in life at the Franklin Center. We’re establishing long-term relationships with these scholars to engage around certain topics, such as migration, development, and political theory.

Q: What’s the best way for a student to find all of these events and opportunities?

Our DUCIGS and JHFC Facebook pages regularly post announcements about upcoming events and opportunities. Students can also sign up to our mailing list to receive email updates. To find out more details on our programming and student opportunities, you can visit

Because students get to know us through conferences, workshops, and grants they tend to stay in touch. But we’re also reaching out to incoming students to share information with them on global or international themes, that way they can learn about grants and other opportunities.

Q: What does the future hold for DUCIGS?

We just launched a new series of research papers, Duke Global Working Papers. The papers are published on the Social Science Research Network, a database which can be searched by users around the world. The series will publish papers coming out of research incubated in DUCIGS’ events and conferences and other units around campus. These working papers really highlight our commitment to fostering research. We’ve just started this series, and I think it will have a bright future.

I’m also particularly interested in launching our new Future of Diplomacy program, which will foster collaborations with various partners in the Durham campus and outside Duke. This program supported by a multi-year grant from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund will bring together faculty, students, diplomats and practitioners to study, discuss, and produce papers on new concepts of diplomacy. The world has changed, pretty dramatically. We have new actors and technologies that make some aspects of the role of diplomats obsolete. We must ensure that diplomats in the general sense of the word – including people who work in non-governmental organizations, international corporations and practitioners involved in negotiations– can develop soft skills and combine these with specific knowledge in certain areas. Through the program, we hope to leverage the expertise Duke has as a research institution, from health to water, with something that might be harder to learn, such as how to navigate conflict resolution, clearly communicate and work well in a team.

We’re certainly looking to leverage existing partnerships to get more out of them, because we have some strong cross-institutional relationships. One in particular is Venice International University, where Duke participates in an 18-member international consortium. DUCIGS has recruited an increased number of Duke faculty and graduate students to organize and participate in PhD academies and graduate seminars held in Venice.

I would also like to grow our relationships beyond Duke. Our fellows program and connections established through our research activities and programming helps us do this. I’d like to focus on nurturing these relationships and building stronger international networks.