Adam Rogers and Leesa Truesdell have been communicating and taking action online since the spring of 2019. Adam mailed Leesa a copy of his book, The Intrepid Traveler. Leesa had just moved back to the United States and had not met Adam or even interacted with him. Leesa thumbed through it and got back to work. Later that week, she reached out to contact Adam after gleaning his details from the sleeve of the book.
“You’ve never been to a country until you’ve shared a meal with a person from that country.” — Adam Rogers
Adam’s intrepid travels intrigued Leesa and he became one of #GlobalFoodieFriends’ first guest hosts. Leesa felt fascinated by the importance Adam put on eating with locals. He spoke about his years and years of travel, of hitchhiking through Syria, and breaking bread with countless strangers turned friends.
Leesa recalls writing the 32-character bio for Adam’s Twitter introduction almost two years ago. She feels pleased to share his current interview about his fifth, and certainly not last, book covering social media strategy and connection. They created a friendship in cyberspace and recently had the chance to meet in person.
Introducing Adam Rogers: Adam specializes in providing strategic communication for results. Before celebrating a 25th anniversary with the UN where he held a variety of positions, he was an environmental journalist. Adam’s green outlook continues to color his output. He feels happiest occupying the moral high ground, aiming to follow Dr. Martin Luther King who insisted “the time is always right, to do what is right.”
Taking Action: an Environmental Guide for You and Your Community came out in 1995, and its sequel last year. Why the quarter-of-a-century gap?”
The first Taking Action was written to inspire individuals and community organizations to localize Agenda 21, the landmark United Nations framework for action that came out of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Also, the first Taking Action was commissioned for, and published, by the UN Environment Program. It segued neatly from my 1993 book, The Earth Summit: A Planetary Reckoning. This book documented the Summit through the perspectives of business, youth, indigenous communities, and governments.
As you may know, the guiding frameworks for environmental and sustainable development evolved into the Millennium Development Goals at the turn of the century. From there, to Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals after 2015. Concurrent to that process, the world experienced the digital and social media revolutions. These lowered the costs of connection and barriers to entry. Billions of people around the world suddenly started accessing information and interacting with one another.
This is what inspired me to write Taking Action Online for the Environment, Social Justice, and Sustainable Development. I see that the Internet in general, and social media in particular, can help or hinder the betterment of humanity, depending on how it is used. In Taking Action Online, I present a positive view of social media and how it can be used to support efforts to end poverty, support social justice, and protect the planet so that the planet can then protect us.
Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, wrote the foreword to your latest book. The UN also employed Helen. So where and when did you meet for the first time?”
I first started at the UN as a staff member in 1996, joining the team at the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF). The UNCDF is an organization that works through both the public and private sectors to support local communities to put an end to poverty. At that time, Helen was still the Prime Minister of New Zealand. In 2008 I went to work for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) as their regional communications chief for Europe, based in Geneva. Helen joined UNDP a year later in 2010. We met for the first time when she came to Geneva, and I organized interviews for her with European journalists.
In the preface, you quote Everett M. Rogers and his categorization of users of new technology, specifically: 1) innovators, 2) early adopters, 3) early majority, 4) late majority, and 5) laggards. You’re clearly a 1 or 2, but what if we all were? To what extent would it accelerate technological advances?”
The theoretical framework of Diffusion of Innovations explains how, over time, an idea or product gains momentum and diffuses (or spreads) through a population or social system. According to the theory, which is rooted in behavioral science, there will always be those who love trying new things. And, on the other hand, those who prefer to wait until their trust level rises in the innovation. This is probably a good thing because not all innovations that enter the market end up working. Not everyone has the time, money, or patience to invest in new gadgets. I remember getting the first smartphone in the early 1990s — the Apple Newton, which was a complete flop and a waste of money. Then came the Palm OS, which was a bit better. I now feel magnetically attached to my Android device.
How alarmed do you feel about the Burmese and Chinese social media bans?”
On the one hand, banning social media is a way to control the flow of information. It keeps people in the dark and uninformed so that government authorities can force their will. On the other hand, social media channels like Parler can also become echo chambers and platforms for misinformation. These may inspire the impressionable to refuse to wear masks, to rally against vaccinations, or to attack democratic institutions like the US Congress. Given the two extremes, however, I would prefer the American system that embraces the freedoms of association and information. The US trusts the public to develop a higher intelligence that questions communication and triangulates the sources rather than only listening to those that agree with their own views.
You emphasize how positive social media can be in promoting world peace, which is a world away from the Internet’s roots as a US military tool. But what about the negatives? The Internet Research Agency in Russia? Black and Asian athletes being sent racist DMs? Trolling in general?”
The ignorant and uneducated people who spew vitriolic hate have always been there. However, the Internet just gives them a platform to find others of like mind to reach and attack more people. These idiots will otherwise be burning crosses in public spaces, painting ignorant graffiti on walls, or yelling odious rhetoric at passersby. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not the best approach to deal with them. Instead, platforms like Twitter and Facebook can filter, control and condemn such hate through the use of AI, and governments can regulate hate speech that persecutes people. Some governments are aware that hateful speech can lead to violent actions.
In most of Europe, for example, it is illegal to display any form of the Nazi swastika. While the United States, for example, protects the right of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, and other hate groups to express their views openly on and offline, Germany has strict laws banning Nazi symbols and what’s called Volksverhetzung — incitement of the people, or hate speech. In the US, hate speech is protected. We should realize that hate speech often leads to hate crimes and criminalize it accordingly.
Your 2018 publication, The Intrepid Traveler, draws on 40 years of visiting 100+ countries. What’s your favorite tip from it and why?”
My favorite tip is probably to never leave home without an open mind. You can forget everything else, but that is the most important (well, a passport and some money are also important). Yet if you don’t have an open mind, there is no point in leaving the country.
In terms of ecotourism, which region or country is leading the way?”
I would say that Costa Rica is probably the leader when it comes to ecotourism. With coastlines on both the Caribbean and Pacific, and with almost one-fourth of the country covered in protected rainforest, CR is a natural destination. It also has an infrastructure that caters to travelers who are there for ecotourism. That said, I believe you can connect with nature in any country if you are motivated to do so. I have always asserted that to really experience a country, your travel should be three dimensional:
2) meet the descendants of the people who built them, and who live in their midst. Then really connect with them by learning some of their languages, appreciating their food, and reasoning with their religion; and
3) resonate with their natural surroundings by going for a long walk on a beach alone, listening to the waves and feeling the wind, sleeping out in the desert, or hugging their trees.
Only when you have done all three of these things can you really say that you have experienced a country. If you catch yourself saying you have “done” a country (Oh yeah, I’ve done Italy…) then in my view you have not even been there.
How has the pandemic shifted your conception of traveling?”
The pandemic has made it difficult to really connect with people, which is one of the three important dimensions of traveling, but it has not made it impossible. Travel has become more difficult of course, and if you choose to travel there are additional precautions one must take. However, being careful when traveling has always been important. To avoid malaria, dysentery, dengue fever, etc. etc., there are always important rules to keep in mind. Many of these are in The Intrepid Traveler. The next edition will no doubt include advice on avoiding SARS-like diseases. I spent most of the pandemic exploring ski resorts across Switzerland and Colorado. The ski poles make for perfect social-distancing enforcers. I never liked the apres-ski scene anyway, always preferring to pack a meal and a beer to enjoy on a perch somewhere with a spectacular view.
Sustainable Development Goals, which you have advocated, plan to eliminate poverty worldwide by 2030. What needs to be done to achieve this?”
The 17 SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, are about much more than ending poverty — they are about building a world of shared prosperity where everyone, regardless of race, religion or gender, can fully pursue his or her full potential as a human being. They were created through a widespread global and inclusive consultation process with more than two million people in a campaign known as The World We Want. These goals were then formulated into a time-bound plan of action with 169 targets and 232 unique indicators. These were then all adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, with a deadline of 2030.
One of the first things for the SDGs to be realized is for everyone to know about them. Then, citizens can both hold their governments accountable. Plus they can learn how they can each contribute to making them happen. I believe we each possess a unique and specific talent that we can use to make the world a better place for everyone, everywhere. No one can tell you what your talent is; you must discover it for yourself. I like to call this your “#SDGTalent.”
In my book Taking Action Online for the Environment, Social Justice and Sustainable Development, I refer to my favorite Mark Twain quote when he said the two most important days of your life “are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
Use What You Have
I believe the “why” is connected to a “how” — your gift, what you are good at, how you can make your contribution to achieving the SDGs. Most talents are best used locally, perhaps improving the life of just one person or small group of people. Sometimes you can take your local experiences and contribute to global solutions through social media and the Internet. Sometimes you can reach out and inspire someone halfway around the globe to take the same actions you did to reach out and improve a life or situation locally. We each hold a piece of a giant puzzle, a puzzle that will never be solved or complete until each of us knows where we fit into the big picture.
You took early retirement in 2018. What’s next for Adam Rogers?”
Although I retired from the United Nations in 2018, I continue to support the organization as a consultant on projects I can wrap my passion around. I also plan to continue writing, traveling, exploring, and climbing mountains. One project I am presently excited about is the Kilimanjaro Initiative. We take a small group of marginalized kids from poor communities in Africa. We teach them leadership skills while climbing the continent’s highest mountain. This year, in October 2021, we are expanding the climb. We are trying to raise global awareness of, and resources for, the equitable and complete distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to every community on Earth.
We hope you enjoyed this insight into the lively mind of Adam Rogers. For more engaging entertainment, be sure to watch our Facebook Live with Adam. If you have any ideas for future events, do let us know. We look forward to hearing from you.