The International Exchange was launched by the former advertising account director Philippa White to give people working in the communications industry the chance to work on short-term placements with non-governmental organisations in developing countries. Wieden & Kennedy's Ryan Fisher has just completed a month in Brazil bringing his advertising experience to bear helping people with HIV and Aids. Here he explains what his placement involved:
It's not often one is given the opportunity to truly "do some good" while applying the specific skills you have learned in your regular job. It's very easy to get swept away with the "here and now" in our industry.
TIE and my agency, Wieden & Kennedy, offered me the opportunity to spend a month in Brazil, working for a new client, with a new agency, in a new language. You research, try to learn the language, raise money to fund your campaign, and read about the area, the culture and the issue at hand. Then the plane lands and everything you did to prepare yourself suddenly disappears.
I worked with a non-governmental organisation called GTP+, which had set up a project called The Solidarity Kitchen to provide well-cooked and healthy meals at lunchtime for those who are vulnerable and living with HIV/Aids. The Kitchen is also open to the public, which creates an important source of funding for GTP+.
But, to date, GTP+ had not done anything to support the Kitchen, so the campaign I worked on was focused on raising awareness and getting more paying customers to eat there. If The Solidarity Kitchen can generate profits, it means that it can become more sustainable and therefore have a bigger impact in helping those with HIV/Aids. More sustainability equals more power to do more good, with much less reliance on government.
An important part of what the Kitchen does is employ people who have HIV/Aids. Giving people work, independence and the opportunity to regain their self- esteem after they have been diagnosed with HIV is hugely important. Many of those who need help have been thrown out of home, abandoned by friends and family, fired from their work, suffer depression, abuse alcohol, or become sex professionals to earn money. At the Kitchen, they find work, support, security.
To help develop a campaign to raise awareness of the Kitchen, I worked with a local advertising university, INATA. It became evident early on that the first challenge would be to encourage the students to develop the appropriate thinking so that when they work with the Kitchen in the future, they are passionate and engaged.
Ensuring everything you do is sustainable is difficult, because it forces you to step back and reflect on the long-term future for the NGO. This was one of the most frustrating parts of the project because the agency is made up of students who are working unpaid and don't have a huge amount of experience.
And having limited knowledge of Portuguese was frustrating for me and made it extremely difficult at times to share a point of view. One thing that I have taken away is the importance of language and how it can't be taken for granted.
It is only when you want to express your emotion or share a subjective insight that you realise how important the emotional parts of a language can be and the kind of effect they can have on communications and, ultimately, relationships.
As for the communications, it was quite simple stuff to begin with, but crucial as well. Before we got involved, the Kitchen didn't even have a sign or a menu, so we decided we had to raise its profile.
The first job was to make a sign and some menus; we then organised a launch event where flyers and free Caldinho (a traditional Brazilian fish dish) were handed out by clowns and drag queens.
It was hugely successful, with two television crews turning up to film the event for the local news. A government representative came along to show his support and the HIV and Aids health minister for the state of Pernambuco also popped by.
We also utilised a very interesting but rather annoying media in Brazil - a man on a bike with a speaker that's basically one long radio ad. We had them for three hours a day in the run-up to the event.
On a normal Friday in The Solidarity Kitchen, 11 to 15 people would come and pay for lunch. On the launch day, more than 60 paying customers came and ate.
We knew that couldn't be it, though; we realised that we had to target three main groups to sustain interest in the Kitchen.
First, consumers. They would have been the recipients of the flyers and bike ads.
Second was local businesses. I learned that, in Brazil, people really like a personal approach, so we got the Kitchen staff to bake some cakes and send them to local businesses to inform their staff of the Kitchen's existence.
Third, we had a similar idea for possible investors, but something with a bit more longevity, so we designed and made some plates that we could send out to them.
Before I came to Brazil, I wrote a list of objectives. It included obvious things I wanted to improve on: leadership and communications skills, strategic development, cultural insight and, of course, doing some good. I've already discovered that what I gained far exceeds these. Not only has my experience impacted hugely on the way I perceive communications in general, but on the way I view the world.
- Ryan Fisher is an account manager at Wieden & Kennedy London
TIE - THE FACTS
- What is TIE?
The International Exchange is a social business that develops corporate leaders and transforms societies in the developing world.
It was launched by the former Bartle Bogle Hegarty account director Philippa White and provides learning and development opportunities for communications professionals, through a short-term assignment with a non-governmental organisation or social business in the developing world.
Each assignment is tailored to develop the professional's leadership skills and global competencies while leveraging their business expertise for the benefit of the NGO and its local community.
- Who is it for and why?
TIE says the placements are a way for agencies to invest in their staff and give them exposure to working environments that will challenge and develop their skills.
The scheme provides communications professionals with a way to improve their knowledge and sensitivity to operate anywhere in the world.
It is designed to build their confidence to take on new roles and responsibilities, to use their skills in a unique way with limited resources and to improve their understanding of the third sector and issues in emerging markets - the markets of the future.
At the same time, the NGOs that get involved can learn from the communications professionals assigned to their project, improving their own communications practices. As a result, they are better able to raise awareness of their organisation and the services they provide, help change the behaviour of people within the local communities, assist in raising future finances and change government policies.
- Who is involved?
A number of key people in the advertising industry have already lent their support to the TIE initiative, including Jeremy Bullmore, Chris Powell and John Hegarty. In addition, TIE already has a number of agency/network partners: Wieden & Kennedy, Leo Burnett, Tribal DDB, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and WPP through its Fellowship programme.