Home>Leona, Communication & Knowledge Management Expert, FAO, Papua New Guinea


Leona, Communication & Knowledge Management Expert, FAO, Papua New Guinea


Leona Liu-Van Looveren has graduated in International Security, with concentrations on Global Risks and Asia. Coming from the USA, she has an undergraduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in the U.S.A. After her Master’s degree, she worked in strategic communications at Danone’s headquarters in Paris, France, for their carbon and sustainability funds (Livelihoods Venture) as their bilingual English & French Director of Communications. Since then, she has continued merging her dual passions of international development and storytelling for a number of international organizations, including the United Nations. She is currently working as the Communications & Knowledge Management Expert for the Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations (FAO) in Papua New Guinea.

What are your main responsibilities?

My main work tasks include promoting visibility and outreach on FAO's technical work on forestry, climate change and biodiversity in Papua New Guinea through creative storytelling and communications, particularly in regard to its work on the country’s first-ever Multi-Purpose National Forestry Inventory (NFI). Papua New Guinea (PNG) houses the third largest tropical rainforest after the Amazon and Congo Basin and 7% of the Earth’s biodiversity. Yet despite their global significance, PNG’s forests are poorly documented due to the remote nature of its jungles and lack of previous research funding. With the development of its NFI, PNG will be able to gather important information on its unique biodiversity and accurately estimate greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. This will help PNG meet its international climate change reporting commitments under the Paris Agreement.

My work scope covers strategic communications, content creation and creative storytelling, strategic partnerships and outreach with donors and partners, as well as capacity-building. Currently, I'm drafting and developing a communications strategy for a Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded project on sustainable production landscapes and their interface with local livelihoods and biodiversity in PNG’s Western and Eastern Highlands provinces.

Capacity-building is another major component of my job. I led and facilitated a communications and knowledge management capacity-building workshop in PNG earlier this year teaching participants effective visual storytelling and knowledge management techniques. It was attended by Papua New Guineans working for the Government and international organizations including the European Union Delegation to PNG, British High Commission to PNG, PNG Forest Authority (PNGFA), Climate Change and Development Authority (CCDA), Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority (CEPA), Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL) and the Eastern Highlands Provincial Government of PNG. As a direct result of this workshop, a Communications Working Group led by FAO was inaugurated to foster greater collaboration between the attending organizations.

One of my first tasks upon arrival at my duty station was to direct, produce and gather compelling impact stories in the field. I was thrilled about this assignment as I love storytelling. I spent the first half of my career as a Paris-based correspondent and producer for news media including Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Reuters, Radio France International and France 24. When you are a trained journalist, you can sniff out a good story a mile away. Stories are extremely important for impactful communications because facts and figures alone don’t move an audience, emotions and memorable characters do. It’s vital to show donors and partners how their contributions are making a real difference. It keeps us accountable, and our motivation as a team high when we see the significant impact our work is having on the ground. 

I’m extremely proud of the fact that FAO is supporting 50 countries – including PNG – to establish National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS) by providing technical support and technology, like its suite of open-source digital tools under FAO’s Open Foris initiative. To date, Open Foris has helped over 200,000 people in 196 countries to improve their forest data.

Increasing visibility around the importance of PNG’s forests is my key objective. Not many people are aware of the fact that PNG's forests represent one of the most vital reserves of carbon and biodiversity in the world. With funding for 54.7 million Euros, the recently launched European Union funded Forestry-Climate Change-Biodiversity Nexus (EU-FCCB) Support Programme for PNG is the EU's most ambitious forest-related programs anywhere in the world. It's testament to the significant role that this Pacific Island nation can play in terms of international climate diplomacy. The FAO is one of the key implementation partners of the EU-FCCB project, alongside Expertise France and the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry Centre (CIFOR-ICRAF).

How did you prepare for this job?

I have no doubt that my degree prepared me well for it. Sciences Po is a great name to have on your resume in the world of international development and is widely recognized. In addition, we have a powerful global alumni network. In fact, the Project Manager from Expertise France based in PNG working on the EU-FCCB project is also a fellow alumnus of Sciences Po PSIA. We were thrilled when we discovered we shared the same alma mater!   

What is the most fascinating part of your job?

The most fascinating part of my job is the subject matter. I was drawn to studying international relations at Sciences Po for the same reason that I was drawn to journalism- to learn more about our amazing world. I am someone who is eternally curious! What I love most about this assignment is the privilege of working in a place that is largely inaccessible to the general public. Very few people go to PNG, as tourism is not yet very developed there. It is often called the “last frontier” and continues to capture our popular imagination (and for good reason!). It is a place that is endlessly fascinating, exotic, colorful and vibrant. Its remote jungles are home to numerous indigenous tribes with 800 distinct languages and cultures. 

In addition, I love that my job requires me to be actively out in the field interacting with local communities rather than isolated away in an office. I spent nearly a week camping out in the jungles with FAO and PNG’s Forest Authority for the films I produced on the National Forest Inventory. Waking up to the incredible sounds of Mother Nature, trekking through pristine jungle and seeing the iconic Birds of Paradise in the wild are memories I will treasure forever.

How did your PSIA experience contribute to the position you hold today?

My education at PSIA was instrumental in contributing to my career in international development. First off, most positions within the United Nations require an advanced degree (Master’s level or above). While some positions will accept work experience in lieu of an advanced degree, it is more favorable to have a Master’s degree from a reputable institution.

More importantly, PSIA introduced me to the world of international relations and gave me the confidence to pursue the childhood dream of mine to work for the United Nations. My 3rd semester internship placement was at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at their headquarters in Paris, France, which familiarized me with the workings of the UN and confirmed my desire to work for a multilateral organization. This experience led me to apply for another UN position down the line as the Asia-Pacific Regional Communications & Knowledge Management Specialist for the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD Programme) in Bangkok, Thailand, which I held from 2018-2020.

Lastly, I want to credit Sciences Po with honing my strategic critical thinking skills and supporting me to become completely fluent in French (C1 level). As one of the six official UN languages, my French skills have been extremely useful for my career. If you have the chance, take Advanced French with Mme Arielle Bernadac-Desprat. She is amazing! All the professors at PSIA are incredibly knowledgeable, but my favorite class was probably with Alvaro de Soto, the UN Under-Secretary-General from 1999-2007 and a Peruvian diplomat and renowned international mediator who led the negotiations that brought an end to the war in El Salvador. 

What advice would you give to current students?

Your time as a PSIA student is precious! Use it to learn as much as you can and try out different things! This is your time to experiment and find out what you’re truly passionate about. I would recommend taking advantage of the semester internship placement to get out of your comfort zone and go out in the field if you can. I did my internship at UNESCO in Paris, which was extremely valuable, but in hindsight, I think I would have loved to go somewhere really off-grid doing front-line humanitarian work. I had a friend from PSIA who did his internship placement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, helping refugees and it sounded amazing. Remember, you're freer when you're younger without too much responsibility (kids, etc.) so get out there and explore the world while you can! I also recommend that you take advantage of building your network and friendships. My classmates at PSIA have all gone on to do incredible things- working for their governments as diplomats or on behalf of international development organizations working on important global issues like climate change and human rights. It’s a privilege to know and befriend such a diverse and international group of brilliant changemakers.