It was November 2004, in Cape Town, and I was sitting in the congregation at my uncle’s memorial.

My uncle was always a huge inspiration to me.

He fought tirelessly against apartheid in the field of worker’s health, supporting trade unions in their battles for healthy workplaces, found himself sprayed with purple paint on one occasion when he was part of a team of medics supporting a protest march (it was a way to tag those fighting against the regime), and he was appointed as Nelson Mandela’s personal doctor during the first round of negotiations with the Apartheid government.

Whenever I would go to South Africa, I would be captivated by his stories of struggle, determination, and hope.

He believed in something, to his core, and he fought for it.

As someone who grew up in Canada, I didn’t know what that felt like. Life for me was so safe, so easy, so perfect.

His memorial was a turning point.

I looked around, and the room was full of people from his life: medical colleagues, comrades from the Struggle, friends and of course family.

But what really struck me were the stories that were told by people from the townships, whose lives had been dramatically impacted by my uncle. I can still picture two of the people that went to the front of the room to share their memories of profound darkness, and how my uncle in many cases was the light, even in the face of significant adversity.

That day changed my life – and was a big catalyst to the creation of TIE.

2016 has left a mark on all of us, for many different reasons. But one thing is certain – we have all been left with a greater sense of purpose.

And we now realise that we cannot rely on governments or hope the nameless, faceless “somebody else” will do something to help.

It really is up to us.

One of TIE’s objectives is to get leaders in the private sector to think and act more sustainably and help them harness the power of business to address the issues we face in the world today.

“Future appropriate” innovation in Western companies depends on their ability to see new ways to support the emerging evolution of people and communities all over the world. And most often, these organizations pay more attention to a pre-agreed, or assumed, trajectory on development.

After every TIE placement we ask our participants to consider what is emerging around the world and how that might create new ways of working moving forward.

The last half of 2016 saw the completion of 5 fascinating placements with our brilliant TIE alumni situated around the world – this time Brazil, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Mozambique.

Keep reading for 5 insights that could be a catalyst for change, in Haywood, Claire, Elisa, Eryn and Lauren’s own words.

Haywood Watkins III, WPP, Promundo, Brazil

The standard of living and expectation of financial success is so different than the other places I’ve lived that it is hard to compare. The rat race of promotions and collecting material goods seems to be of little concern for most of the people I’ve met. They want a better life, but better is defined more by financial security, safety, time with family, good food, laughs, and love. These are themes that arrived from the voices of Millennials out of the recent financial crisis so in that way there is much that can be learned from Brazil to improve the quality of life in the developed world.

Claire Carmichael, WPP & GPY&R, School of St. Yared, Ethiopia

Ethiopians are a very proud people, who are committed to helping their country develop and grow to have a prosperous and stable future. Whilst there is still great poverty evident, there is so much development of infrastructure and entrepreneurial thinking, that there’s a real sense of opportunity and possibility in the air. They are extremely altruistic and community focussed, which is a refreshing change from Western individualism. It’s not so much just about improving their own quality of life through opportunities that come their way, as it is about improving the quality of life for their extended network too. They feel a lot of responsibility to those who are less well off than them, and support them as they can.

There’s a sense of frustration that the ‘Feed the World’ campaign in the 1980s did so well, and that the country is still consider the poster child for starving children in Africa. They are proud of everything that challenges this stereotype, and hide anything from the media (such as a current famine in the north of the country) that might perpetuate this perception on a world stage.

Quality education vs. quantity of education has been a conversation that has arisen several times over the last month. It is a very difficult strategic decision for the government to make. They have millions of children who need access to primary education, but the quality of teachers that they have is poor and the class sizes are large (1:64 on average for primary.) Improving the quality of education is an imperative to bring about progress for the country in the future, but it is a long-term goal to achieve, whilst people who are in charge of making these sorts of decisions can ‘fix’ the quantity problem far more easily, by putting bums on seats. As The School of St Yared establishes itself, there will be a great opportunity for them to work with the government to improve the quality of teaching in schools around Ethiopia.

Elisa Birtwistle, WPP & The Futures Company, Girl Effect, Rwanda

Girl Effect is a very interesting organisation, which is going through a transition at the moment from being a development driven NGO to becoming a ‘creative social business’. It was a very interesting time to be at Girl Effect Rwanda as the organisation tries to bridge the worlds of development/NFP and media/commercial. The assignment restored my belief in the power of brands for affecting social and cultural change, and creating new, progressive social norms.

I found myself thinking a lot about the differences in approach between the aid/development world, and the commercial/marketing world (Development driven objectives (push) vs market-driven / demand-driven innovation (pull) – and the benefits of applying how a business model innovation principles to creating new solutions / technologies for answering social needs. i.e. really understanding what people’s needs, behaviours, cultural context and motivations are in order to develop something is truly useful and meaningful to them.

It did make me think how many brilliant people and minds are focused and incentivised to find solutions to marketing challenges rather than social needs. Which in turn made me wonder whether e.g. one of the Common Ground projects could be focused on outputs innovating solutions, rather than having a comms output. This reinforced my interest in understanding more about business models which are designed to be profit making for a social impact objective.

Eryn LeMesurier, FCB Toronto, Rede Asta, Brazil

Brazil, particularly Rio, is going through an interesting time with respect to the human rights for the marginalized and poor. There seem to have a lot of positive momentum in the past few years with helping those communities in the Favelas and recognizing their rights. Unfortunately with the recent election, many social services are being cancelled that were designed to help the poor and the old elite seem to be gaining back some degree of power.

The discussion of feminism is also really interesting in Brazil right now. With the president’s new wife and the out of date press coverage of her, there’s been a rekindling of female rights and demonstrations as a response to this more traditional symbol of women. I’m encourage that despite the government’s backward slide against women’s right that the people are awake to the fact that women deserve more freedoms.
On a more micro level, I got a chance to work with some really inspiring artisans. These women were internally motivated and skilled to become entrepreneurs. I think what they wanted most of all was to feel a sense of accomplishment and agency and to be in charge of their own success and well being. Economic stability was important to them, but so was gaining the pride and dignity that come with being artisans and having their own business.

Lauren Smith, W+K NY, Marine Megafauna Foundation, Mozambique

What I was most taken aback by when I first arrived in Mozambique was the level of connectivity. Studying in Spain just seven years ago, I struggled to get Internet access and topping up minutes on my mobile phone was an expensive chore. Although power outages in Mozambique can cause issues with Internet, nearly every local I come into contact with has some sort of mobile device and many of them are now smartphones so they can use 3G versus unreliable wifi. Vodacom appears to have painted entire towns with their logos. No one, even legitimate shops, have landlines. It’s all mobile. The affordability of mobile phones is making communication more accessible.

I also noticed the prevalence of young people with multiple jobs, which ironically, is a growing trend in the U.S. (e.g. part-time Uber driver). Talking to J.C. who gave me a ride on my first day and asking him about his car service business, he told me “It’s not like where you’re from, I don’t have just one job.” Or even Narciso, who is a teacher with MMF’s Nemos Pequenos program, who then became part-time surf-instructor for many of the MMF volunteers – not something he set out to do, but saw an opportunity to make a little extra cash and went for it, even though he already has a good job. Made me think some millennial trends are universal and that even worlds apart, ambition and a desire to do work that makes us happy, translates.