Alumni Profile: Keya Saxena ’15 uses communication to help developing nations

Keya SaxenaStory by Jeff Collet

To Keya Saxena, communication is more than just a job. It’s a tool to solve problems creatively in developing nations.

A native of India, Saxena moved to the United States to enroll in the UO School of Journalism and Communication’s Media Studies Master’s program — her second master’s degree. Since graduation, she’s been working for the United Nations (UN), first in Switzerland, and now back in her home country.

Along the way, she has checked experiential boxes across the communication spectrum, from corporate communication and communication research to television production, content development, travel writing, and social marketing. As the winner of the UO’s Outstanding Master's Student Teaching Award during her time at the SOJC, she also added educator — a role she hopes to return to someday — to her resumé.

Saxena’s diverse skill set was no accident. She says that seeking out a variety of opportunities and responsibilities has helped her survey the options available across industries so she could find the path where she could make the most impact. Through it all she has been motivated by a supportive family and a strong network of mentors and colleagues.

Today, Saxena works as a program communication consultant with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in India. Although she says she may be moving out of the experimentation stage of her early career, she’s eager to continue finding communication roles that allow her to innovate in response to change.

Tell us about your role with the UNFPA and how you got there.

I work in the unit of advocacy, communication and partnerships and broadly look at communication-led innovations.

Communication for development, also commonly called “C4D,” has been my interest throughout my academic journey. The term basically refers to the freedom to get creative and think about how communication can be used to mitigate and resolve the gaps that are impeding our projects. With new technologies coming out almost every day, it’s intriguing to situate them in a humanitarian context and ascertain how they can aid development programs.

After completing my undergraduate degree in journalism from University of Delhi, I went on to pursue a master’s in development communication from Jamia Millia Islamia University, where my research focus was information and communication technology, especially in the context of gender. Studying for my second graduate degree in media studies at the SOJC further consolidated my theoretical grounding on the subject. After graduating from UO, I moved to Geneva, Switzerland, and started to work with the International Labor Office. It was a foot in the door to the United Nations, and I eventually moved on to UNFPA India.

What are some of the unique communication challenges faced by an intergovernmental organization like the UNFPA?

Since UNFPA works with numerous stakeholders such as the government, development partners, corporates, NGOs and the community, reaching a consensus gets time consuming. But I think the process is more democratic, as every entity gets to participate on a platform that is receptive to their ideas and opinions.

You came to the SOJC specifically to study under Professor H. Leslie Steeves. Why were you inspired to move across the world to work with her?

During graduate school in India, the book “Communication for Development in the Third World,” co-authored by Leslie, was a prescribed reading for us. I was enamored by it, especially the easy comprehensibility of such a complex and nuanced subject. Propelled by my inclination for development communication and that brilliant book, I wrote to her and expressed my desire to study under her guidance. She responded and encouraged me to apply. I did and got her as my advisor for the entire duration of my MA. I got my fan moment!

Tell us about your experience in the Media in Ghana program.

I had never experienced another developing country other than India and was excited to live in Accra, Ghana’s capital. I interned with an organization named the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre and was associated with a project that used mobile phones to address sexual violence against girls.

After the first month, I realized a similarity between India and Ghana in several aspects, such as economy —big chunks of both countries have an unorganized economy — and culture. The hustle-bustle of the traffic, street hawkers, and bargaining at craft markets was all familiar! 

Did you have any other unique experiences or opportunities at the SOJC you might not have found elsewhere?

The opportunities for intellectual stimulation were tremendous. I was lucky to have had some great and meaningful conversations with professors like Gabriela Martínez and Chris Chávez who have undoubtedly played important parts in shaping my academic perspective and thought process.

Additionally, I think leading my own discussion lab and teaching Gender, Media and Diversity in the final year was a great opportunity. In fact, it has seeped into my professional skill set, and now I always try to include a strong intersectional component in my work.    

You’ve expressed a desire to return to teaching in the future. What draws you to teaching?

Intense intellectual stimulation draws me to teaching! I never had a single moment of dullness. It was fulfilling to have discussions about topics that interested me and the students. Also, teaching classes that predominantly included American students was a learning experience, as I learned how and what they think about issues related to diversity and media. Until a couple of months after I graduated from the SOJC, I used to stumble upon media examples and think, "Interesting! I'll show this to my students and find out what they think!" It took some time to realize that I do not teach anymore.

What advice do you have for folks who are considering graduate studies at the SOJC?

Just go for it! The faculty members are wonderful, and quite a few of them hold leadership positions at international associations pertaining to media and communication. You get to learn from the best! Also, the UO campus is terrific, with so much lush greenery and peace that it is the ideal location to pursue graduate studies without any distraction.


Jeff Collet is going into his second year as a graduate student in the SOJC’s Portland-based Multimedia Journalism Master’s program. He has been a content creator for the SOJC Communication Office in Portland since November 2017. Jeff studied visual communication design as an undergraduate at Western Oregon University. Prior to that, he served over nine years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves as a combat photographer/videographer and multimedia illustrator. See more of his work at jeffcollet.com and follow him on Instagram @colletasyouseeit.