Faith Toran G’18: Navigating Development Communication with AUP's MA Program

Five years out from graduation, Faith’s career has already taken her all over the world, conducting humanitarian work on the forefront of global emergency relief efforts as a communications professional for Doctors Without Borders.

What first brought you to AUP?

After earning my BA in Political Science from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, I worked as a legislative aid in the Georgia House of Representatives and, later, as a Peace Corps Education Development Agent in Burkino Faso. Both of these roles drew me to digital storytelling and development communications as a career path. I wanted to create dialogue through cultural exchange and promote change in international development efforts; the Development Communications Track of AUP’s MA in Global Communications was a fantastic way to achieve that.

What sticks in your mind about the AUP experience?

I enjoyed the small class sizes and how accessible professors were, as well as the practical applications of course material through great on-site experiences like the Sustainable Development Practicum in India. Development communications provided me with a useful toolkit that helps me be adaptable and pragmatic when putting theory into practice. I was encouraged toward a deeper level of exploration, which challenged my preconceived notions of how development work happens. I use these skills in my work whenever I feel stuck. The ability to reflect and be critical about my own approaches allows me to be creative and move projects forward. 

Your early career was environment-focused...

I worked for Unis-Cité, a French organization advancing national youth service, for a while, before finding a role geared towards environmental issues: working for the UN as a Communication for Development Specialist in Guinea, West Africa. It was the perfect job for my degree! The education I received at AUP was so valuable that the UN had open positions for people who’d studied exactly what I had. I worked for a few months on a multimillion-dollar climate adaptation and resilience project...

...and then the pandemic hit... 

The borders were closing. Everyone got sent home. It was 2020, and I hadn’t been back to the US properly since 2013. I spent time in quarantine thinking hard about what I wanted to do next. I decided to work on something with more immediate impact, given the Covid crisis, so I interviewed for a communications position with Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF). It was the middle of the pandemic, but I was still able to move to Haiti to conduct humanitarian work. I was glad to be responding directly to what was happening in the world.

What has your time with MSF taught you?

Initially, during the pandemic, I learned a lot about crisis communications. It was an interesting, if sometimes frightening, experience to confront violence in the five months I was in Haiti. My second mission was to Cameroon. As a neutral party, MSF workers are able to go into areas that others aren’t – but that also comes with risks. After nine months of frontline emergency response work, I took a job with MSF’s climate office.

So things have come full circle?

I’m back working on environmental issues, yeah. I’m the Communications and Fundraising Coordinator for MSF’s Climate-Smart project. It was set up to bear witness to the impacts that climate change is having on the health of our patients, but we soon realized there is also a need to reduce the organization’s own emissions. MSF has an estimated 65,000 people working for it in 72 countries. We have a principle of doing no harm when we respond to emergencies – that has to include not harming the planet too. I’m part of a team of people supporting the organization’s decarbonization work.

What does that work involve?

I am producing communications materials to support decarbonization efforts and also amplifying success stories where they already exist to connect people in different countries so they can share innovation. I spoke at Climate Week in New York City alongside Columbia Climate School, explaining how increased access to environmental data could improve humanitarian action. I’m also concerned with growing eco-anxiety among humanitarian workers; I worked on a podcast with MSF Canada that explored eco-grief in youth.