Doing good comes in many forms. Philippa White, founder of The International Exchange, or TIE, believes the most effective way to help others is to apply the skills you use every day to a community that needs it.
Fed up with apologizing for her career in the advertising industry -- she worked at Leo Burnett and Bartle Bogle Hegarty in London -- she was determined to use her skills in a positive way. So in 2006 she established TIE, which works with ad agencies to send ad professionals into developing countries to work in situations where they can make a difference.
"It bugged me," Ms. White says. "My whole family is in the medical profession, or environmental engineers or social workers. I felt like I'd sold myself to the devil, and it became apparent that a lot of my peers felt the same way. But our skills are extremely powerful, and we can use them to raise awareness of important issues."
So far TIE projects have helped raise awareness of HIV/Aids and children's rights, have campaigned for recycling and promoted the work of nongovernmental organizations. All these projects have been in Brazil, where Ms. White is now based, but she hopes to expand TIE into Africa and Asia.
It costs an agency $13,000 to send an employee to work with TIE projects (including food and accommodation but not flights and insurance), and each candidate is expected to raise at least $1,600 before they go to help pay for the campaign they create.
While the program undoubtedly does good where it is needed, Ms. White insists that it's not just about being worthy; it's also an opportunity for companies to get genuinely involved with corporate responsibility, offering a return on investment by developing staff and creating a reputation as a company where people are proud to work.
Leo Burnett was the first agency to get involved with TIE, and WPP's commitment to the program was detailed in the company's latest annual report. WPP shops BBDO and DDB and independent Wieden & Kennedy are also official partners of TIE.
The WPP connection -- the holding company is committed to sending three people a year to the program -- is helping TIE grow internationally, with JWT and Ogilvy in New York expected to send people by the end of this year. Agencies in Australia are also showing an interest, but Ms. White admits that the recession has slowed TIE's growth.
Ed Richards, 30, an account director at Leo Burnett, spent the month of March in the Recife area of Brazil working on a campaign to get apartment buildings to recycle their waste.
The effect of this would not only help the environment but also improve the lives of many of the catadores (street people who make a living by sifting through toxic garbage looking for recyclable materials) by giving the neediest of them jobs and direct access to desirable recyclables.
Mr. Richards' campaign has already made a difference, with 10 buildings signed up within the first few weeks of the campaign's debut, and schools and businesses are already showing an interest.
Now that he's back in the U.K., Mr. Richards is still in weekly contact with his team in Brazil. "I found it easy to settle in there," he says, "despite being placed with a family who spoke no English. But it was much harder to come back. I had a reverse culture shock, and it's been hard to get out of the Brazilian bubble."