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Careers in Cocoa takes a look at some of the different backgrounds of those who make up the World Cocoa Foundation. From the work they do, to the paths they took to get where they are today, learn about our team, and how they are using their skills and experiences to further WCF’s mission. This is the first piece in a five-part series.
Alex Ferguson, the Vice President for Communications and Membership at the World Cocoa Foundation, has always looked for purpose in his career.
“I like the World Cocoa Foundation because it has a strong mission—on livelihoods, on child labor, on deforestation,” he said.
Before he joined the Foundation, Alex was a journalist and worked at the World Bank. He became interested in journalism during his childhood in Austria and England.
“It was sparked by the book Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell in which he describes the Spanish civil war,” he said.
Alex’s most thrilling experience as a journalist was reporting for Reuters on the unification of Germany in 1990. He later lived in Cyprus and covered Africa and the Middle East before moving to the United States to end his journalism career as the Washington News Editor for Reuters. “That was an exciting time with the disputed Bush-Gore election, the attacks of 9/11, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
After 20 years in journalism, Alex felt ready for something new.
Alex got a job as the communications officer to the CFO at the World Bank, where the strong mission on fighting poverty spoke to him. He entered the Bank with the idea that all you needed was a Bachelor’s degree in Modern History, but was surprised to find that most of his colleagues had PhDs.
So Alex completed an MA called “War In The Modern World” through distance-learning at his alma mater, King’s College London, an institution recognized for its war studies department.
Alex feels that the degrees have translated well to his career.
“The degrees give you a lot of context on how people make decisions and how decisions go wrong or need to be revised,” he said. “They also give you a lot of context on crises.”
Speaking of crises, he said, he’s currently reading a book on the Spanish flu of 1918.
“History doesn’t repeat itself but, as Mark Twain said, it certainly rhymes,” Alex said. “You do find lessons in history, but you have to be very cautious in applying them because every situation is different.”
Alex points to three major things he’s learned during his career. The first is the technical skillset he gained from his time at Reuters—“reputation risk assessment, the ability to message, and the ability to write and express things clearly.”
The second is the diplomacy he learned from being a communications advisor to the president of The World Bank—“the ability to influence others.”
The third is the skill of management, which Alex learned from managing 60 people at Reuters and 35 people at the World Bank, across different time zones and difficult conditions.
“Those experiences are the ones that really have an application for the work I’m doing now at the Foundation.”
So how did he end up at the World Cocoa Foundation?
Alex knew about the World Cocoa Foundation because its president, Rick Scobey, had come from the World Bank. Looking into it, Alex was drawn to the strong mission statement of the Foundation and interested in the way it operated.
“It spans the world of government relations, private sector relations, civil society and farming communities,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do there.”
Alex has had a long, fulfilling career, largely due to his readiness to move to the next opportunity. What advice does he have for people feeling stuck in their jobs?
“The world is very good at trying to tell you that everybody has a direction, and that knowing what to do next is really important,” he said. “I think that’s wrong. It’s quite natural not to know what to do next.”
If you think it might be time to move, Alex has simple advice.
“Go and talk to people about what you are interested in and think hard about what you might want to enjoy next,” he said. “That’s really the bedrock of working out what to do next.”
Alex has a content mindset when he looks back on his career.
“Life should be a series of positive memories, and you won’t get varied memories unless you go out and experience them.”