Thank you to everyone who nominated questions to ask founder and managing director of The International Exchange, Philippa White.

After 5 years of working in the world of major advertising agencies, Philippa ventured off to Brazil to start The International Exchange (TIE). With the goal of empowering NGOs and providing communications professionals a different view on life, TIE pairs NGOs in developing nations with a communications professional from abroad to see what they can accomplish together.

We received a host of thoughtful nominations for questions and selected 5 to ask Philippa, here are her responses:

Could you give us an example of a particularly strong communications campaign by an NGO?

Good communications needs to cut through, be easily understood, be creative, work within the client’s budget, and most of all, get results. And a good campaign can include one, some or all of the following: PR, press, digital, outdoor, TV, Radio, ambient communications…and the list goes on. We recently came across a civil liberties campaign that was recently worked into a Pet Shop Boys song. It explores contemporary media, utilizing multi broadcast channels, and invites participation. We don’t necessarily agree or disagree with the subject matter, but we do think it’s a clever idea and a fantastic use of media to communicate a message.

The Swiss-based not-for-profit organization ACT Responsible has been collecting global advertising that 'promotes responsible communication on sustainability, equitable development and social responsibility' to highlight how the creativity of advertising professionals can be used to address the world's problems. You can see the ads here.

We also thought these ones by MTV were particularly good (slightly controversial but certainly make an impact).

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“2,863 dead
 40 million infected worldwide. The world united against terrorism. It should do the same against AIDS.”

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“2,863 dead 
630 million homeless people in the world. The world united against terrorism. It should do the same against poverty.”

It is also important to point out that there is a real difference between commercial and public service advertising (PSA). Designing and assessing PSA often involves different methods, different goals, and different measures of effectiveness from those of commercial advertising. Where product advertisement might aim to create a positive attitude to a brand and stimulate purchasing behavior, a health education PSA is aiming to elicit more significant and complicated messages. Using traditional advertising approaches for PSA can often lead to discrimination, stigma, and misinformation.

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A great example is the ad above. Although it communicates the message ‘condoms keep you firm, fresh and healthy’, as well as ticks the boxes of being shocking, stands out in a magazine, and was probably fairly affordable to make, what does it say about those people living with HIV? It suggests they are spoiled, damaged, makes them feel ashamed and stigmatized. Therefore, when creating any message for an NGO, it’s important to keep these issues in mind. See the third question to understand how we work to avoid these sorts of things happening on our TIE placements.

How is TIE fairing in this current economic climate, and what does the program offer to communications professionals in light of these recent financial shifts in both the market and the industry?

The global recession has taught us that financial systems need to change, but so does the way in which companies in general interface with society, and understand their responsibilities to it. Social challenges are now growing, and adding to the already existing challenges of hunger, poverty, HIV & AIDS and climate change. And, the links between business and society, and between developed and developing worlds, are now closer than ever.

The crisis has certainly slowed TIE’s growth, but it has also brought many of these issues to the forefront. Which we think is a good thing. We are working in an incredibly powerful industry, and our industry has the power to make real change. But, to make that change, we have to understand the real issues at hand. Those businesses and professionals that succeed will need to understand how to meet the real needs of people and respect the real problems of society, rather than single-mindedly pursuing profits.

The current situation has also meant that many agencies are now working with less money. Budgets are being cut and as a result we have to be more creative and explore new ways of connecting with people outside of the main media channels. TIE provides professionals with an opportunity to gain exposure to and a better understanding of bigger picture communication problems, build confidence to take on new roles and responsibilities within communications, build cross-cultural and cross-discipline understanding and sensitivity, and learn how to use creativity and communications with limited resources.

So, yes, the world has shifted, but we feel as though TIE can help inspire our leaders, help them understand all of these issues (both within the communications world and beyond) and equip them with the skills to succeed in these new times.

Listening is sometimes far more important than trying to implement "our" way, how do you teach communications professionals working in a foreign culture to listen before acting?

Listening and observing are both essential to the success of TIE placements. Before the candidate’s placement begins, there is an orientation day at home, and then another one in-country. These are a crucial part of the TIE process as they help the communications professionals understand the cultural differences and ways of working in another culture. We try and instill an attitude of learning (before acting). By listening and observing, rather than judging, they can better understand the differences from their normal working environment and work ethics, which can create areas of tension. The professionals are encouraged to reflect on their own culture, and consider their approach and attitude to other people whose cultural norms, values and beliefs, and working practices may be very different. Exploring the rationale for these differences they are better able to suspend judgment, see their world through a different lens, and appreciate the value of others through listening and observing.

It’s also important for the candidates to understand the power and influence they bring to their working environment, sometimes unwittingly. We emphasize the sharing of knowledge & skills, and the importance of building relationships and involving and empowering all stakeholders throughout the process – especially the most marginalized. This will ensure that they approach each situation as mutual learning, recognizing local expertise being as important as their own expert skill-set. Working in this way will minimize the risk of creating work such as the Banana Ad above.

The principle of “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” (Stephen Covey) is the foundation of the cultural orientations. They are practical, interactive, offer experiential learning, challenge stereotypes, raise awareness of differences and where necessary, provide coping strategies.

If all goes according to plan, what will TIE look like 15 years from now?

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 around the world to help alleviate poverty and exclusion.

How can an individual, not affiliated with a major advertising agency, contribute to TIE and what is the first step to start with?

At the moment, in order for communications professionals to get involved in a TIE placement, they do need to be sponsored by their particular agency. But, next year we are hoping that we will be in a position to offer opportunities to people that aren’t affiliated with an agency. This would be a different service offering to that of TIE, but would allow individuals to volunteer in some way. The best thing to do is sign up for our sorta monthly news updates, and you can keep abreast of what we’re up to.

In the mean time, another way to get involved could be helping us with some of our communications needs directly. We have a few volunteers working with us from a communications point of view at the moment (all virtual assistance), but for us this is absolutely invaluable help! If you can see a way that you could help us, please, don’t hesitate to get in touch. One of our major hurdles at the moment is simply getting the TIE word out. So communications support which will be industry facing would make a huge difference.

Up next: What would you ask Valerie Casey, founder of the Designers Accord? Nominate your questions by July 28.

Posted July 24, 2009