Introducing Swissnex for the Planet

Launched at Swissnex Day 2024, Swissnex's new global initiative explores the potential for a novel form of diplomacy with the nonhuman world on Earth, a concept we call planetary diplomacy.

May 3, 2024 | Switzerland

“We need a different level of ambition,” stated Adil Najam, President of WWF International and Boston University professor, at Swissnex Day 2024. Swissnex’s flagship annual event focused on the theme of planetary thinking and featured researchers, innovators, and artists exploring new ways to understand the relationship between humans and the planet. “Not just small steps but truly big thinking,” Najam continued. “Thinking that is not only out of the box but that throws the box away. That, I think, is the primary logic of planetary thinking.”

Swissnex in Boston and New York embraced this philosophy while developing Swissnex for the Planet, a new initiative across the global Swissnex network that was introduced as part of the event, which took place in Bern, Switzerland, on April 24. “We began by asking, What is the biggest impact Swissnex can have for the planet in the years to come?” said Benjamin Bollmann, CEO of Swissnex in Boston and New York, while on stage alongside the five other Swissnex CEOs. “We support Swiss startups with climate solutions. We strive to make our facilities and our operations more sustainable. Despite such efforts, our field of international relations remains relatively carbon-intensive due to frequent international travel. How can we do more?”

Arguably, one of the biggest impacts Swissnex has had since its inception in 2000 was to invent a new form of science diplomacy. The Swissnex model was imagined at the turn of the millennium, a period characterized by rapid globalization, the explosion of digital communications, and the belief that science and technology could foster democracy and shared prosperity. Nearly 25 years later, an entirely new global context has emerged, marked by planet-scale challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, pandemics, and other issues stemming from humanity’s impact on the Earth system.

“If we were to invent a new diplomacy now, what would it look like?” asked Bollmann. “That is the idea of Swissnex for the Planet, which is all about prototyping what we call planetary diplomacy across the Swissnex network. Our goal is to pioneer a science-based diplomacy that seeks to achieve a symbiotic relationship between humanity and planet Earth in all its diversity.”

The concept is inspired by a growing wave of planetary thinking questioning our human-centric narrative of progress, emphasizing instead our embeddedness with Earth’s myriad other inhabitants and processes, from aquatic ecosystems to soil-dwelling microbes to atmospheric aerosols. Leveraging science and technology, planetary diplomacy would act on our relationship with these nonhuman entities, taking into account their own interests and needs.

Coordinated by the team of Swissnex in Boston and New York, Swissnex for the Planet will serve as a global laboratory for planetary diplomacy. The initiative will feature an online group of experts developing the concept, as well as a planetary campaign of activities organized by different Swissnex locations, each exploring humanity’s relationship with the planet through the lens of locally relevant nonhuman stakeholders. Swissnex in India, for example, will focus on elephants through a pilot project on interspecies money, while Swissnex in Brazil will work on the Amazon, building on past projects like Fungi Cosmology. Combined, these efforts will contribute to shaping a new way of engaging with the world we inhabit.

“The most significant challenges before us require a new type of planetary diplomacy,” said Najam at Swissnex Day. “A diplomacy that starts with the word ‘planet.’ One that starts not with national-scale problems, but solutions that can be truly planetary and lead us to something much, much bigger.”