European Commission Official, United Nations Advisor, Lieutenant of the UN Peacekeeping Troops, Knight of the French National Order of Merit. TEDxLUISS speaker and LUISS-graduate Marina Catena, current Director of the UN World Food Programme in Paris, moved the crowd with one of the day’s most intense talks.
Recipient of a full-ride scholarship, Marina had international ambitions from the moment she stepped foot on campus. After attending the prestigious United World College in Duino, “a true melting pot of races, religions and cultures,” she came to LUISS to study Political Science. “All my memories of Rome involve the university. From the reading rooms to the Rouge et Noir residence for scholarship recipients and out-of-town students in Pietralata. We lived together, we studied together, and we grew together. During those years, I made important, long-lasting friendships, like that with Giovanni Lo Storto, the current General Manager of LUISS.
During her time at LUISS, Marina also had her first international experiences thanks to one of the first Erasmus programs in Italy. “I owe a lot to Professor of International Law Angela Del Vecchio whose forward-thinking approach saw enormous potential in Erasmus, despite a lack of information during that time. When I left for the Institut d'études politiques in Strasbourg, it was still a pioneer program. I didn’t know what courses I would take or if they would be recognized when I came back. It was a real adventure!
After her Erasmus experience, LUISS graduation, and her first job as a flight attendant for Air France, (she recalls, “I sometimes showed up on campus still wearing my uniform, having just come back on a flight from Japan or India") Marina was selected to intern at the European Commission. While in Brussels, she had a chance meeting that would change her life with the founder of Médecins sans frontières, Bernard Kouchner. “During that time I was working with Emma Bonino, at the time the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid. It was during the conflicts in the Balkans, and this meeting with Kounchner transformed my passion for humanitarian work into a career. I worked with the EC Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection for seven years, until February 1999 when war broke out in Kosovo and Koucher asked me to accompany him as a special advisor in Pristina.”
Marina has acted as a peacekeeper in many lands and many uniforms. Her first experience was as a civilian for the United Nations in Kosovo. “A civilian peacekeeper picks up the pieces after a war. For two years my mission was to take care of the people of Kosovo and to make sure that initiatives were run correctly: from surveying the population of a destroyed village to fundraising for the construction of new houses and schools.” After joining the Italian Army Reserves in 2005, she was sent on a peacekeeping mission to Lebanon in the summer of 2007. “I was a political advisor to the Commanding General, giving advice for delicate, important decisions regarding operations and the impact on the population. Todays so-called asymmetrical conflicts require both humanitarian intervention and peacekeeping troops.”
One of the guiding quotes of her life comes from Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, founding fathers of the European Union: “Nothing is possible without men, but nothing is lasting without institutions.” After having worked for institutions like the United Nations, the European Union and the Italian Army, Marina believes that it is important to work as a single active agent, even from inside important organizations. “I have always had enormous respect for institutions and I have always wanted to be an innovator from within them. For example, although it seem contradictory to simultaneously be an Army official and a humanitarian worker, in today’s conflicts it isn’t. Being a female soldier meant being part of a transformation of a predominantly masculine world like that of the Army and demonstrating the value of involving women in peacekeeping operations.”
Marina is currently involved in a new battle: the World Food Programme’s 805 Million Names campaign with international soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “I personally saw to contacting the champion. Our lives have nearly crossed paths several times. While organizing the charity game between Paris Saint Germain and Olympique Marseille for the humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic, I was invited to do the ceremonial first kick, where I found myself next to Ibrahimovic. I then sent him a proposal: help the WFP spread the message that there are 805 million people suffering from hunger in the world today. He was really enthusiastic about the project, but we decided to work on it in secret. Since the campaign’s launch last February in Paris, we have had over 18 million views and a number of awards from all over the world.”
The campaign’s theme is also that of Marina’s TEDxLUISS talk: the concept of using names to tell life stories. “My life is made up of memories, experiences and anecdotes that connect people to their names. My name is my guiding light, an instinct that leads me in all that I things I do and have done. Events like TEDxLUISS give me hope that there are still people other there that believe in what they do. LUISS is an excellent boot camp to prepare students to lead successful careers, where success means making your dreams come true and making the world a better place. LUISS, for me, was a trampoline and an amazing educational experience.”