Communications Officer, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
Master of Communication Studies
As the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and countries need clear and accurate communications to keep people informed on how to stay safe and healthy. Much of that information comes from the World Health Organization, and AUT communication studies alumna Diane Abad-Vergara is right at the heart of it.
“I work on the COVID-19 digital team, developing content for use across our communication channels, around the world and in multiple languages. I also manage several communications portfolios including refugee and migrant health, health systems in fragile and conflict-affected settings, neglected tropical diseases, influenza, cervical cancer, antimicrobial resistance, violence against women and immunisations, vaccines and biologicals.
“The mission of the World Health Organization (WHO) is to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable – you don't get much better than that for a reason to get out of bed and do your best work all day.”
Diane, who has worked at WHO since 2017, says she loves working with exceptionally talented communications professionals from all over the world and with some of the world’s top public health experts.
“Many of my colleagues around the world risk their lives each day to bring lifesaving vaccines, treatments and information to those that need it most. Unfortunately I have written about colleagues who have been attacked or murdered in the course of doing their work. Their bravery and commitment is inspiring.”
A passion for the media
For Diane, her interest in communication and the media started at a young age.
“I grew up watching the six o'clock news with my family, and I was transfixed by stories from around the world, particularly the humanitarian stories. They were so rich in culture, incomprehensible challenges and raw hope. I also remember feeling angry about so many of the injustices and inequalities in the world. I wanted to travel the world and tell these stories.”
She had plenty of encouragement to help her achieve this.
“I went to Te Awamutu College and to be honest, I was a pretty average student. I never stood out or won any important awards. But I do remember one teacher, Mr McMurray, who was a deputy principal. He made me believe that I could be or do anything I wanted. My parents were the same. I would love for every child in New Zealand to be able to grow and learn and walk through this world not only with the encouragement I had, but also with equity in education and opportunity.”
Highlights and achievements
Diane’s communications career started in journalism, followed by communication roles in not-for-profits and the public sector throughout Australasia, Europe, Central Asia, the USA and Latin America.
There have been many career achievements she is particularly proud of, including raising over $1 million for a housing development project in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, writing a children’s book, working on successful marketing initiatives for the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre, and being involved in an award-winning environmental restoration project.
Another highlight for her was producing an internationally screened documentary on fair trade coffee, which she created as part of her AUT Master of Communication Studies.
“I loved that for my master’s degree thesis I was able to choose a practical project like producing a documentary. I started out with no equipment and really no idea. I ended up producing the documentary Living with Coffee, which explores fair trade coffee and in particular the trade relationship between New Zealand and Colombia. It screened in cinemas throughout Colombia, and as part of the 2009 New Zealand Human Rights Film Festival.
“The option of a practical thesis was one of the things that attracted me to the Master of Communication Studies. The programme also gave me a degree of flexibility to study which was great as we had a baby and a toddler and my husband and I both needed to work part-time while my husband also completed a master’s degree in psychology. It wasn’t easy and I remember surviving on a grocery shop of $100 a week for a long time.”
Advice for other students
Diane, who graduated from AUT in 2011, has some great advice for other students dreaming of a career in communication.
“Look at job advertisements around the world and in New Zealand, and find your ‘dream jobs’, whether that’s in journalism or corporate communication, at the United Nations or something else. Then look at the qualifications, skills, languages and experience required for that role. Write up a list of the common criteria. Then start where you are with what you can do, and begin to build towards that dream job. You’ll get there!”
Her other piece of advice is simple: have adventures whenever you can and create great memories.
“Get into the great outdoors of New Zealand and take time to breathe in that fresh air, have adventures while you plan your next steps. You’ll need those memories on the busy days in the future.
“Working to communicate for the WHO on COVID-19 has meant some long days, nights and weekends for me, without a lot of time to rest. It will come – but in the meantime, many times a day I close my eyes and imagine I’m at the top of Mt Ngāuruhoe, taking on the waves at Raglan beach or exploring Lake Wanaka on my uncle’s boat. Those memories and moments help get me through.”