Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Ben Mansell Is Helping To Change Our World

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Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Ben Mansell of Is Helping To Change Our World

Trust people, unless they give you a very good reason not to. If you start from a basis of trust and look for the good in people rather than constantly looking for the bad you will form much better relationships and have much less stress in your life. Will you be let down on occasion? Of course! Still, I believe that assuming the good in people, until I am proven otherwise is the better approach. Nevertheless, remember — fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Mansell, Founder and COO,

Ben Mansell is a highly accomplished leader with a proven track record of building, growing and transforming organizations. In 2020 he has decided to put his managerial and industry expertise to work to help bridge the digital divide for those who need it most. To do this, he co-founded a non-profit organization,, in order to unite corporate partners and individual volunteers on a mission to enable connectivity and the opportunities that come with it for women, education, refugees and other underserved communities around the world.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

To understand how came about you have to look several years back to the time when my co-founder Andew Atkinson and I were both working in Dubai. Back then, I was with Nokia and Andrew with Du, a new mobile network in the region. Much of the progress and development in Dubai was fuelled by a huge migrant workforce, not earning very much and living in very poor conditions. I saw that a large proportion of their wages went on purchasing connectivity, so the laborers could talk to their loved ones back home. Seeing this and the staggering human toll that not being able to connect with loved ones could take, got us thinking.

The closer we looked at the issue of connectivity, the more we learned about the staggering size of the problem — billions of people around the world were and still are unconnected. What’s more, for the majority of these people they are unconnected because they cannot afford connectivity, rather than because they are facing some technical barriers, stopping them from going online. That’s when we decided to try to do something about this really pressing problem, and formed

Both Andrew and I have extensive experience in the telecom industry. In addition to enabling connectivity on the level of providing devices and SIM cards, we also took a look at what having connectivity actually would provide. What does connectivity mean beyond enabling everyone to stay in touch with loved ones?

Looking at the United Nationa’s Sustainable Development Goals it became apparent that introducing connectivity helps solve a wide array of problems, including but not limited to financial literacy, access to education and employment, gender equality and so much more. Once you get connectivity, you get a lifeline to a world of opportunities – just think of all the free resources available online. Providing connectivities helps bridge the digital divide and makes the world a better and a more equal place, and this is what we at are working hard to do on behalf of women, refugees and many other underserved communities in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

When Russia invaded Ukraine and we learned about the people fleeing their homes and country, we came to a quick realization that one of the most important tools for keeping these refugees safe are their phones and a data connection. Very quickly, we managed to organize free SIM cards with free calls and data, power banks, cables and chargers and headed to the Ukrainian border with Romania. There, our hunch was confirmed and we saw that most Ukrainians had prepaid phones with no roaming. Therefore, these phones didn’t work once Ukrainians crossed the border. Unsurprisingly given this, nearly everyone crossing the border made a beeline to us to get their phones working again, so they could plan their onward journey and keep in touch with loved ones, who remained back home.

There is a photo of Mea Tompson, CCO at, giving a SIM card and powerbank to a tired, frightened lady, who was clearly worn out by her journey. The gratitude etched on that lady’s face is unforgettable, and its image sums up perfectly how the people fleeing war felt about our work to help them get connected. This lady literally hugged us when her phone began working again, which in itself made our trip to the border worthwhile.

We talked to many people and heard some truly heartbreaking stories there. Most people left in a hurry and with next to nothing of their old lives. For example, two young women we spoke with had left without their passports and were so grateful for our help to get their phones working again, so they could arrange a meeting near the border to collect their passports. Having connectivity saved them days of dangerous travel to return home and make it to the border again with their passports in hand. It was a simple thing, but an important one we helped facilitate. For us to witness first hand a 21 century catastrophe unfolding before our eyes, understand the dignity of the people leaving their homes, and to also be able to help these people get the gift of connectivity was very important. It was a truly rewarding experience for our team at

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Starting a new charity requires keeping a great many balls in the air at the same time as delivering a number of incredible projects – connecting schools in India, Africa and Asia to the internet, supplying learning tools with the help of connectivity to the girls living in the slums of Mumbai, connecting refugees living in the UK to help them integrate into the society and much more. While focusing on these projects, we were not telling the world about them. Instead, we partnered with other charities and fantastic corporate sponsors and put all of our efforts into providing connectivity.

I remember how in the midst of all this activity, a friend had asked me if had managed to launch any projects yet. The question left me baffled, leading me to realize that we had to find the bandwidth to communicate to the wider community about what we were doing every day. In retrospect, I realize that raising awareness must be a priority because word of mouth only goes so far.

The problem of the unconnected is staggering in size, so we are working together with volunteers, corporate partners and other charities to address it. Therefore, communicating about our efforts at as we strengthen this community to enable connectivity for all is something we need to remember to always do, as we continue to focus on delivering fantastic projects. Hopefully then, whether or not we are doing any fantastic projects will be apparent to all.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Internet connectivity today is similar to literacy and what it gave a person in the 18th century. Back then, if you could read and write then you could progress your life. If not, you remained poor, uneducated and with few life opportunities. In today’s day and age, access to the internet has a very similar effect on one’s life and prospects as literacy had some centuries ago.

I am confident that we helped change the lives of every person we connected to the internet for the better. The girls in the slums in India are now getting access to education, learning English and maths, therefore ensuring that they will have better options than to work in the local factory or clean houses. For the hundreds of refugees stuck in Calais, France with nowhere to go – seemingly forgotten by the world, we were able to provide phones and a bit of a safety net via our work with a French charity called Care4Calais. In Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s least connected countries, our work helped advance the education for both children and adults, opening new opportunities for them, which they have never had before. Working with our ambassador in Papua New Guinea, we won a prize from to start implementing a project to get connectivity to people in remote rural locations there.

The people we help are able to join modern society and access all the amazing online tools and information that we often take for granted, as a result of our work. I strongly believe that as we progress through the 21st century, internet access will become a defining issue of our time.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Andrew, Mea and I, the three founders of travelled to Berlin and were at the main train station there, helping Ukrainian refugees with free SIM cards and other accessories to make sure their mobile phones were working. I particularly remember a family we were helping – a mother, four grandparents and a small boy, around 7 years old. It was remarkable to think of all the children there under these remarkable circumstances, where they had to leave their homes having seen the kinds of things no children should see, often leaving their fathers behind, since men between 18 and 65 years of age were required to stay behind to keep the country going.

These traumatic experiences, coupled with the fact that children normally have a low boredom threshold, translate into a very difficult journey for the entire family. Mea had asked the mother of this family if one of our donated smartphones would make this boy’s life any easier and the mother said that it would make a big difference, sharing that she had in fact promised her son a phone when they returned to Ukraine. After getting the mother’s permission, Mea bent down and produced the phone for the boy. He burst into tears, his mother and grandparents burst into tears and our team also required tissues. For that one day of his life, which was changing more dramatically than we would ever wish on anyone, he had some unbridled happiness – a direct communication channel to his father and Youtube on demand – every seven-year-old’s dream.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. It is vital to understand that access to the internet is a necessity and not a luxury.
  2. It’s essential to donate old phones to good causes. Most of us have old but perfectly functioning phones and tablets collecting dust around the house. These devices could easily change somebody’s life, once donated, refurbished and sent on to someone, who really needs them. is running a campaign in the UK to ask for old devices to be donated, so we can put them to better use. We would appreciate your support if you are based in the UK!
  3. Let’s work together to find a business model that works for the 3 billion unconnected people, as the current one we see across the telecoms industry clearly doesn’t. If we could get even half of these people online, you would see improvements in so many areas of life, both for these people individually and for society in general.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is sharing a vision, having people buy into that vision and equipping them to help deliver that vision by enabling a community of like-minded, passionate people to contribute to this vision.

Our mission is simple to articulate but not always simple to execute. I believe in creating an environment of mutual trust, where people can make mistakes but get acknowledged and rewarded for the success they bring. I believe it is vital to explain to others what the challenges are and be open to letting them find solutions, rather than telling them how to do it. Most of the time, they will probably find a better solution than the one you had in mind.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Trust your gut and go with it, always. We all know when things change or your top performer is disengaging. You ask if they are OK and they say “yes.” You know that they are not, but take them at their word anyway. As a result, the workplace suffers, the team suffers and invariably your (former) top performer leaves. I have learned to always trust my gut and opt for sitting down and laying out any issues as soon as they arise.
  2. Change is inevitable, so embrace it. Everything evolves in life and work, so be ready for continual change and do your best to anticipate what’s next.
  3. Technology under delivers in the short term but over delivers in the long term. I’ve been fortunate enough to live through the greatest technological advances in history and this pace of technological change is only going to accelerate. If you look back at what people had predicted the internet would deliver just after its inception, you can see that almost everybody got it so wrong. Most people had underestimated the potential of the internet. You can see the same pattern in most new technology from Quantum computing to autonomous vehicles, and I have no doubt that these innovations along with many others will play a major role in our future lives.
  4. Ask the questions you don’t want to hear the answer to. There once was a train of thought in sales that you only asked questions that generated a positive answer, normally a yes. I believe, however, that the ‘selling ice to eskimos’ idea is a myth, as even the best salespeople lose deals. If you think there’s going to be bad news, don’t be afraid to ask direct questions rather than kick the can down the road and waste a lot of time and effort because of your unwillingness to face reality.
  5. Trust people, unless they give you a very good reason not to. If you start from a basis of trust and look for the good in people rather than constantly looking for the bad you will form much better relationships and have much less stress in your life. Will you be let down on occasion? Of course! Still, I believe that assuming the good in people, until I am proven otherwise is the better approach. Nevertheless, remember – fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would do exactly what we are doing now – connecting the unconnected, which is bringing good to an enormous number of people. Outside of this, I would also want to promote tolerance, without wanting to sound too woke. We all inhabit one planet, yet we seem incapable of living together peacefully and sustainably as one species. We have to look after each other and protect our planet properly, or there could be a point of no return. The downside to protecting our children’s future is minimal, but the downside to continuing as we are is immeasurable.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s better to regret the things you’ve done than regret the things you haven’t done.’’

I’ve had a very varied commercial life, where some things have brought huge success and financial rewards and others less so, but I’ve never regretted any of it. Would I have done some things differently? For sure, but every day is a school day and as long as you keep learning and growing as a person then that’s a good place to be.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Everyone who leaves a positive legacy is to be admired. There are numerous people I’d like to break bread with, but of those who are alive today, I think Barack 0bama would be the most interesting lunch companion. I’d love to learn more about the behind-the-scenes goings on in politics and also hear some gossip about the world leaders then and now. Should I ever get this opportunity, I promise to be very discrete!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please follow our work on LinkedIn or via our website at

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Ben Mansell Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.