Elizabeth Filippouli is an entrepreneur and international business development expert. She is the Founder & CEO of Global Thinkers Forum (GTF), an international organization that works as an agent for positive change by connecting international thought leaders and promoting values-based leadership, collaboration and cross-cultural understanding. GTF is a London-based and UK registered social-purpose organization with presence in 5 countries: UK, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, UAE and a fast growth rate. It was launched in 2012 in Amman, Jordan under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania and is proud to have Board members representing more than 20 countries.
By founding GTF, Elizabeth established:
• A prestigious network of thought leaders coming from diverse countries & backgrounds.
• A truly independent, non-political, nonpartisan organisation with direct reach to different audiences.
• Extensive presence & connections in the EU, US, Arab World & Africa.
• A combination of global reach and local presence.
• Endorsement from high-profile leaders and decision makers.
In 2010 she took the MBA-level Diploma in Strategy & Innovation at Said Business School. She was recently named among Oxford University’s Said Business School’s 42 top graduate entrepreneurs.
In 2010 she had launched Global Thinkers, a management and leadership development consultancy offering coaching, training and capacity building in organizational and human development. Global Thinkers offers its own VALORE method that helps in cultural transformation through measuring organizational health with the use of online evaluation and assessment tools. Among Global Thinkers’ clients are companies and organizations like: National Lottery UK, World Economic Forum, European Union, SBS, AGL.
What is your background? Why are you doing this?
I worked with Greek media for about ten years and then I was given the opportunity to work with international media such as CNN and Al Jazeera English. I became a CNN fellow and I collaborated with CNN as Athens-based correspondent for six years. In 2005, I landed a most interesting, intriguing and fascinating opportunity to join Al Jazeera English, and move to Doha, Qatar in the Arabian Gulf.
I am fascinated by the speed of change brought about by innovation and disruptive technologies. The ways we work, do business, meet people, access new markets, the way we look at the world have changed completely over the past decade. There is also the element of interconnectedness that is creating interdependence, which is another major global issue. And at the same time there are profound social transformations taking place in so many countries. So seven years ago, as these changes were emerging, I sensed the need for new leadership practices, new leadership values that would become a compass for leaders in their decision-making. I also felt the need to create an organization that would empower women and youth through knowledge and networking.
For me entrepreneurship is about taking action. It means transforming people’s lives, affecting positive change, it means making a difference.
I always loved the commercial side of creativity and invention! I think I had a natural instinct for commerce since I was 8! That year I spotted a need in the ‘local’ (school) market: the school canteen didn’t have fruit flavoured chewing gums, which was a favourite thing among kids! So I was buying a packet of strawberry flavoured gums every morning from my local sundries shop and I would sell out making a nice profit daily! But of course in my adult life I followed a different path (I became a journalist) yet my heart’s calling was always towards entrepreneurship. So some 8 years ago I decided that it was time for me to cross my own bridge, the bridge that I had built to take my career and my presence in this world to new pastures. I felt it was time to move from journalism to entrepreneurship and social giving, as the more I got to know the world through the perspectives of different cultures, the more I felt the need to not just be a storyteller, a messenger but actually try and bridge differences, open conduits for communication and understanding.
So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
The first skill required is perseverance, one must have a vision, be focused on their goals, work a lot and work hard, have the will and ability to evolve, to move past failure and try until they make it work. This is an incredibly hard process and this is skill is invaluable to any entrepreneur that wants to succeed. The next one would be management skills. An entrepreneur needs to be able to manage; their time, money, employees, partners, lead fairly and wisely and take careful, calculated decisions. The last skill that to me is absolutely essential when someone wants to chase very big dreams is risk-taking, as I’ve been taught that being ready to risk is an integral part of being a successful entrepreneur.
When I started Global Thinkers Forum with the vision and the ambition to create an organization of international presence and positive influence, some people said I was insane! I heard all those lines that I would lose my money, my time, my years in an overambitious project…Well, I don’t suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it! I think it is a necessary ingredient in a recipe for success. Plus I have always liked, taking risks, aiming high and making things work. And these are elements that I enjoy a lot as an entrepreneur. As a social entrepreneur, I find that it is an excellent way to pay forward what I had learned from others and be of service to our societies.
Queen Rania of Jordan, Steve Jobs and Apple and the organization that I founded, Global Thinkers Forum.
If I had the opportunity to discuss with Steve Jobs, I would probably ask him if he felt that Apple was his self-purpose in life, if his soul is fulfilled and happy by the cultural legacy he created and left behind.
Creating -against many odds- successful companies on an international level, in such a competitive global environment. How do I measure success? Finances, brand recognition, giving back to society. And also the fact that they have been growing organically without debts and loans.
A very important lesson has been that financial budgeting and 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 2008-2009, but we run out of funds when we reached the marketing stage. And an expensive, ambitious and dynamic project fell flat on its face. That was a big lesson for me. But this is a way to acquire wisdom, through (painful) experiences.
Well, I always try to avoid giving advice. As the saying goes “Socrates was a wise, Greek philosopher who walked around giving advice to people. They poisoned him!” If there was a piece of advice that I would consider giving, it would be allow yourself the opportunity to develop your dreams into a vision. Allow your vision to guide you and open new pathways in life. The future is here, it is just unevenly distributed across small changes that go unnoticed, but when the dots are connected, nothing can stop change. So embrace the future, or even better, create it. Follow your dream, follow your vision and do what inspires your heart. It is the only way up, the only way to be truly successful!