In action

The futurologist

Global megatrends such as the climate crisis or species extinction are her day-to-day business: Professor Anna-Katharina Hornidge, DAAD alumna and director of the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS), is working for a more sustainable and fairer future.

Issue 2 | 2022

Text: Christina Iglhaut

Professor Anna-Katharina Hornidge is often in a hurry. At 8:00 am, she arrives on her bike at Lenné­strasse in Bonn in time for her first appointment of the day: a lecture on development sociology. “Putting development theory and policy into practice” is written on the small room plan hanging next to the lecture theatre door. “I just have to set up a few things quickly so that our international students can attend the lecture,” the sociologist explains, climbing up onto a chair to reach the beamer. “There’s a cable missing here.” Less than three hours later, she will be chairing a virtual meeting of G7 representatives, giving some advice to one of her ten PhD students and then taking part in a coaching seminar for managers.

“We are living in an era of growing and ­interconnected crises of an ecological, ­political, social and economic nature.”

The DAAD alumna has been the director of the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS), formally known as the German Development Institute (DIE), as well as a professor of global sustainable development at the University of Bonn, since 2020. While at university, she spent several periods of time abroad on a DAAD scholarship. “These stays had a considerable influence on me,” she says. To this day, exchange plays an important role in her work. “In my research, I explore how knowledge is produced and disseminated, and what role different forms of knowledge play in tackling global challenges.” She looks at global megatrends such as the climate crisis or species extinction, and considers how Germany could contribute to overcoming these crises. “We are living in an era of interconnected crises of an ecological, political, social and economic nature. These crises can only be managed through transnational collaboration,” the sociologist explains.

She will also be discussing with her students today what is important in this context. Hornidge reports that many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America criticise how Europe and North America dictate how the transition to sustainability should take place, complaining that they themselves have too little say in the matter. “We must engage in joint discussions about global crises, and take decisions together. Many representatives of these countries rightly say: ‘If you want cooperation, then let it be on an equal footing’.”

IDOS brings research, policy advice and training together

International cooperation on a level playing field is also the top priority at IDOS. Based in the UN city of Bonn, the institute is one of the world’s leading think tanks for global sustainable development. “We study a very broad spectrum of topics: the forms taken by different political regimes, migration and conflict research, global trade systems, climate, biodiversity and marine policy, and water management. And our goal is always to provide scientific support for processes of transition towards greater sustainability,” explains the IDOS director. There is even a dedicated department at IDOS that explores knowledge collaborations, focusing on the multilateral system. The same department is also home to the IDOS post-graduate programme, which prepares master’s graduates for a career in international cooperation. “We are a research institution and think tank. That is important, for on the one hand we run long-term empirically based research projects, and on the other, we are always looking for ways to package our research findings into policy advice formats. We want our research to have decision-making relevance,” says Hornidge, placing her bike helmet on her desk and sitting down behind it.

“I must do research! That is what drives and motivates me. It is extremely important to get away to other countries, into the field, from time to time.”

The shelf on the wall contains numerous books about Singapore – a country that made a lasting impression on her when she spent time there on a DAAD scholarship. There is also a photograph of Hornidge – next to Chancellor Olaf Scholz – taking part in Think7 talks at the Federal Chancellery. Think7 is a group of leading think tanks from G7 countries that jointly develop research-based policy recommendations to support the G7 presi­dency. During Germany’s G7 presidency in 2022, IDOS, together with the Global Solutions Initiative, was tasked by the Chancellery with chairing the process. “Think7 brings over 300 scientists and academics from different disciplines together to develop concrete and sustainable action recommendations for international policy. Today we will be handing Think7 over to Japan, which will hold the G7 presidency in 2023,” says the IDOS director, getting the virtual meeting underway without further ado.

In addition to such virtual meetings, advising policymakers and teaching, one thing is particularly important to Hornidge: having time for her own academic work. “I must do research! That is what drives and motivates me. It is extremely import­ant to get away to other countries, into the field, from time to time.” In East Indonesia for example, a smallholder explained to her in a hut built using local materials how corn can be stored in such a way as to ensure that it remains free of vermin throughout the wet season and can thus be used to feed her family. A local farmer in Tajikistan showed her how he grafts fruit trees, telling her that this knowledge had been passed down to him from his grandfather. “I want my work to help us better collaborate across national borders, allowing us to use our natural resources more sparingly and sustainably. Such experiences at the grassroots level highlight the value of exchange and the vital need to constantly view things from different perspectives. This is also something I try to convey to my students.” —

Professor Anna-Katharina Hornidge has been director of the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) and professor of global sustainable development at the University of Bonn since 2020. Previously she taught social sci­ences in the marine tropics at the University of Bremen and was department head at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research in Bremen.