04 February 2021

Turning a Public Sector Career Private

Adam Cohen (MIA, 2013) always wanted to work in multilateral diplomacy. Receiving his degree from the Institute was a critical step towards achieving this dream, and beyond.

During and immediately after his studies, he completed internships in Geneva and New York at the UN Secretariat, the UK Mission and the EU Delegation to the UN. While these were enriching experiences, Adam found that, “while the work of a diplomat in the UN system is deeply interesting, I became acutely aware that even the most senior diplomat was a small cog in a big machine whose impact is tied up in the wording of a UN resolution”. 

In 2014, after a personal tragedy, Adam re-evaluated his professional objectives and decided that he wanted a career that would enable him to directly affect more positive change. He therefore took up a job working in advocacy for an NGO in his native UK. This is where he discovered his passion to use strategic communications to change the attitudes and behaviours of key stakeholders to make a positive impact. In order to build his skill base in the various communications sub-disciplines, Adam started working for a private-sector communications consultancy that had international clients – both governments and philanthropic organisations. 

“My decision to gain experience in the private sector was key to unlocking the potential for a future career in communications that worked for me”, he said. “Working in a dynamic, fast paced client-focused consultancy is where you can really ‘cut your teeth’ and gain a wide range of experience in crisis communications, media relations, digital communications and campaigning from industry-leading experts”. 

Adam leveraged his specialised communications skills to re-enter the public sector at a more senior level and with skills and experience that his peers in the public sector did not have. For the past two years, Adam has worked in the international branch of the UK’s Government Communication Service, which aims to support partner governments in communicating the economic, security and governance challenges they face. 

Adam has led capacity-building programmes for civil servants in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Kenya aimed at developing processes and structures to embed best practices on conducting government communications. He has also worked extensively with the Nigerian government to launch campaigns to counter human trafficking, promote girl’s education and respond to COVID-19. 

“It is never easy to come in as an outsider preaching best practice and challenging assumed truths”, Adam explained. “But the approach of working with partner governments, hand-in-hand, to achieve tangible outcomes of measurable attitude and behaviour changes in target audiences is incredibly effective as a means of embedding best practice for the future among partner government communicators".

"From my perspective, my time at the Graduate Institute has been essential for successfully developing a career in government communications". he continued. "The inter-disciplinary approach of the MIA programme has given me the skills to look at the bigger picture and understand how different challenges are interconnected. The international student body at the Graduate Institute has also helped me understand different cultural perspectives and has helped inform how I engage with a wide range of stakeholders from across the world”. 

Adam will return to the private sector later this year, taking on a director position at a communications consultancy based in Dubai where he will continue to work on government communications.