Originally published at Authority Magazine. Available here.

December 27th, 2021

Philippa White Of The International Exchange (TIE): Why We Need More Women Founders & Here Is What We Are Doing To Make That Happen

I can’t believe in this day and age it is still so difficult for women to compete in that space. I know a handful of women who are extremely competent, heading up world-changing ventures, and because they are women have struggled significantly when it comes to getting venture capital. It is not an equal playing field, and that needs to change. People need to believe in women, and fund initiatives headed by them.

As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Philippa White. She is 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. Following a hugely successful career in advertising working for some of London’s biggest agencies, Philippa launched CPD-accredited TIE in 2006. Philippa is passionate about bringing out the best in people — their humanity, their ingenuity, their mojo — as she believes it will lead to a better world. TIE cohorts receive experiential learning, helping to effect tangible change by working directly with NGOs globally. Through Philippa’s inspired course design, alumni expand their horizons and push their boundaries. They learn how to step out of siloed thinking, work collaboratively, communicate more effectively, discover their purpose and newfound confidence.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

My name is Philippa, 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. I have always felt that if I can bring out the best in people — their humanity, their ingenuity, their mojo — I believe it will lead to a better world.

So, in 2005, after deciding that those in the private sector not often able to access their fullest potential when it comes to being both successful members of their field and constructive members of their global community, I moved to Brazil and launched 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 personal and professional 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.

I still live in Brazil with my 7 and 11-year-old daughters. And we love to spend weekends hanging out in the Atlantic Forest with friends or exploring local beaches. I also love taking my 35kg German Shorthaired Pointer for a run in the countryside and when possible, spending time with my partner at the small shipyard as he finishes creating his new class of sailing vessel.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Those who go through the TIE programme will often hear “do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you”.

And I would definitely say that I am living proof of this.

Since starting TIE and making a conscious effort to always say “yes”, I feel as though I am forever collecting interesting stories. Through TIE I have some of the world’s most interesting people as advisors and mentors, and after setting up my TIE Unearthed podcast, I have had some of the most extraordinary conversations with some pretty incredible people. Over the years I have found myself walking through favelas, befriending street children, and having to truly understand the lives of transsexual street workers in Brazil so we can help them. Through TIE I’ve helped the President of Malawi position his message for a high-profile UN meeting, and had Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sign a Cleaner Cooking Pledge with Malawi’s Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources so we can provide cleaner cooking solutions for the 2.8 billion people around the world who don’t have access to them. I’ve contracted Zika, Dengue — (4 times) and Chikungunha — and lived to tell the tale. And I’ve been invited to stay at a French Castle, been a guest of honour for a gala evening at the Tower of London, and I’ve been invited to sail in a regatta on the fastest catamaran in Brazil. The name of the boat? Adrenalina Pura (Pure Adrenalin). The stories continue…but only because once you start to do interesting things. Interesting things will continue to happen to you.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think my enthusiasm has helped me get to where I am. I am up for anything, put my heart into everything, and just role up my sleeves and get things done. But, when I was first starting out, I struggled to find that balance between positive enthusiasm, and that really over the top super annoying enthusiasm. I got it wrong sometimes. Okay, many times. And very often tipped into that annoying territory.

When I first started out in my career (before I founded TIE) I worked in advertising and managed to get a job at BBH London — which was a big deal. One of my accounts was headed up by one of the founders of the company, and he was known for being a pretty tough cookie. BBH very kindly offered an evening for all of the new joiners every time a new cohort came on board, and the founders would be there. To my surprise, I was seated in front of the founder who was also heading up the account I was working on. “Just my luck”, I thought. I had recently finished learning loads about the particular piece of business, and this was my chance to show him what I knew. And off I went — talking about stats, my thoughts on things, and everything and anything I could say to really prove myself to him. And once I finished talking, he simply looked at me blankly, and said extremely abruptly “you just need to calm down”. And that was it. My balloon popped. I quickly deflated. And came crashing down to earth. But as you can tell, it stuck with me. I learned a lot from that moment. I was a bit like an over-excited puppy dog. I needed to be more composed. I didn’t need to show off. With time, he would learn my value and what I have to offer. I didn’t need to throw it at him all at once. No one wants that! We are still very close and when I am in London we often meet up. I’m not sure he remembers that moment. But I certainly will never forget it. A lesson I needed to learn.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am very lucky to say that I have some absolutely incredible mentors that have helped me and TIE over the years. I am so truly grateful to Ines Vogeler, 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.

But I will never forget the advice that Jeremy gave me right at the beginning of TIE. I had created the business plan, I had moved to Brazil, and I was about to launch the pilot. I was back in London right before everything was about to kick off and Jeremy took me out for lunch. It was during that lunch he told me a story about penguins.

He looked at me with all seriousness and said. “Do you know what penguins do in the morning?”. I replied saying that I didn’t. He continued. “Well, Philippa, they wake up, and they waddle to the side of the iceberg. And they think to themselves. Am I going to have breakfast this morning? Or am I going to be breakfast this morning?” And with that I looked at Jeremy inquisitively. And he finished by saying, “you don’t want to be breakfast. You have one shot at this pilot. It needs to work”.

I’m happy to say, 16 years later we’re still going. But that lunch definitely stuck with me. And I did everything possible to ensure we weren’t breakfast.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I absolutely adored reading “A Beautiful Constraint” by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden. I read it a while ago. It resonated then, but my goodness, it resonates even more now. The past two years have been, without a doubt, some of the hardest moments that many people have faced. In their lives and in their businesses. But what you learn when times get tough is often what makes you so much better. “Necessity is the mother of invention” is a very popular and widely used phrase, illustrating how constraints, the limitations that impact our ability to do something, can be sources of opportunity. We are living in an ever more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. And for us to adapt, we need to be able to see opportunities, and respond. This book provides so much inspiration and examples of how that has been possible in a number of different situations, and what the outcome was as a result.

We also talk a lot about how the obstacle becomes the way and how the restriction of certain conditions increase our creativity and innovation on TIE. So seeing, yet, other examples of the power of constraints was extremely gratifying.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I absolutely adore this quote: “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity”. Rollo May

And, TIE is all about challenging the status quo, helping people realise they don’t need to conform, and helping them be the changemakers the world needs.

Leadership actually means finding a new direction. Doing things differently and leading the way. We know that companies need to change — especially now. That’s the very thing that will ensure their survival, and the survival of the human race.

So, it gives me enormous gratification to know we are helping people develop that courage, confidence and resilience to push the envelope and do things differently. As we say with TIE — It’s time. Let’s change things!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

To change the world, we need the private and third sectors to come together — and TIE’s mission is to make that possible, whilst ensuring everyone comes out stronger as a result. I also truly believe, the better people are, the better companies will be, and the result is a better world. This is the essence of TIE. And as a result, with every single project and with every single person that goes through the programme, we are making the world a better place.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I think confidence is a big one. That then trickles into the pay gap, and their sense of self-worth, and fighting for what they should earn. I believe a lot of this comes from early on and how girls have been raised. This early education, and perhaps the influence from their spouse later on (who perhaps makes more money, doesn’t feed their confidence, prefers them to be at home etc) feeds into their inability to justify this type of risk. Women’s appetite for risk is different to that of men. And it shouldn’t be. We also have the challenge of leadership styles. There is interestingly also the phenomena of women who manage to make it, but oddly don’t help other women to get there. And then the kicker — children. A mix of maternity leave challenges and then childcare later on as the children grow up. The one who ends up being ultimately responsible for the kids and the home — is the woman. And we know — once the second child arrives, for many women, that is game over for their career. Because let’s face it — life is NOT easy when juggling childcare, children’s busy social lives, running a company, running a house, walking the dog etc. I know, because I live this every day. It’s a marathon from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. To set up a company is gruelling, and if you are expected to be the primary caregiver, it’s not easy. You certainly need to have a lot of confidence, have an appetite for risk, be extremely buttoned-down, have a high tolerance for stress, and have someone to help at home.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

TIE is a unique experiential personal development programme, the only one that ignites people’s humanity, ingenuity, mojo and purpose. By taking people into the unknown we challenge them in unique ways, which results in helping them to reveal the best version of themselves.

To get involved with our programme everyone needs to fill out an application which includes a short letter of intent. People explain what has drawn them to us, and what they hope to get out of the programme.

We have a lot of women that get involved with TIE (more women than men interestingly), and I’m always amazed at the number of women that are getting involved because they want to feel more valued. They suffer a lack of confidence and want to feel stronger. They want to know that the skills they have has meaning in the grand scheme of things. They want to feel passionate again. See the power they have at their fingertips.

And I’ve thought a lot about this.

We only work with high-level professionals, and our programme is structured as an even playing field. However, it’s interesting that we see women take on leadership roles that they might not normally be offered in their working life — and they simply thrive. From TIE’s point of view, we don’t necessarily specifically help women to become founders. What we do is unlock their potential, their self-worth and their confidence. And then, that provides them the space and the opportunity to do it on their own.

To know that I’m injecting women with this power is hugely gratifying, and to have more confident women out there that see their value, means we have that many more women out there that have the potential to do anything, including starting their own business.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out.

Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I think first and foremost, it’s good business. And research shows that women excel in leadership roles.

Also, living in this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, we truly need to break the status quo of a male-dominated society. We need more empathetic, flexible, and culturally intelligent leaders, and women are simply more capable of bringing those competencies to the table.

And finally, I’d say that the world needs more women to become founders in order to advance. To truly move forward socially and environmentally.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

Before I go on, I just want to say that I think these things can definitely help empower more women. But I feel it’s important to mention that although these are all necessary, they are not sufficient measures. We live in a society where it’s normal — as in, per the norm — for women to be considered less. And we need to seriously challenge these norms in all facets of society.

  1. Training, networking, and mentorship

    Although women have many of the skills that are crucial to setting up companies and taking on leadership roles, many times their abilities are either not recognized, valued, or correctly leveraged. Women need to take advantage of opportunities for formal training and skill-building to help increase their confidence and the tools necessary to excel. They need negotiation skills courses to know how to fight for their worth. And take advantage of networking opportunities with other women where they can share honest truths and create a safe place that supports them. And mentorship — both being a mentor and finding a mentor — is hugely beneficial.

    My very good friend Victoria Brooks is a Director at Bloom, a fantastic professional women’s network in the communications industry. We were recently talking about a co-mentoring programme that they have between senior men and women which has been hugely successful. They have been doing it since 2019, and those that have taken part have learned about different leadership styles and have revealed blind spots from both men and women. A super interesting case study to the success of this type of model.

  2. 2. Funding

    Why is it so difficult for female founders to get startup capital? I can’t believe in this day and age it is still so difficult for women to compete in that space. I know a handful of women who are extremely competent, heading up world-changing ventures, and because they are women have struggled significantly when it comes to getting venture capital. It is not an equal playing field, and that needs to change. People need to believe in women, and fund initiatives headed by them.

    3. Infrastructure

    a. Whether we’re talking about lower-income or higher-income women who are considering founding a company, it will often be the case that women are the primary caregivers at home. And this is a huge barrier for any woman. For real opportunities to be possible, there have to be systems in place that allow women to focus on what they’re doing without worrying that the world is going to collapse if they don’t do another 10 things in between meetings.

    4. Early Education

    a. Here I am referring to early childhood education as well as how we raise our children. Girls need to have equal access to education. All over the world. Independently of them being on their periods. Independently if they have younger siblings that need someone to take care of them while their parents work. And independently if other people feel that funding boy’s education might have a better ROI because of their future role in society, or simply because they think girls shouldn’t be educated. We also need to raise our girls as equals to boys — in all aspects of life. When it comes to sport, when it comes to risk, when it comes to life opportunities. And what is equally important, is for our boys to see the importance of that equality as well. As a result, the education of boys when it comes to understanding the importance of this equality is just as important as the education of girls when it comes to this.

    5. Letting voices be heard and Emotional /Mental Health

    a. First and foremost, we need to find opportunities for women’s voices to be heard. My friend Victoria, who I mentioned above, created a hugely powerful initiative in 2017 called the Booth of Truth. This provided women in senior positions at companies to share, anonymously, their concerns, fears, and personal experiences of injustice. The Booth of Truth was hugely revealing and shed a spotlight on what really was happening in many different aspects of working life. Knowledge as we know is power, and with that information, more support was able to be created, based on the specific challenges being faced.

    Therefore, moving on from that, we need to provide more support for women. We live in a society where women suffer from anxiety and depression due to the extremely high expectations placed on them. We need to have structures that provide mental health support to help them truly excel and be fully present in what they set out to do.

    You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

    I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. – Mother Teresa

    There are so many people out there that want to ignite their purpose, but they don’t know where to start. We all want to grow in a meaningful way, but don’t know how to get there. We know that things need to be done differently. And regardless of where people are at this moment, in their hearts, they want to drive change. Be a different kind of leader. And help create a world in which they would be proud to leave the next generation.

    This is why I created TIE in 2006. And since then have made it my mission to turn gifted people into changemakers and gamechangers. They key has always been to inspire talented thinkers, who can develop further as drivers of change by being given more of what they crave: diverse challenges and the chance to make a positive different to the world around them. Through our projects talented thinkers benefit because when they get involved with TIE they use and expand their gifts by applying them in entirely new contexts, giving them fresh insights, broadening their abilities and perhaps most important of all, fulfilling their desire for purpose and filling them with inspiration. Social initiatives, diverse but linked by their determination to change the world for the better, all benefit because they can work with strategic, lateral thinkers, as well as technical experts, who they could otherwise never afford.

    I would say I just need to get more people knowing about this changemaking movement, and more specifically, help more people realise the power that they have at their fingertips to be drivers of change.

    The change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. – Barack Obama

    We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

    This is such a lovely question! Thanks. And it’s really got me thinking. I really have been so lucky since I started TIE to connect with some absolutely incredible people. I’ve been so honoured to have some fantastic people on my podcast who I hugely admire. And likewise, I’ve been so lucky to inspire some incredible people to support TIE’s work as mentors. I feel as though I have access to some of the most extraordinary people on this planet and feel so fortunate.

    When I read this I really thought about who I really want to have a chat with, and who I just haven’t managed to get in touch with. And that would be Trevor Noah.

    Like me, he’s also from South Africa, his values are similar to mine, and admires so many of the same people I do. My uncle was Nelson Mandela’s doctor when he came out of prison and started negotiations with the apartheid government, and I have always been in awe with the stories of “the struggle” he shared with me as I grew up. My life in Canada was so different to that of my family in South Africa, but without a doubt my uncle and aunt, and their influence on me was a huge reason I set up TIE. And also a reason that I now live in Brazil. Trevor gets all of this, and he’s done something quite extraordinary with the knowledge he has, and the way he’s making his mark on the world is truly inspiring.

    How can our readers further follow your work online?

    You can check out my podcast TIE Unearthed at:

    • Instagram @theinternationalexchange
    • LinkedIn @philippawhite
    • Facebook @changemaker
    • Website: theinternationalexchange.co.uk
    • TIE Accelerator: tieaccelerator.com
    • Exclusive video to learn more: apply.tieaccelerator.com

 

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