Inspirational Woman: Philippa White | Founder and CEO, The International Exchange

Philippa White

Meet Philippa White, the Founder and CEO of The International Exchange (TIE), a world-leading international leadership programme for commercial professionals looking for personal and professional growth through experiential purpose-driven learning.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I was born in South Africa and having grown up in Canada, I have always considered myself a global citizen. Following an exchange program in Thailand, I moved to the United Kingdom, where I worked in advertising. 

In 2005, after deciding that those in the private sector are often unable to access their fullest potential when it comes to being both successful members in their field and constructive members of the global community, I moved to Brazil and launched a business on a mission to solve that problem: The International Exchange (TIE). TIE aims to unleash the truest potential of leaders through self-discovery and experiential learning in ways that also positively impacts communities around the world. And I’ve been running the business since.

TIE is a world leading, CPD accredited, international leadership development programme for professionals. We help them broaden horizons, transform and develop by working as part of a cohort to find tangible solutions facing the world’s most impactful social initiatives.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Definitely not. I am 100% one of those people that follows my instincts. And when something feels right, I go for it. And make it happen. It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for 16 years. And counting! I feel like we are just getting started…..

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

So many. I started developing the business plan for TIE in 2004 when sustainability, purpose and shared value weren’t even words used in the commercial world. ESG’s hadn’t been invented yet. And CSR was a tiny division within companies that people still didn’t even know how to embrace.  Even though TIE has always been about helping professionals be and do more, there has always been an emphasis on using their power to then drive change within their business and roles at work, and it’s been a tough journey to communicate that.

I launched TIE in 2007, and then we had the financial crash in 2008.

Things then started to pick up. CEOs told me that our programme was one of the best leadership experiences they had come across. Participants said that the experience had fundamentally changed their lives. Numerous people were promoted following TIE placements. And the impact on NGOs and communities was mind blowing.

Then Covid-19 hit. And like so many others around the world, this hit us big time.

Borders shut. The business model only sent people internationally. And our clients were only corporates. Who, like us, were equally feeling the hit. Overnight, our business model crumbled.

But the need hadn’t gone away. TIE’s NGO partners around the world needed us now more than ever.

I also realised that increasingly people are feeling the desire to create tangible impact, be pushed, and learn in new ways.

I found another way to touch not only corporations, but also individuals with that thirst to be more, whatever their circumstances were, by pivoting to an online offering.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think it would be the quick response to the significant challenges faced because of COVID.  I’ve always talked about necessity being the mother of invention on TIE – with every challenge there is an opportunity.

In March 2020 I had individuals return from Myanmar and Senegal, back to their home countries. Then me and my family caught COVID. And as we all coughed, I was looking at a very serious situation facing me and my business.

I launched a virtual version of the programme in July 2020 that allows leaders to broaden their horizons, burst out of their bubbles whilst virtually impacting the world with what they know and raising their game by putting their skills to the test. 

Private sector skills are vital to making the world better. NGOs need help. CEOs want people that are self-aware, authentic, confident, innovative, empathetic, and can embrace diversity.

I launched our TIE Accelerator programme in August 2020. It is identical to the corporate programme, but for individuals who don’t need/want to be sponsored by their companies.

As a result of this pivot, we have been able to reach more NGOs around the world, and in regions that were impossible previously. Our first virtual group project was with a global team of professionals, using their skills to create a solution to generate income for a human rights NGO in Syria and Iraq, supporting survivors of war and trauma and ISIS in the region. The project generated thousands of dollars, in 6 weeks, all done virtually.

Now more companies can get involved, as people no longer need to leave their companies for 30 days to get involved. It’s all virtual, requires only 2 hours a day, and can be built into people’s busy lives.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I think it’s my positive attitude, and genuinely believing that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I’m also not afraid to take risks, and simply ready to roll up my sleeves and get stuff done.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I think with every single interaction with TIE, I am mentoring people. TIE is all about helping people realise their full potential, and unleash it, in full.

I am also very lucky to say that I have some incredible mentors that help me. I am so truly grateful to Ines Vogler, Nick Hastings, Sir John Hegarty, Jeremy Bullmore, Sir Chris Powell, Paul Steggall, Harry MacAuslan, Charlie Dawson, Jim Carroll and Simon Anholt. They have all been instrumental in the growth and success of TIE over the years.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

People are always trying to change society through politics. But it should be politics that changes through society.

Yes, of course, we should have more women in politics. And more women in positions of power. But, we need them to get there. And THAT is the challenge.

We need to respect and listen to women and girls more in the day-to-day.

We need big decisions to take into consideration their voices. We need empathetic leaders that can put themselves in the shoes of women. And truly understand their realities. 

Young girls need to feel listened to, as that will then ensure we raise more confident girls who will grow up, have better jobs, and then go into politics and positions of power, and then start to make real change.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Growing up, I was called names because I was born in Africa. It didn’t feel great.

But, knowing what I know now – gosh, wasn’t I lucky to come from such a global background! To have family in the UK, in South Africa, having grown up in Canada. 

I experienced, from a very early age, an understanding of different worlds, different people and different cultures.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Until August 2020, the people that TIE reached directly to engage with our programme were the CEOs or the HR directors of companies. We provided leadership development for their people. But it was the CEOs or talent departments that approved the programme.

But now with TIE Accelerator, launched in August 2020, it’s a super exciting opportunity for us to reach the seasoned professionals directly, providing them with an opportunity to expand their horizons, push their boundaries and ultimately feel alive and adventurous again. And they can do it without being sponsored by their companies.

We still work with the corporate, but this addition is a super exciting new chapter for me. But it’s a completely different challenge. Reaching individuals is very different to reaching companies. We are finding our way, but it’s certainly a steep learning curve.

In the future I believe that TIE Accelerator will be a huge part of our business, working with people from all over the world, who are looking to find their mojos, to do more, without putting their lives on hold. Uniting professionals to crack some of these global issues is hugely rewarding, for everyone involved, and I’m just so looking forward to engaging more people. 

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