Comms. Company: WPP & The Futures Company
NGO: Girl Effect
Host Comms. Company:
Location: Kigali, Rwanda
Summary of the project: I spent a month in Rwanda helping Girl Effect plan for their transition to a 'creative social business'.
Elisa Birtwistle, Director at The Futures Company, EMEA, specialises in human and cultural insight, using her expertise in qualitative methodologies to unpick the context, attitudes and motivations shaping the way people connect with ideas, communications and culture.
Her work has taken her to Kenya, Ivory Coast, Russia, Brazil, China, the US and the Philippines (as well as some far flung corners of the UK!) to explore big, knotty questions for some of the world’s leading brands and organisations. She has uncovered foundational insight on a whole range of strategic questions including identifying future pools of revenue by exploring how Tate Modern Galleries can deepen relationships with its members; refining positioning to connect with shifting millennial values for Puma; understanding the journey back into civilian life for Army veterans for Forces in Mind Trust; and finding ways to affect behaviour change to help consumers live more sustainable lifestyles for Unilever.
Recently, Elisa lead a landmark study for Unilever to understand how and why female identity and expectations are changing, both on the global stage (analyzing shifts in social media debate on Feminism) and on a first-person level (conducting ethnographic work in India, US, China exploring women’s personal experiences of the challenges and opportunities of being a woman where they live). She is The Futures Company expert on women, contributing to thought leadership and opinion pieces on related subjects (e.g. pay gap).
Prior to joining The Futures Company, Elisa worked as a strategic consultant for OgilvyEarth (Ogilvy & Mather’s specialist sustainability practice) in New York, and contributed to research for the white paper ‘Mainstream Green: Moving sustainability from niche to normal’, which provided new insight into how to close the ‘Green Gap’ between what consumers say they do and what they actually do when it comes to sustainability. She has since worked on a number of high profile projects for brands such as Unilever, British Gas and the Coca Cola Company to help them better understand their audiences and how to connect with them on the issue of sustainability. Recent highlights include leading work on shifting attitudes to climate change, for the environmental organisation Climate Reality Project, and presenting it to Al Gore.
Elisa has contributed to a number of thought-leadership papers and is the lead author of ‘Women 2020: How women’s actions and expectations are changing the future’. She has an MPhil in Cultural and Critical Theory from Cambridge University and an undergrad from Bristol University.
She is a Londoner, born and bred. After a number of nomadic years (London, Bristol, London, Colombia, Cambridge, London, New York, London), she’s been back on home turf for the last 4 years – in North London, where she grew up.
She has lived, worked and travelled in South America, and speaks Spanish fluently – living and working in Colombia made her adept at getting stuff done in different working styles/cultures and keeping things moving when where time and deadlines are a more fluid construct.
Before the WPP Fellowship, she spent some time working in public arts organisations and art outreach projects. Arts access is something she continue to care about. At The Futures Company she’s done a couple of pro-bono projects for Tate and currently trying to set something up with The Horniman Museum.
She is a big believer in the power of mentorship (on the whole informal, finding people who inspire and push you, and trying to be that for others too) – in particular for young women. She has a huge admiration for individuals and organisations who work with young women to set them up to achieve their potential – and thinks that changing social norms (amongst men and women) will be key to achieving this.
She is really excited (with a healthy dose of adrenaline/nerves) about embarking on her TIE placement, and applying my professional skills and experience to a project in an area that’s genuinely meaningful and aligned with the things she believes in. She is heading to Rwanda in September to work with Girl Effect. Learn more about the project here.