The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

What a year it has been, for all of us.

A year that left us with great optimism in light of the Climate Change agreements, to feelings of vulnerability as we consider threats posed by terrorism.

But as we reflect on 2015, and look forward to 2016, one thing is clear.

In order to really flourish in this world, and help create a better future for all of us, we need to understand how to work together effectively across borders, cultures, industries and sectors.

Our collective strength CAN make real, lasting change.

The next four months will be busy for TIE as we send out the next group of TIE participants.

We have creatives, account people, designers and planners.

And they are off to work on a range of issues in a number of places around the world: conservation and education in Uganda, supporting young offenders in Malawi, an African literary award in Ghana, and women and girls rights in Brazil.

And for the first time, ever, we have a project in India.

In February, we have the talented Tom Reas, a copywriter at Grey London, going to the city of Varanasi to work with a social business called SMV Wheels and help improve the lives of rickshaw drivers.

It’s a really exciting project and we can’t wait to see what comes out of this and other equally fantastic placements in 2016.

To learn about Tom, what scares him most about TIE and what he learned after 6 weeks in Cambodia when 24 years old… see below for a short interview.


1) Tom, tell us a little about yourself.

Hello there, my name is Tom Reas. I am a conceptual creative and copywriter at London ad agency Grey. Welsh by birth, Yorkshire by upbringing, with some time spent in Brighton and California to soften me up. I’m a collector of bizarre ‘tat’ and an amateur photographer (along with every other instagrammer).


2) You have an incredible range of experiences previous to entering Adland, from working with charity fundraising to working in a butchers shop. How have these experiences changed the way you look at your life now?

For me, adland is a surreal place. The conversations we take part in and overhear on a daily basis are proof of that. I like to think that my time spent ‘in the real world’ has helped me keep in touch with what people outside of our shiny offices actually give a monkeys about. Thankfully, that isn’t often adverts. Perspective is hugely important, and I hope that my time spent wearing numerous different hats has given me a collection of perspectives to see the world from.


3) You volunteered in Cambodia for 6 weeks. What was that experience like? What were your biggest learnings?

I spent those 6 weeks in Cambodia volunteering alongside my mum, and although I didn’t know at the time I was actually serving as a guinea pig for her PHD research. In a nutshell her studies look at how in some cases volunteer tourism is effectively commoditising poverty. So my experience of those 6 weeks in Cambodia I look upon from two very different perspectives.

The first perspective is filled with fantastic memories of cobbled together classrooms and English lessons. Cambodian orphans eager to learn, and myself eager to teach, new friends, unbelievable experiences and so much fun.

The second perspective is one of white privilege. Of an enthusiastic, but ultimately clueless 24 year old wading into an orphanage in Cambodia and being treated with the respect and trust that only proven wisdom should bring, simply because of my relative wealth and skin colour. This perspective scares me. Not because I think that personally I did any lasting damage to any place or person during my time in Cambodia. But because at the time, I wasn’t even vaguely aware of the position of power and privilege I had stumbled into.

So my learnings I suppose, alongside avoiding tap water, are to be aware of how others are seeing you. To be aware that I may be credited with more wisdom, skill and ability than I actually have. I want to go into my TIE experience with an openness and eagerness to declare my ignorance. I want to be learning from the people who know, and not teaching while pretending to understand.


4) What excites you most about your TIE placement?

I’m not sure there is a ‘most’ exciting bit. That’s what is so exciting about it all. The project, SMV Wheels is one which fascinated and inspired me from the moment I read about it. It feels sustainable, successful, and real. The fact that I will be working alongside this great organisation in the beautiful, manic, and historic city of Varanasi India is more exciting still. The sights, sounds, smells. The cluelessness, and the conversations. In short, the whole lot.


5) In your application for TIE, you said that the experiences you have enjoyed and learnt from most so far in life seem to be the ones that forced you to take deep calming breaths before them. What have you learned from these experiences? How can these experiences help you become a better person and a better professional?

I think I have learned that the scariest thing of all is being nervous, and that experiencing the very thing that I am nervous about is the most calming action to take. To translate from waffle into Yorkshire, ‘shut up and get on with it’.

I like to think that this has made me more proactive in my professional life. A task is at its most daunting when it hasn’t begun. Make a start, chip away at it, understand it, and become a little more (but not too) comfortable with what needs to be done. Better already isn’t it.


6) “Fear, in my experience, is usually followed by awesome.” You also said that in your application. What scares you most about this experience? How do you plan to transform this fear into awesomeness?

I hope by listening.


7) You are going to India, to work with a social business and help improve the lives of the rickshaw community. How will this affect your work back at Grey?

I really don’t know, and that’s great.

If I knew what I was going to get out of the TIE experience before I set off then it wouldn’t be such a fantastic opportunity. It’s wild and rough and scary and exciting. From where I stand it seems impossible that my time in India with TIE won’t affect the way in which I (and hopefully others) work upon my return to Grey, but until I’ve been there and done it, it would feel presumptuous to say!


Curious about the other placements we’ve got lined up?

Andrew Connolly, from BBH, is going to Uganda to work with The Kasiisi Project.

Kelly Satchel, from Wieden+Kennedy London, is coming to Brazil to work with Mulheres do Cabo.

Scott Brenman, from the WPP Network and MEC, is going to Ghana to work with The Golden Baobab Prize.

Kate Nicoli, from Leo Burnett London, is going to Malawi to work with Chance 4 Change.


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