The Disruptor Series: Corinna Hörst

corinna horst feminist foreign policy brussels binder

Our Disruptor Series highlights the work people are doing across the globe to challenge the status quo and make the world a more equitable place. Today we’re in conversation with Corinna Hörst, leader extraordinaire.  

Working in and with the fabric of a female-conscious civil society, Hörst is a formidable force in the emerging discourse and practice of female-led foreign policy. Breaking the parameters of limitations against women, Hörst’s weapons of choice include an impressive array of leadership roles, turning the chapter of Women in International Security (WIIS) in Brussels from an informal network into a registered non-governmental entity under Belgian law, creating her own women's network in the think tank community, and co-authoring a book titled Women Leading the Way in Brussels.

Based in the heart of the EU and NATO, Brussels’ multiple sectors of policy think-tanks, elected office, and civil society exposes Hörst to a buzzing community ripe for connectivity. The old adage “many hands make light work” may best explain why Hörst chose to lead the WIIS chapter and the European Network of Female Policy Experts which started The Brussels Binder in this city because limitations don't stand a chance - especially in an urban space with the largest press corp in the world.

With a Ph.D. and Master’s degree in history, Hörst has studied in the United States, Germany, and Scotland. Before arriving at the German Marshall Fund (GMF), where she is now the Deputy Director of the Brussels office, Hörst taught American and World History - giving a concrete example of the adaptability and applicability of academic training to the wider public sphere. Her transatlantic education also forms the basis for her critical role in working on the transatlantic partnership between Europe and the United States at GMF.

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In an all too often tale of post-maternity leave gender consciousness, Hörst’s own experience with straddling motherhood and careerism inspired her to found the European Network of Female Policy Experts. Noting the “subtle” hurdles of returning to work after giving birth to her daughter, Hörst remembers being asked about her kids rather than her policy work as well as the exclusion that came with an assumption she would no longer have time. Acknowledging that her gendered perspective arrived late in her career, Hörst’s realization of unconscious bias has been turned into proactive leadership toward reform.  Hörst has used her networks and work at GMF and WIIS to provide professional development opportunities and mentorship for younger women.  The Brussels Binder is another such initiative, as it is a collaborative project with visibility and disruption as its core.

We titled this series to speak to the way individual journeys disrupt business-as-usual narratives and whilst speaking with Hörst, the word “disruption” was serendipitously used on more than one occasion. Finding parallels in the purpose of the Brussels Binder to the rhetoric of Donald Trump, Hörst found a silver lining in the 45th Presidency - “he’s disruptive.” Arguing that President Trump requires people to have debates about things we took for granted, Hörst exemplifies an important facet of FFP’s mission - disruption is multifaceted.

Defining the parameters of our subject area is one of those facets and Hörst’s Presidency at WIIS has provided her with the platform to redefine what “security” means for a gender-conscious professional. Going beyond defense, she defines the paradigm broadly and inclusive of energy, trade, human rights, and a strong Europe.

Complementing her dynamic resume, Hörst continues to push the boundaries of her idea production and narrative disruption with an upcoming book about the strength, resilience, and leadership of women in Brussels. The idea was born from her own experience as a new resident in Brussels who was lost, without contacts or knowledge of the city’s working. In her own search for guidance and advice, Hörst was inspired to author a book about role models and the women who had come to Brussels in a similar fashion to herself and risen to the top. Writing with her colleague and friend, Claudia de Castro Caldeirinha, the book is the product of their harmonious dichotomy - Hörst explained that “Claudia is much more activist and radical and I’m much more diplomat.” In changing the narrative on Brussels, by rewriting the women into it, the book is a collection of interviews with 14 women.

One of those interviews stars the woman who led the charge for Feminist Foreign Policy in government. When asked how she would define FFP, Hörst quoted from this very trailblazer: “nothing about women without them.” Continually informing our understanding of FFP as a governing paradigm, Margot Wallström thus found her rightful place in our inspiring conversation with Corinna Hörst.

Interview by Marissa Conway, article by Taylor Fox-Smith.