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BIPR | Kathryn Knowles Women in International Affairs Lecture - Rising to the Task of Leadership: A European Perspective
Kathryn Knowles Women in International Affairs Lecture - Rising to the Task of Leadership: A European Perspective

March 23, 2023 - 11:30

Verena Ringler, AGORA European Green Deal, Austria

Event Recap

Professor Michael Leigh opens the seminar by honoring Kathryn Knowles, to whom the event is dedicated. Knowles, who recently passed away, left behind an enduring legacy at SAIS as an alumna and leader, holding two positions at SAIS Europe of Associate Director of the European and Eurasian Studies program and Director of Public Affairs. Knowles also helped launch the Bologna Institute for Policy Research, without which this seminar, and the institute's exciting trajectory, would not be possible. She was Leigh's colleague and in the same graduating class at this seminar's speaker, Verena Ringler, who founded and directs AGORA European Green Deal in Austria. Verena opens her talk by expressing gratitude to be presenting within the framework of paying tribute to Kathryn Knowles and all that she embodied.

After two decades of work in European Affairs, Verena identified her niche in the field as a scout, a matchmaker, and an innovator. Through these roles, Verena is determined to help the European Union harness its potential to achieve the goals set out in the European Green Deal. She believes this is possible when paying attention to and investing in the preparatory stage of policymaking.

Verena identifies three fields that she sees as opportunities to advance the green transition on the one hand, and as epistemological frontiers in international relations and European Studies on the other hand. These fields are subnational regions, people-focused opportunities of dialogue, and nature.

On regions, while one in three Europeans trust their national government, every second European trusts their local and regional leadership. Regions also host a wealth of family businesses, which are champions of trust. Their connection to community and locality could be further harnessed for daring, regional action that mitigates and solves conflicts of interest between groups in subnational regions.

On "people", the second field, Verena recounts case studies of successful safe spaces—or back-channel diplomacy—for future and regional leaders. In a year-long field research, she found that these formats would also help advance the goals of the Green Deal. "Trust cannot be emailed," is what Verena observes. People, not algorithms, would master the road to climate neutrality. She recounts the compelling evidence of leader's-focused and society-focused formats of interpersonal dialogue and trust-building in the past, and concludes that, "such carefully nourished networks can become superspreaders of resilience." Applying the rich toolkit of diplomacy and international work to a more local and people-centered stage within EU territory now could help adapt our economies and societal values to the necessities of a "net zero" future.

Finally, Verena invites diplomats, public policymakers, and academic researchers to incorporate the emerging new body of nature knowledge into the profession. She muses biodiversity to act as powerful unifier among and across countries, generations, and political views. In that context, she highlights the work of Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, who communicates the importance of biodiversity to bankers, finance ministers, and the like, through economic terminology. It is this type of innovative dialogue that Verena believes is essential in actualizing the Green Deal.

Verena closes with a call to action to double down on the European Green Deal in potential sanctuaries of resilience, such as in regions that enjoy peace, wealth, rule of law, and stable weather patterns.

Full Audio:

Kathryn Knowles Women in International Affairs Lecture - Rising to the Task of Leadership: A European Perspective

Supported by the Associazione di cultura e di studio italo-americana Luciano Finelli Friends of the Johns Hopkins University
hosted by Professor Michael Leigh

Verena Ringler
AGORA European Green Deal, Austria


On September 18, 2018 Kathryn Knowles, beloved alumna (B'01, 02), accomplished member of the SAIS Europe leadership team, and friend to many, passed away after a brief illness with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Kathryn loved working with students and excelled in her role as Associate Director of the European and Eurasian Studies program, leading study trips around the world, helping students to select the perfect sequence of courses, or coaching them to secure top internships. She challenged students to dream big and took great satisfaction in championing them to accomplish their goals. As Director of Public Affairs she worked tirelessly to promote SAIS Europe as a premier destination for the study of international relations. Kathryn helped to further strengthen the global reputation of the school by promoting cutting-edge faculty research, orchestrating events with high-profile speakers, and refining admissions material to attract top students.

The Kathryn Knowles Internship Fund commemorates the invaluable personal and professional contributions she made to the SAIS Europe community.


Verena Ringler founded and directs AGORA European Green Deal, ( a cross-sectoral and forward-looking hub on climate and nature leadership, with headquarters in Innsbruck, Austria.

Until 2018, she directed the International Affairs Department and Europe project portfolio at Stiftung Mercator in Germany. Prior to that, Ringler was Deputy Head of Public Affairs with a transatlantic diplomatic team in Pristina, Kosovo (2006 – 09). From 2002 to 2006, she worked as staff editor with Washington's Foreign Policy magazine.

Ringler graduated from SAIS (Bologna, Washington) in 2002 with a focus on European Studies and Eastern Europe. She also studied in Vienna, Innsbruck, and Uppsala. Academic field trips, election observations for the EU and the OSCE, and numerous independent reporting trips took Ringler to China, Central Asia, the Caucasus region, and Russia.

Today, Ringler is a Senior Lecturer at two universities in Austria and works on various advisory boards and councils, including the Fondation Jean Monnet pour l'Europe (Lausanne), the European Policy Centre (Brussels) and the European Forum Alpbach (Vienna), and regularly appears in the media or on stage (Club of Venice, TEDx).

Following a field study on the European Green Deal, during the pandemic, Ringler decided to focus her research and policy and foresight work on the question of climate and nature, in both regional and international terms. In June 2022, she made a live contribution to the EU's first New European Bauhaus Festival with a "Celebration on Soil, Seeds, and Senses" from an Alpine mountain peak. (AGORA European Green Deal & European Commons).
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