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The writing’s on the wall

By Jyoti Guptara

For the past six months, I have had the privilege of being the GCSP’s first Novelist-in-Residence. 

During my time here as a Fellow, the seventh floor of the GCSP’s petal at the Maison de la paix has undergone major changes, starting with the name itself. No longer “Senior Management”, the lift takes you up to “The Creative Spark”. Has the Maison de la paix given up on ending war and been overrun by hippies?

The 7th floor’s main attraction used to be the Flag Room, representing the GCSP’s 46 member states and perhaps a more rigid — if more respectable? — approach. Now it’s a library featuring books on shelves that spell out THINK and ACT.

While the mandate to increase peace and stability has not changed, the Centre is experimenting with new tools and perspectives — not least by hosting mavericks such as myself. Fittingly, the room next to the new library is the Fellows’ Office. With its Global Fellows, the GCSP has added to its identity as think tank and executive training centre the vibe of a start-up co-working hub.

We can write on the walls. Move our desks around to enjoy the view of International Geneva’s architectural paragons. But the writing can be erased. After six months, what are my takeaways?

Looking back

Firstly, there is the place. As a writer working from my bedroom, leaving the house every morning in a presentable state, the act of actually going to work, has imposed a productive structure on my day. This may sound simple, but having an office can be a major draw for individuals who are self-employed, writing their doctoral thesis, or in transition.

It isn’t just any office space: both the strategic location, and the calibre of people passing through, make for an empowering launchpad. In a last-minute realisation that I should be getting snaps and interviews from the major international institutions for authentic story descriptions, I reached out to my new friends and, in the space of three days, was invited to the Palais des Nations, WTO, WHO, ITU, WIPO...

And it isn’t just any atmosphere. Before coming to Geneva, “security” and “policy” were not exactly terms that conjured up images of friendly faces or creativity. But at the GCSP, I’ve had the most pleasant as well as stretching exchanges with people I normally would not get to meet — at least not so thoroughly. It’s one thing bumping into such a person at a function. Co-working is quite another.

I’ve learned things here in a great variety of settings, formal and informal. From sitting in on public discussions and courses such as the recent one on Foresight and Strategic Planning, to a secretive roundtable on cybersecurity, to teaching a session in the first Creative Diplomacy course. I had taught creative writing before, but applying story to the world of military officers and policymakers has informed how my own craft can be applied to a wider context.

Even though I have not (yet) written books set in their world, anecdotes and gripes provide ample fodder for future stories. Marinating in this environment has broadened my horizons, inspired me to develop more personal excellence, and given me the confidence to take an even more active role in engaging with the 21st century’s challenges.

Looking forward

Even as I leave, the GCSP is welcoming a dozen new Fellows with vastly diverse profiles. There are reinforcements on every front, from the well-established Associate Fellows and Government Fellows to the burgeoning Doctoral Fellows, and our very first Young Leaders in Foreign and Security Policy.

Last week, I had some great conversations with the former Director of Intelligence for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. I’m disappointed not to have more time with new arrivals, but am happy to be handing over the creative-writerly baton to an Artist and Journalist-in-Residence.

I wish them all as enjoyable and stimulating a stay as I have had — and that they contribute to the writing on the wall.