Elizabeth Filippouli is the founder and CEO of Global Thinkers Forum, an international organization which facilitates accountable leadership, women’s empowerment and youth development through its mentoring programmes and international initiatives. Founded in 2010, Global Thinkers Forum’s mission was to connect visionary thinkers and promote values-based approaches. Through the programmes it touches lives in 79 countries. Filippouli took the MBA-level Diploma in Strategy & Innovation at Saïd Business School in 2010 and in 2018 named among the School’s 42 top graduate entrepreneurs.
She is currently finalizing her book ‘From Women to The World’ to be published by IB Tauris in 2021.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
My background is in journalism; I worked first in Greece and then with international media such as CNN and Al Jazeera English. I have always been fascinated by the speed of change brought about by innovation and disruptive technologies. The ways we work, do business, meet people, access new markets, and the way we look at the world have changed completely over the past decades. Interconnectedness is creating interdependence, and at the same time there are profound social transformations taking place in so many countries. So ten years ago, as these changes were emerging, I sensed the need for new practices and values that would become a compass for leaders in their decision-making and would empower women and youth. I am very proud of the work that we do for women and youth internationally through our mentoring programmes that offer unique opportunities for skills development and access to networks of social impact leaders. Creating opportunities for people to thrive while promoting values-based leadership has become a very important purpose in my life.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
For me entrepreneurship is about taking action. It means transforming people’s lives through economic empowerment. Social entrepreneurship is about effecting positive change for our societies and making a real difference.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
There comes a point in time when you feel deep inside that you are ready for your next move. No matter how small or big. Let’s not forget that between 2008-2010 our economic systems suffered a massive shock. At the same time people around the world have been fighting for their rights and access to opportunities. The Arab Spring was underway. I felt that time was right for me to reach out to my international network of contacts from my time in journalism. I asked them if they would like to share my vision to promote values-based thinking in leadership, as a way to fight segregation, tribalism and promote inclusion. I knew then that it was time to move on into social giving and utilize my journalistic expertise to convene people and promote polyphony.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
The first is perseverance; one must have a vision and stay focused, Be prepared to work a lot, work hard, and -if you want to beat competition- you need to work fast too. The second one is developing your management skills. An entrepreneur needs to be able to manage their time, money, employees, and partners, lead fairly and wisely and think ahead. Keep the organization lean and make sure you deliver value to all your stakeholders. The last skill is risk-taking, and the ability to evolve and move past failure. This is an incredibly hard process, but this skill is invaluable to any entrepreneur who wants to succeed.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
When I started Global Thinkers Forum there were some voices trying to ‘protect me’ from losing my money and time in what seemed an overambitious project. Well, my gut instinct was that there were people out there who would find resonance in an organization that is nonpolitical, nonpartisan and it was born out of a genuine vision to promote our universal values and link people to opportunities. Within ten years Global Thinkers Forum hosted more than 45 events, launched a fantastic mentoring program that has supported 250 mentees from all over the world and gave birth to the Athena40 initiative, which has developed into a unique platform bringing to the spotlight women’s issues and connecting dynamic women from around the world.
What individual, company, or organization inspires you most? Why?
The Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They were restless souls and restless minds, driven by values and the mission to serve society. I’m also very inspired contemporary women leaders such as Queen Rania, Jacinda Ardern, Elif Shafak, Ruth Bader Ginsburg-women who make this world a better place.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
5’ with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle? I would introduce them to Facebook, Twitter, Insta and LinkedIn! Then I would invite them on a panel to hear their thoughts about the anarchy permeating this public sphere and if the serve Democracy well.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures, or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A very important lesson has been that financial preplanning when launching a start-up must go a bit beyond the incubation period. I invested significantly in the launch of an online business network back in 2008/9, but we run out of funds at the marketing stage and sadly what was a great and innovative project, never came to fruition. That being said, I came out of it wiser and I had learned skills and secrets that proved of incredible value when I launched Global Thinkers Forum.
How have you funded your ideas?
Private sponsorships and donations from members.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Oxford was for me the perfect ecosystem, the perfect hub where Global Thinkers Forum was incubated. Ideas, new knowledge, brilliant classes, super talented classmates, it was an amazing space for me. I am currently based in London because for what we do provides more opportunities to meet with people and partners from around the world. But we keep our close ties with Said Business School.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
The Oxford Foundry is a brilliant new hub for young entrepreneurs looking to be supported. The Skoll Forum is another fantastic venue for social impact driven entrepreneurs. The University’s mentoring schemes are also excellent. The experience of mentoring can be invaluable for both the mentor and mentee, since you really learn from each other.
Any last words of advice?
I’d say that the future is here, but we often fail to notice it, nothing can stop change so always try to spot the weak signals and connect the dots. Go out there and be part of conversations. And don’t just think about profitmaking; think about social solutions. With profitmaking in mind, make sure that you also serve people and address their needs.
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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