Serving the International Community
Senior Communications Advisor: United Nations Development Programme, Geneva
1989 BS in International Affairs
As strategic communications adviser for the United Nations Development Program, Northern Arizona University alumnus Adam Rogers has reached a pinnacle in the realm of international development. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, Rogers serves as a crucial link between the UN and donors in the developed world: it is his job to persuade governments, policy makers, and influencers that the path to a better world requires long-term vision and financial commitment. Rogers' path to global leadership, however, wasn't necessarily so visionary. It began, he says, in Flagstaff. As a first-year freshman at Northern Arizona University in 1982, Rogers realized that he had no idea what he wanted to do. He did know what he was passionate about, though: the world.
"I took off with a backpack and hitchhiked to New York," he says. "I bought a one-way ticket to Senegal, and got off the plane eight hours later not knowing a single person in the plane, the city, the country, or the entire continent. That was the start of a five-year journey that took me to nearly 60 countries."
When Rogers returned to the United States in 1987, he finally understood what he wanted to do: return to Northern Arizona University to pursue a degree in international affairs. His time spent traveling had convinced him to follow his passion. After he re-enrolled at the university, Rogers discovered that he could profit from following his other great passion, which was writing.
"What really made a difference for my career, starting at NAU, was not only the classes, the small class sizes, the camaraderie and the excellent education, but also the Lumberjack, the newspaper," he says. "It was a great training field for me, especially in terms of writing under pressure. I volunteered to write a column called 'NAU Global View,' where I took global events and localized them for the campus audience. It was so well accepted that I was offered a scholarship if I continued writing."
Following his graduation, Rogers continued to follow his twin passions. He helped found—and became editor-in-chief of—a magazine dedicated to raising environmental consciousness in the United States. The magazine attracted a star-studded editorial board—including celebrities like Kenny Loggins and John Denver—and Rogers soon found himself traveling the world covering international issues. He soon moved on to another entrepreneurial venture, however, helping to found a software company that was poised on the verge of becoming a multi-billion dollar corporation. Before his company went public, however, the UN offered him a position working with the least developed countries in the world. According to Rogers, he faced a stark choice: follow the money, or follow his heart.
"Ultimately, what made the decision was reflecting on my five years of travel around the world, when I had no money and relied on the hospitality of strangers throughout Asia and Africa," he says. "People in the poorest villages you could imagine kept inviting me into their homes—people with mud huts and dirt floors were so open-hearted and hospitable. I couldn't turn my back on all these people that had been so generous to me."
In the decade-and-a-half since he joined the UN, Rogers has dedicated his life to helping citizens in some of the poorest countries in the world take the necessary steps toward a better life. This begins, he says, by building institutions that most citizens of developed countries barely even consider. The importance of institutions, he says, is very evident in a place like Haiti. Following the recent earthquake there, Rogers spent three months in Haiti helping to manage media relations for the UN. According to Rogers, transparent and accountable institutions in Haiti may have prevented a lot of suffering.
"It's hard for us to see because we live in one of the richest countries in the world, but institutions keep people honest," he says. "The buildings that were built to code in Port-au-Prince didn't collapse. It costs 5-10 percent more to construct a building that is earthquake-proof, and construction crews almost anywhere in the world will cut corners if they are not properly supervised. So when an earthquake comes, and a building collapses on a bunch of kids, it's sad—it didn't need to happen, when all it takes is proper supervision."
As he reflects on the path that brought him to the UN, Rogers has no regrets about the choices he made. In fact, he urges current students to make the choices that are right for them—and not for anyone else.
"Don't do what you think you should do, or what someone else tells you that you should do," he says. "If you don't know what you want to do, take some time off. Follow your passion, learn about what you want to learn about, and learn about the world."