International Community Service

As a strategic communications advisor for the United Nations (UN) Development Program, alumnus Adam Rogers has reached a pinnacle in international development. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, Rogers serves as a crucial link between the UN and donors in industrialized nations. His job is 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 so planned out. As a freshman at Northern Arizona University in 1982, Rogers realized that he had no idea what he wanted to do. He only knew that he was passionate about traveling.

"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."

Following his passion

When Rogers returned to the United States in 1987, he finally knew what he wanted to do: earn a degree in international affairs from Northern Arizona University. His time spent traveling convinced him to follow his passion. After he re-enrolled at the university, Rogers discovered that he could profit from another interest: writing.

"What really made a difference for my career, starting at NAU, was not only the classes, the camaraderie and the excellent education, but also the Lumberjack 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."

After graduation, Rogers 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 to become a multi-billion-dollar corporation. Before his company went public, however, the UN offered him a position working with the least industrialized 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."

Since he joined the UN, Rogers has dedicated his life to helping citizens in impoverished countries build regulatory institutions that most citizens of industrialized countries take for granted. The importance of institutions, he says, is very evident in a place like Haiti. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Rogers spent three months there 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 took 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."