The Columbia Global Book Series Presents

In association with the Committee on Global Thought

World as Family: A Journey of Multi-Rooted Belongings

Monday, June 7 | 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM ET

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A Vedic phrase asks us to “treat the world as family.” In our age of global crises—pandemics, climate crisis, crippling inequality—this sentiment is more necessary than ever. Solutions to these seemingly insurmountable problems demand new approaches to thinking and acting locally, nationally, and transnationally, sometimes sequentially but often simultaneously. This is the mentality of the immigrant, the exchange student, the global native, and all who have made a life in a new place by choice or by necessity. Yet we suffer from a lack of the truly capacious thinking that is so urgently needed.

Vishakha N. Desai uses her life experiences to explore the significance of living globally and its urgency for our current moment. She weaves her narrative arc from growing up in a Gandhian household in Ahmedabad to arriving in the United States as a seventeen-year-old exchange student and her subsequent career as a dancer, curator, institutional leader, and teacher against the broad sweep of political and social changes in the two countries she calls home. Through her personal story, Desai reframes the idea of what it means to be global, considering how to lead a life of multiple belongings without losing local and national affinities. Vividly conjuring the complexities and exhilaration of a life that is rooted in many places, World as Family is a vital book for everyone who aspires to connect across borders—real and perceived—and bring to fruition the ideal of a global family.

Vishakha N. Desai

Chair, Committee on Global Thought
Senior Advisor for Global Affairs to the President
Senior Research Scholar, School of International and Public Affairs

Dr. Vishakha N. Desai is Senior Advisor for Global Affairs to the President of Columbia University and a Senior Research Scholar for the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. She also serves as Senior Advisor for Global Programs to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. From 2004 through 2012, Dr. Desai served as President and CEO of the Asia Society, a global organization dedicated to strengthening partnerships between Asia and the U.S. Under her leadership the society expanded the scope and scale of its activities with the opening of new offices in India and Korea, a new center of U.S.-China Relations, internationally recognized education programs, and inauguration of two new architecturally distinguished facilities in Hong Kong and Houston.

In 2012, in recognition of Dr. Desai’s leadership in the museum field, President Barack Obama appointed her to serve on the National Museum and Library Services Board. An internationally renowned scholar of Asian art, she has published and lectured extensively on the intersection of traditional and contemporary arts and policy in diverse countries of Asia. Dr. Desai is an Advisory Trustee of the Brookings Institution, and a Trustee of the Bertelsmann Foundation, AFS Intercultural Programs. She serves as a member of the International Advisory Committee for the Auroville Foundation, India, as well as on the Corporate Board of Mahindra & Mahindra, one of India’s largest global corporations.

Dr. Desai holds a B.A. in Political Science from Bombay University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Asian Art History from the University of Michigan, in addition to honorary degrees from Williams College, MA 2014; Centre College, KY, 2008; Pace University, NY, 2008; The College of Staten Island, NY, 2006; and Susquehanna University, PA, 1996.


Irina Bokova

Director-General, UNESCO

Irina Bokova, born on 12 July 1952 in Sofia (Bulgaria) has been the Director-General of UNESCO since 15 November 2009, and reelected for a second term in 2013. She is the first woman to lead the Organization.

Having graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, and studied at the University of Maryland (Washington) and the John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University), Irina Bokova joined the United Nations Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria in 1977. Appointed in charge of political and legal affairs at the Permanent Mission of Bulgaria to the United Nations in New York, she was also a member of the Bulgarian Delegation at the United Nations conferences on the equality of women in Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995). As Member of Parliament (1990-1991 and 2001-2005), she participated in the drafting of Bulgaria’s new Constitution, which contributed significantly to the country’s accession to the European Union.

Irina Bokova was Minister for Foreign Affairs a.i., Coordinator of Bulgaria-European Union relations and Ambassador of Bulgaria to France, Monaco and UNESCO and Personal Representative of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria to the "Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie" (OIF). As Secretary of the Council of Ministers for European integration and as Foreign Minister a.i., Irina Bokova has always advocated for European integration. Active member of many international experts networks, active in civil society and especially President and founding member of the European Policy Forum, she has worked to overcome European divisions and to foster the values of dialogue, diversity, human dignity and human rights.

As Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova is actively engaged in international efforts to advance quality education for all, gender equality, cultural dialogue and scientific cooperation for sustainable development and is leading UNESCO as a global advocate for safety of journalists and freedom of expression.

Irina Bokova is Executive Secretary of the Steering Committee of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), co-Vice-Chair of the Broadband Commission and chair of the UN High Level Committee on Management.

Irina Bokova has received state distinctions from countries across the world and is Doctor honoris causa of leading universities.

In addition to her mother tongue, she speaks English, French, Spanish and Russian.


Safwan M. Masri

Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development, Columbia University

Professor Safwan M. Masri is Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University and a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

In his role as EVP, Masri directs a number of Columbia’s global initiatives and is responsible for the development of an expanding network of Global Centers, located in Amman, Beijing, Istanbul, Mumbai, Nairobi, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, and Tunis. These centers work to advance Columbia’s global mission and extend the University’s reach to address the pressing demands of our global society.

Masri joined Columbia University in 1988 as a member of the faculty of the Columbia Graduate School of Business. He was appointed Vice Dean in 1993, a position he held for thirteen years. He previously taught engineering at Stanford University, and was a visiting professor at INSEAD (Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires) in France.

A scholar of the contemporary Arab world, Masri’s work focuses on understanding postcolonial dynamics among religion, education, society, and politics. He is the author of Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly (Columbia University Press, 2017), which examines why Tunisia was the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring as a democracy. The book has received positive coverage in a number of media outlets, including the Financial Times, Le Monde, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and the Journal of Democracy. Masri is often quoted in the press and appears frequently on news programs. His writings on education and current affairs have been featured in the Financial Times, Huffington Post, The Hill, and Times Higher Education.

Masri is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations, an honorary fellow of the Foreign Policy Association and a member of the International Advisory Council of the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES). Masri is a trustee of International College in Beirut and the Welfare Association (Taawon) in Ramallah, and a director of Endeavor Jordan. He was founding chairman of King’s Academy and the Queen Rania Teacher Academy, and served as an advisor to Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah.

Masri earned his Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering from Purdue University in 1982; his Master of Science in industrial engineering, also from Purdue in 1984; and his Ph.D. in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University in 1988. He was honored with the Singhvi Professor of the Year for Scholarship in the Classroom Award in 1990, the Robert W. Lear Service Award in 1998, and the Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence in a Core Course in 2000. Masri has also been honored with the 2003 American Service Award from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.