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How to Market a Global City with Zabeth Teelucksingh, President of the Global Philadelphia Association

Zabeth Teelucksingh

What does it take to market an entire city vs. a company or product? Ms. Zabeth Teelucksingh is President of the Global Philadelphia Association through which she helped obtain the designation of Philadelphia as a World Heritage City. Home of the United States’ most famous UNESCO world heritage site, Zabeth explains that a globally-centered region increases knowledge of workers and real estate values and encourages educators and students to think internationally. The city also provides organizations to help professionals and refugees integrate and then contribute to the region’s global outlook. From her previous career in Media and Publishing, Zabeth presents a key marketing blunder that Time-Life Books made when promoting in Europe, illustrating again the importance of acculturation for your audience.


Zabeth’s journey to her current position

How Business practices around the world differ from The United States’.

Differences in management operations

What is a World Heritage City

Global outlook in the education system

Welcoming immigrants

Trends for Women in Philadelphia

Language translation services are needed in a global city.

Zabeth Teelucksingh bio:

Zabeth Teelucksingh is passionate about raising Philadelphia’s global profile. A seasoned, award-winning international executive, Zabeth has spent her global career educating organizations and communities on the infinite rewards of thinking globally. Zabeth is President of the non-profit Global Philadelphia Association (GPA) and under her leadership, in November 2015, GPA partnered with the City of Philadelphia for membership in the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC), making Philadelphia the first World Heritage City in the US. Zabeth’s mission to promote the global significance of Philadelphia and its international community has grown GPA’s membership, and outreach.
Zabeth is also a global communications expert. She has been professionally active on three continents in a variety of industries including publishing, media and academia. For five years at The World Economic Development Congress, she provided access to a high-level summit for global CEOs and Ministers of Energy and Finance.

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Full Transcript

Hello everyone. Today’s blooper is a sign that appeared in three languages in Arabic, English, and Urdu. And it’s a wonderful example of what happens when punctuation is not clear or exists at all and when words are used in the incorrect order. So,  for the sign, the translation from Arabic says, “Special for women only, men are not allowed at all.” And instead, the sign said, and I don’t know exactly where the sign was, perhaps at a Bathhouse or something, but the sign said in English, “Special women just are not allowed to enter the men never.” Whatever that means. 

So. With that, today’s guest is very special. She is Zabeth Teelucksingh. Passionate about raising the global profile of Philadelphia and a seasoned award-winning international executive, Zabeth has spent her global career educating organizations and communities on the infinite rewards of thinking globally. 

Zabeth is president of the nonprofit Global Philadelphia Association and under her leadership in November 2015, the GPA partnered with the City of Philadelphia for membership in the Organization of World Heritage Cities, making Philadelphia the first World Heritage City in the United States. 

Zabeth’s mission is to promote the global significance of Philadelphia and its international community has grown GPUs, membership, and outreach. Previously, she was and is also a global communication expert. She has been professionally active on three continents in a variety of industries including publishing, media, and academia. For five years at the World Economic Development Congress, she provided access to a high-level summit for global CEOs and ministers of energy and finance. Welcome, Zabeth. A pleasure to have you with us today.

Likewise, Philip, it’s very nice to be here.

Perhaps you could start by telling us a bit about your background and how you came into your current position.

Really, I am a communications specialist. I have been active as you mentioned earlier, in many parts of the world professionally and otherwise, and actually, by the age of nine, I had been schooled in three different school districts on three continents, which has afforded me a different outlook to most people in terms of how I look at things and what I bring to the table professionally and otherwise. 

Specifically, I majored in philosophy, politics, and history, and then I went on to the Sorbonne, where I took a diploma in Paris  in French civilization. And what I really like to do is to look at a problem and see what it needs in terms of giving it greater visibility. Perhaps sitting on other opportunities that give that problem more light and then being able to work on connecting people so that thing can get more visibility in the world, and really that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 11 years at Global Philadelphia Association, on behalf of the City of Philadelphia.

It’s wonderful. And are you British by birth?

No, I’m not. I have a British mum but my passport by birth is actually French.

Very good. Where were you raised, in Europe or in the United States?

I was born and raised in Carthage in Tunisia, where the Romans come from. I then moved on to Bahrain in the Middle East, where I attended my first school in the English language, and then I was put in boarding school in the UK and I was schooled all the way through to a university in England.

So a truly multinational education in that way. 

You said that you previously worked on three continents in the fields of media, academia, and publishing. Could you give us some examples of how business practices are done differently in other countries compared to the United States?

Of course. So I think one of my favorite and best examples is… It has to do with my work at Time-Life. I started at the Time-Life in Paris on the book side. I don’t know if you remember, but Time-Life used to sell books by the yard (as in a whole bookshelf). Literally, a series of books and they had a very active Paris office with a team of translators. All the Time-Life books were translated into French and sold in French-speaking markets such as Switzerland and Belgium, as well as France. 

Very quickly, I pivoted to the magazine side and the magazine culture was really more fitting for me. Originally when I was “growing up”, I wanted to be a journalist. And so, it was great to be working with Time magazine and subsequently Fortune Magazine in France, distributing and making sure that it was marketed to those regions. 

Now, specifically, the marketing teams for Time magazine would come over from the United States, be based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands where the headquarters of Time-Life Marketing division was, and then would proceed to market Time magazine all over the European continent from the Netherlands.

So, all the marketing was done in English, even though, as you know, European countries speak different languages, but the thinking there was, look, this is an English-language magazine, one of the main reasons we’re marketing it is to reach English speaking audiences, and… or… to provide an education tool, so it makes sense for us to market in English. And that made sense to me too at the time.

However, sometimes American marketing practices were brought in and applied in Europe, and so when you were dunning, which was the word used for invoicing magazine subscriptions, there’d be a cycle of seven or eight letters that were triggered automatically, so that those subscriptions were paid. One of those letters would be delivered to a doormat in France and boldly say, “My dog ate it.”

Needless to say, in Europe that didn’t go down. They didn’t know what it meant and secondly, it was offensive. Weird, perhaps eye-catching, but certainly not result-bearing in terms of getting an invoice paid and so over time the folks on the marketing side realized that they really needed to look at things from a much more European standpoint and see perhaps how things were invoiced In that part of the world, rather than apply US invoice methods in Europe directly.

That’s fascinating. Were there any differences in terms of management or operations or other kinds of marketing practices?

You know, when I think about that, I think one of the main things that came from my point of view was that a magazine involves production from printing all the way through to distribution centers and the magazine was printed in Switzerland. It was distributed out of Belgium. You were dealing with the French postal services. 

In each case, the relationships had to be handled a little bit differently. Just because you might speak French in Switzerland, Belgium, and France, the relationship with each of those people is very different. And that really involves listening and applying your EQ, your emotional intelligence, to situations to figure them out. OK, so… These printing guys, they’re really all about paper and ink, so you may be waxing lyrical about the incredible articles and photographs that you have in Time magazine. But what they’re interested in is the paper and the ink. And so, you’ve got to meet them, talk their language, and make sure that everyone is getting the results they want, but also adhere to and appreciate the different languages that the different stakeholders at the table speak.

Yeah, very true. That’s very true in any marketing situation and any management situation, of course. 

In your current position with Philadelphia as a World Heritage City, what does it mean to be a World Heritage City?

  1. So I’m going to step back a bit, Philip, and just explain Global Philadelphia is an umbrella organization, a nonprofit that encompasses pretty much all the international organizations in Philadelphia. 

We were set up 11 years ago because, at that time, Philadelphia didn’t really have much of an international presence. And in so doing, we were a membership organization originally, but as we did go about our work, we realized that we had a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Philadelphia. That was Independence Hall, which still is a UNESCO World Heritage. 

Because Independence Hall is so important to the American historical vernacular, the fact that it was a World Heritage site was probably not the most well-known fact. Because as I said, it’s very well known for all sorts of other reasons in the United States. However, if you pivot and start looking internationally at Philadelphia as a whole, this World Heritage site begins to get a whole lot more importance and value, and credibility in positioning our city globally.

So we were well-versed to really pay attention to that given that I and others had a very international background. And so, we started to pay attention to this World Heritage site and what we could do to really activate it on behalf of the City of Philadelphia. It transpires that there is another umbrella organization called the Organization of World Heritage Cities that sits in Quebec City in Canada. And you have to have at least one World Heritage site in your city to be a member of that organization. 

And so, we will be able to become active in the networks of the OWH as it’s called for short and start positioning Philadelphia much more actively as a World Heritage City and thereby making a whole lot more of our international credibility and value through our World Heritage Site, Independence Hall.

It sounds like it’s more to encourage tourism. Or is it also to encourage business and perhaps international conferences or other activities?

You know, we’ve done some studies around that, and many studies have been run around the value of World Heritage designation and they encompass all sorts of things, from the attraction of a global company. World Heritage Cities will attract the knowledge worker and that in turn will be of value to a larger international company.

It also has the effect of increasing real estate value. In 2015, the Lake District in the UK became a World Heritage Area, and they calculated that the real estate value would go up 25% in that area. And then of course, It is something that really encourages your population to think more internationally about itself and therefore think more along the lines of global education for children and the global positioning of your city in general. 

So, whilst what you say is correct, of course, it has a high value on the tourism side. It has also benefited numerous other areas as well and I could say that it is a tangential economic development tool for our city.

Very interesting. In terms of… I guess education as well as the general positioning in Philadelphia, Philadelphia traditionally has been insular and somewhat provincial. In what ways do you feel that the city and the region have become more global? Have you seen the evidence of that over the years?

So when we first started, we would hold something called the Global Philly Expo and this was a combination of all our members’ events positioned during a month and a half in the Fall and we would print a passport that showed all these different events in Philadelphia, and we did that for four years in our city. 

As the Expo came to an end after those four years, we realized that many entities in Philadelphia were beginning to position themselves much more intentionally. Internationally, the city was paying greater attention to immigrants. We had an official Office of International Affairs. And different entities would position themselves with their place in the world, rather than perhaps just thinking of their place on the Northeast corridor of the United States, for example. 

And Philadelphia just became intentionally much more international. Of course, our burgeoning food scene also helped that we have so many chefs and restaurateurs who have an international background. And I think that greater emphasis on that has also helped in terms of our city’s thinking of itself far more internationally, to the extent that now, I would say that Philadelphia is on par with New York or Toronto in terms of the nature and scope of international communities that it espouses and welcomes. 

And if I may, Philip, I would like to point out that I always share with people that whatever ethnicity you are, there is most likely in Philadelphia a grocery that will serve you, a restaurant that will serve your community, and highly likely a place of worship as well. And with those three things, you have the foundation of whatever international community might find itself in Philadelphia and might be comfortable here.

That’s very true. I was on a flight to Philadelphia and sitting next to an immigrant from Uzbekistan, of all places, and it turns out that he lives in the suburbs with his family. And sure enough, he invited me to an Uzbek restaurant. And who would have ever thought 20 years ago that such a thing would ever exist in Philadelphia? So, it’s wonderful.

You know, it’s interesting. You bring that up because the ambassador of Pakistan has actually visited with our city leaders and me because they have no less than seven World Heritage sites in their country which they highlight very much because, of course, they encourage tourism and other things to that country.

Furthermore, the city of Samarkand is highly represented in Philadelphia. Many, many people specifically from that City have found themselves in Philadelphia, among other things, through the visa lottery, although that’s not the only way, and we have a lot of folks from that city in Philadelphia, and I can also point to other cities, Philip, which are highly represented from special countries. 

So, for example, we have many Mexicans in Philly, and the City of Puebla is the most represented, and this kind of applies in a number of different areas. Somehow cities sort of attract their folk to Philadelphia and they become part of the fabric here.

It’s very interesting as you mentioned earlier.

Yes, that is.

About the impact of a global outlook in education, and in schools. Do you see that that is becoming part of the curriculum in the city’s schools?

Yes. So, there are different organizations, ourselves included, that really focus on that. We have a website called and on it are all sorts of resources from different organizations, not only ours to do with the fact that we are a World Heritage City and the different aspects of Heritage. And we’ve had occasion to train teachers in parochial schools, in school district schools, and in private schools, and there’s a great deal of attention and focus on this because it really motivates students in a couple of different ways. 

First of all, some Philadelphia students have never been beyond the four blocks around their school, so it’s really important to have them thinking more internationally and with a bigger picture about themselves and their futures. Others are, in a way, the extreme opposite. They’ve come to Philadelphia from another culture, and so they know all about different places around the world where they come from. But it’s important for them to feel valued in Philadelphia and to fit into our city and also bring the international attributes that they have to the table to share with their colleagues and in other ways.

Sort of a two-way process if you will, and It’s very valuable to students in general and across the board.

It’s very true. Other cities in the US, such as Boston and Charleston, have, you know, deep heritage, deep history. Are those World Heritage cities also or is it a very special designation in that case?

It’s a very special designation and the fact that we have a World Heritage Site really is what activated us to become a World Heritage City. Surprisingly, Boston doesn’t have a World Heritage site, nor indeed does Washington, DC, but San Antonio and Texas do. It has five because the Alamo and the five missions were designated in 2016, and so San Antonio has joined us as a World Heritage City.

You were mentioning about the immigrant populations and so forth. Do you feel that the city and the region have become more welcoming and accepting of immigrants over the years? Do you see evidence of that?

Absolutely yes. I think our city was always welcoming and that’s why we have the tracks that I spoke of earlier with these vast magnitudes of populations, one that I haven’t mentioned is the Ukrainian population in our city. We have the second-largest Ukrainian population in the United States, after Chicago. And some of these populations stem back to a while ago. They stem back to the 19th century when they came with skills that were needed in terms of the industrial revolution and things that were going on in Philadelphia pertaining to us being the workshop of the world and the need for a lot of trained and skilled artisanry. 

So I think whilst we’ve always welcomed immigrants in different ways, Philadelphia has really homed in on that more recently and we have a number of organizations that do tremendous work to welcome folk, notably the Welcoming Center, which is a place where let’s say you come to Philadelphia as a qualified doctor or engineer with papers to work in our country; you still can’t just go and become a doctor or an engineer. Here you have to retool and translate your skills and the Welcoming Center will help you do that. 

Similarly, but differently, we have the Nationalities Services Center, which helps refugees come and be a part of the Philadelphia landscape, most recently being very active, for example, and welcoming people from Afghanistan and making sure that they’re comfortable in the Philadelphia region and get all that they need to settle here, housing, etc. 

And there are a number of other organizations that do this too. I will shout out to HIAS PA, which used to exist specifically for Jewish populations, who needed help. But of course, that no longer really is the case. But HIAS does a lot of immigrant and refugee settlement work as well in our region, and those are just three organizations. There are others. And Philadelphia prides itself, I think, on the fact that it’s really rather good at this. In fact, we’ve just received a rather special badge of being a welcoming city. And that’s something that we’re able to use at different levels to welcome immigrant populations here.

Very encouraging, of course, that the city was founded really as an open city for everyone and was founded by the Quakers and the Quakers have always been very welcoming to everyone. So, unlike some colonies, for example, which were Catholic or, you know, a specific Protestant religion or denomination, Pennsylvania… Philadelphia and Pennsylvania were founded as a city and state open to everyone. So that continues that wonderful heritage.

And probably Philip, it’s not by accident that we find ourselves with so many communities here for that very reason. It was just a more open place with a more open mindset historically and really I think that’s just become more honed and more activated in recent years.

We’re recording this in March of 2023, and this is now Women’s Heritage Month. What trends do you see for women in business locally as well as nationally?

Well, first of all, you know, there’s a way to go in terms of women in business. I follow the Sustainable Development Goals through a public art project. Global Philadelphia runs, and STG #5 is about gender equality, and if you look at any of the statistics and metrics around that, there is still quite a way to go in terms of women and leadership, notably at the higher echelons. 

Furthermore, the pandemic has set us back quite a bit. As you know, people did have to change their working habits, and particularly mothers with small children at home had to often change their working routines and patterns in order to accommodate having children at home. 

And so that has definitely set things back. As have the position in countries like Afghanistan, where women no longer have access to education at all. And this is a little bit of a trend in countries such as that one we’re hearing about right now in the news that young women are being poisoned in Iran across the board and there seems to be something that appears to be intentional and is linked to education and women. 

Clearly, there’s a lot of work to do. That being said, one is seeing an increase and more women leaders in higher roles, notably in our arts communities, in our education communities, and in some of our corporations as well.

And there’s a piece of knowledge, if you will, that by diversifying your leadership, both with more women and with more folks from other ethnicities and other groups, you actually get better results because you bring more leadership, more thought leadership, and therefore a variety of thinking that actually produces better results across the board. 

I think over time this obviously is just going to get better, but there are the practical aspects of child rearing and folks also taking care of elderly parents, etc., which typically have fallen upon the woman as a burden, and obviously, that affects your professional development, among other things.

Back a bit to the companies that are here. Do you find that companies need a lot of global marketing services or perhaps translation services? And do you see a difference with foreign companies that have come here?

So first of all, at the City of Philadelphia, there’s been a lot of attention paid to reaching out to folks in different languages and you see that, for example, at the electoral booths, you see that around messaging to do with COVID-19 and other health activations. And it’s really gratifying to see that happening. 

We are blessed in our region with a number of different corporations from different nationalities. Top of mind comes the French, the German, the Japanese, all of them very active in our region and clearly because they are international and obviously typically dealing in at least two languages, English and whatever language they use in the company, there is definitely a need for activation and a need for translation and a need to pay attention to the different language aspects as well as the different cultures as well. 

Well, I think now as you know, English is becoming increasingly the language of commerce. But nonetheless, I think a lot of people realize that there’s a lot of value to paying attention to addressing folk in their own language. There’s a level of comfort. There’s a level of deference. There’s a level of respect that I believe is much appreciated when you do that at the corporate level.

Yes, very true. Does your organization get involved in attracting more global businesses or is it the Chamber of Commerce or other groups?

So, we are part of a vast ecosystem, not that vast, but an ecosystem that definitely is active in that area. Our World Heritage designation means that there is extra interest in Philadelphia and people are interested in talking about that and seeing what kind of networks we can work through that way. We also provide really great services in terms of what is on our website. 

So, if you are coming internationally if you’re a student or businessperson or the family of a recently relocated executive if you look at the Global Philadelphia Association Website, you’re going to find any number of events which may make you feel more at home or enable you to learn more about Philadelphia and or the different cultural and business things that are happening in our city that have an international flavor. 

So, for example, not too long a time ago, the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival. It’s called Sakura. The Sakura Festival will be happening, and that’s a wonderful two-day event in Fairmont Park around Shofuso which is our Japanese heritage house and a really great opportunity to dip into Japanese culture and admire the cherry blossoms, which are amazing in our area, and that’s one of the numerous cultural activities that go on year-round which have an international flavor.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?

Well, Philip, I think you know about an international conference. This is just a wonderful way to look out from under, and I think beyond, and perhaps look a little differently at whatever it is that you’re doing, be you a dress designer or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a museum director. There’s just a lot to be said to think a little bit more globally, and perhaps probably in so doing, a little more strategically at what you do, and highly likely that as you do that. you will increase the number of people paying attention to the very thing that you want to bring more attention to. 

So, I think it’s that specific value that I would encourage. And I really believe that there’s nothing greater than perhaps taking a five-day trip somewhere and changing your attitude a little bit and seeing things from someone else’s show. One of my favorite quotes is from one of my favorite books of course To Kill a Mockingbird when Boo Radley talks about getting inside someone’s skin and walking around them, and better understanding them. I firmly believe that if each and every one of us were, there’s a little more that great results can be achieved.

And among those results are better understanding, greater appreciation, greater respect and hopefully World Peace to obviously reduce the sources of tensions in the world and enable people to cooperate together in many positive ways. 

That is right.

Well, thank you Zabeth so much for joining us today. It’s been a wonderful pleasure hosting you on our podcast and I hope that all of our listeners will join us again next week for another edition of Global Gurus and their stories of international business. Please also check out our website where we will have other products and services listed that can greatly benefit our listeners and our subscribers. Thank you.

Thank you, Philip. It’s been a pleasure to join you this morning.

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