When we first heard about The International Exchange (TIE), we were immediately impressed and a little scared in equal measure. TIE is a rare and radical thing: a magical combination of social change and personal development, with a difference. This isn’t a series of talks in swanky conference centres: TIE puts you on the ground where you’re needed, testing everything you think you know about the communications industry along the way.

In a sentence, TIE marries the skills of an individual in the communications industry looking to be stretched professionally and personally, with a project in a developing country needing their time and skill (at this point in time TIE’s focus is Brazil). The experience is like no other, as people who’ve taken part so far testify:


Check out more case studies on TIE’s site: they are an inspiration and an education in equal measure.

We’re happy to say BBH has signed up to take part, so we caught up with Philippa White, TIE’s founder, to hear more about the idea.

1. Tell us a bit more about what inspired you to start TIE?

PW: I have always loved the communications industry for the same reasons everyone else does. It’s a fantastic industry full of super fun, intelligent and creative people. However, more often than not I would find myself, and hear others, apologizing for doing what we do. I’m sure most people can relate to the time when you’re chatting with people about the work they do, and after someone says that they are a doctor/social worker/teacher/environmental engineer etc, we then apologetically say that we work in advertising. I have never had a desire to go to medical school, but I still want the opportunity to make a difference with the skills that I have. And I want to feel proud of the industry that I work in. We are working in an incredibly powerful industry, and our skills have the power to make real change. We just need the opportunity. And it was that feeling that initially inspired TIE to be born.

2. Why should an agency / why should an individual get involved?

PW: By sending an employee on a TIE placement, communications companies can prepare them with the competencies they need to advance, the interpersonal realities of global business, as well as increase morale and motivation. Communication professionals get an exposure to, and a better understanding of, bigger picture communication problems, build confidence and self belief in new comms roles and responsibilities, build cross-cultural and cross-discipline understanding and sensitivity, learn more about a BRIC country and how to use creativity and communications with limited resources.

Jim Carroll at BBH adds: “Over recent years, our staff told us they’d prefer a more public and participative approach [to charitable donations]. TIE represents a great example of the type of project we want to pursue. It’s a well run scheme and we can be confident of making a positive impact on the community. We also anticipate that our chosen candidate will develop real leadership skills.”

3. What have been the high points and low points so far?

PW: High points – without a doubt seeing just how much of a difference TIE has made to every single person and organization involved. From the NGO and the local community, to the local agency and local agency employees, to the TIE candidate and the agency back in the UK or US. Every placement to date has been a success in it’s own right, and I just can’t help feeling even more passionate for TIE after each project has taken place. As well, apart from the amazing experiences TIE has given me, it has also opened various doors and brought me into contact with some really incredible people.

Low points: Starting a new business that focuses on leadership development and corporate responsibility for the communications industry in the middle of an economic crisis has been pretty tricky. And the inevitable financial uncertainty has been hard. However, it has taught me to be resilient, to have courage in my convictions and to smile in the face of adversity.

4.  What are your plans for the future?

PW: TIE’s vision is to bring together people, cultures and ideas from around the world to change lives and transform organizations and societies. TIE hopes to be the global network of communications professionals dedicated to making high-quality communications services available to NGOs and social projects around the world to help alleviate poverty and exclusion, whilst developing future company leaders. Once there proves to be a big enough demand on the communications company side, we hope to expand our NGO operations to North East Africa. We are already expanding our agency operations to the US.

5.  Are there restrictions – for example, to apply as an individual does your company have to sign up first? And does each project run consecutively?

PW: In order for communications professionals to get involved they do need to be sponsored by their particular company. And their company needs to buy into the idea this is a leadership development opportunity and work it into their current personal development & CR company strategy.

The agency may pick out their rising stars and put them on a TIE placement so that they can develop their talent in ways that regular training courses just wouldn’t do. Other companies offer TIE up as a competition. Various people apply, and the company will then send a handful of people per year.

There is a fee to get involved with TIE, and this is covered by the agency. At the moment agencies are sending anywhere from 1 – 3 people a year, and once those people are chosen, we then match them with the appropriate project that suits their personal and professional skill set.

A typical timeline (from announcing TIE within the company to candidate arriving in country) takes around 6 months.

Check out the photos below and find out more about TIE here

Conceição das Criolas photo montage courtesy of Matt Oxley
Conceição das Criolas photo montage courtesy of Matt Oxley
Photos courtesy of Matt Oxley
Photos courtesy of Matt Oxley
Photo courtesy of Anna Bradfield, in Recife, Brazil
Photo courtesy of Anna Bradfield, in Recife, Brazil