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Student Georgia Anderson on the Executive Strategic Communication Program’s Impact on Her Career and Dubai Expo 2020 Contributions

Georgia Anderson, a student in Columbia University’s Executive Strategic Communication program, is the Communications Director at OPEN Interactive Global (OIG), a full service creative agency headquartered in Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis. Anderson and her team at OIG were recently commissioned to offer creative direction for the visitor experience at the Saint Kitts and Nevis Pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020. In a local contest, students were asked to paint a picture of their homeland for the diverse audience at Expo 2020. OIG helped bring these concepts to life by crafting the accompanying narrative and organizing the imagery on both the inside and outside facades of the Saint Kitts and Nevis Pavillion. Dubai Expo 2020 has attracted a record 192 countries, and is forecasted to cater to 25 million visitors over the course of the six months exhibition.  

Anderson discussed how the Executive Strategic Communication program has given her a competitive edge at this stage of her successful career.  

Why did you choose the Executive M.S. in Strategic Communication program at Columbia? 

Columbia always stood in my mind as a place for world class communication or journalism education. Some of my friends from undergraduate school in Kenya went to Columbia Journalism School, and I saw the impact this had on their careers. I was looking for a program that would supplement my communications industry knowledge, and provide me with sound academic frameworks and best practices, as well as a strong foundation behind my work.  

Tell us about your career journey. 

I formally started my communications career 13 years ago as a reporter at K24, a television station in Nairobi, Kenya. I worked alongside a team of reporters researching, pursuing story leads, conducting interviews, and packaging news items for the business segment of the 9 p.m. news bulletin. 

My journalism experience led to a career in Public Relations, first as a sports PR consultant, managing communications activities around client-sponsored golf tournaments. 

In 2012, I joined the Nairobi office of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, the renowned American global PR consultancy headquartered in New York. I was part of the Financial Practice team, engaging in strategic communications efforts to support brand awareness for several notable IPOs and M&As in Africa. While there, I was also a pro bono consultant for the inaugural festival, Nai Ni Who?, an initiative of the GoDown Arts Centre to showcase Nairobi as a metropolis of many diverse cultures, and transform its various neighborhoods into platforms for history journeys and celebration of the people and their culture.

Later, I joined Tell-em PR East Africa where, in partnership with FTI Consulting (UK), I led the research and stakeholder engagement part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s financial inclusion project in Kenya. Other clients that I worked with include Visa Inc., EY (then Ernst and Young), and Oracle Corporation. 

Presently, I am the Communications Director at OPEN Interactive Global, providing strategic communications counsel to public and private sector clients. In 2020, our team contributed to the successful re-election of Team Unity Party, led by Prime Minister Dr. The Honorable Timothy Harris, in a truly unique campaign challenged with COVID-19 restrictions. We activated new voter blocs by leveraging the power of digital communications platforms.  

I continue to work to position Saint Kitts and Nevis as a viable investment destination through strategic communication and sound event management. Some of the ways my team and I have showcased the island to potential economic citizens include conceptualizing and organizing the Caribbean Investment Summit in 2018 and 2019 as well as production and launch of The Saint Kitts & Nevis Citizen magazine, a national guide into life on the East Caribbean island. 

Tell us about your creative agency and your day-to-day leading the agency. 

OPEN Interactive Global (OIG) is a creative agency headquartered in Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis. As one of the first full-service agencies in the region, we have provided services aimed at elevating GDP drivers, digital transformation, and nation branding for countries in the OECS region. Some of our past and current clients include, amongst others, the Saint Kitts and Nevis government, as well as its ministries and statutory bodies such as Health, Education, Transport, Inland Revenue Department and the Cable Saint Kitts.  

For small island nations attracting foreign direct investment has been both a challenge and an opportunity. For instance, with the collapse of the sugar industry and the strain on the economy to try and maintain the ailing sector, Saint Kitts and Nevis needed to pivot to stay afloat. In the absence of oil, gas, and other lucrative offerings, the tiny twin-island nation invites investors to share in its most precious asset, its heritage. In 1984, Saint Kitts and Nevis pioneered Citizenship by Investment, which involves a path to citizenship for eligible applicants purchasing real estate or contributing to government development funds. For the past five years, OPEN Interactive Group has worked with the Saint Kitts and Nevis Citizenship by Investment Unit, constantly exploring new and innovative approaches to nation branding for foreign direct investment.  

As economic and political events worldwide continue to rapidly transform local and regional realities, the need for greater mobility, access, and stability has never been more important. Citizenship by investment is an ideal gateway to the world for individuals and families searching for secondary citizenship. The Saint Kitts and Nevis Citizenship by Investment Programme is the world’s oldest program and the platinum standard for economic citizenship making it highly sought after. OIG created the Citizenship Calculator for the Saint Kitts and Nevis CBI Unit, which was instrumental in shifting the power to the investor through transparent price quotations. It is through our successful work in support of the government over the years that our agency was asked to join the organizing committee for the Saint Kitts and Nevis Pavilion at Expo2020 in Dubai, UAE. 

With an expected 25M visitors to Expo 2020, the Saint Kitts and Nevis Pavilion is an excellent way to expose the world to one of the most pristine and beautiful islands in the world and to share the island's journey to self-reliance and sustainability. The visitor experience takes guests through spaces dedicated to culture, history, and unique investment offerings of the federation. 

We live in a global world where size does not matter, but rather, impact does. The small island of Saint Kitts and Nevis takes on other larger economies at Expo 2020, leveraging the opportunity to align all the sectors of their economy into one cohesive showcase. I believe small and medium brands can learn from our Saint Kitts and Nevis display. It starts with showing up, benchmarking against global standards and utilizing best practices in whichever industry you’re involved in. Lead with empathy, develop your brand story, and evaluate your position by listening to what the consumer voice says about your brand. 

Are there specific classes, professors, resources or connections that were the most impactful to you?

I develop communication strategies for a living and I have been able to apply learnings from Alexandra Merceron’s Strategic Communication Management class. Learning how to define audiences and employing SMART objectives as part of deliberate brand management activities has been key. 

Hayley Berlent’s Purpose Driven Communication course critically examines corporate social responsibility from the perspective of brands looking to defend their market share, connect with new audiences, or add a competitive edge. I have been able to present corporate social frameworks to clients in both private and public sectors after taking this fantastic class. 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a hot topic presently and brands not paying attention are losing out. Dr. Cindy Pace, who is the Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at MetLife, taught my Inclusive Leadership course. It was very helpful in learning how to navigate biases and create spaces where everyone feels valued and respected, a necessary skill in today’s unique business environment.  

Ethan McCarty’s Activating Employees course gave me the frameworks I needed to effectively manage different teams. Knowing how to segment your audience and communicate with them based on their unique fears, hopes and motivations is a real game-changer in business.  

When the Saint Kitts and Nevis Ministry of Health commissioned our agency OPEN Interactive Group to design a campaign to promote COVID-19 vaccine adoption on the island, I borrowed from the principles taught in Mark Truss’s Communication Research and Insights class. It was important to first determine existing perceptions about the vaccine before developing a strategy. An island-wide survey was instrumental in gathering key insights that shaped actionable strategy and tactics. In the end, consumer fears continue to be quelled and the Ministry of Health has so far recorded a 50% vaccination rate in the country with a population of 52,800. 

At the core of all our communication activities are words and expressions that must resonate with our audiences or else meaning is not transferred. What Anne Witkawitch’s Compelling Communicator course taught me is confidence in spoken communication. I learned how to be influential and persuasive through the use of simple and clear language, framing the message and incorporating different channels to convey the same.  

The Columbia University Library was an invaluable resource, and provided depths of information and insights in the form of books, research journals, and articles. My executive cohort classmates are some of the most talented critical thinkers I have ever met. It was a joy learning from each other, pushing and motivating each other through the challenges of COVID-19 and remote learning. Further, my mentor Kai D. Wright, a Columbia Lecturer who taught me about personal branding, the power of identifying your superpowers and leveraging them in your narrative, was crucial to my experience. 

Do you have any advice for students interested in pursuing similar leadership roles in communications?

My advice is to combine on-the-job experiences with sound academic principles as taught in the Strategic Communication Program. That formal training on various disciplines and frameworks is invaluable. In addition, it’s an opportunity to learn from top-rated faculty who are also industry experts.

Learn more about Columbia’s Executive M.S. in Strategic Communication program