reluctant innovator

Meet Ken Banks, author of The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator

I was fortunate enough to meet Ken when we both presented at a conference on social entrepreneurship in London about four years ago. He struck me then as a great example of an innovator that many might try to emulate. When I spotted he had a new book out about the experiences of those who innovate to improve the lot of their fellow man I knew it would be a great read and I wasn’t disappointed. With a foreward by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it seems my thoughts about Ken’s book were also recognised by those inhabiting a much broader public platform.

If you are want to change the world, change a part of the world or even change your own world then what better place to start than understanding what drives people to begin the process.

The Ken Banks Interview

What is one thing that no-one would usually know about you?

ken banksBefore people begin to dig into me and my work, they’re usually surprised to hear that someone better known for technology and innovation ran a primate sanctuary in Nigeria for a year. Although technology – and since 2003, mobile phones – form the backbone of much of my work now, for a long time I was primarily interested in understanding the world of conservation and development, and spent twenty years travelling and working across Africa as I tried to understand the problems facing the people there. During that time I helped build schools, hospitals and carried out a three month biodiversity survey in Uganda. In late 2001 I headed to Calabar in Southern Nigeria to run a primate sanctuary there, again as part of my extended period of learning. My time there was cut a little short when I broke my leg towards the end of 2002, something else many people don’t know. It was only then, when I found myself back home and available for work, did the opportunity to start working on mobile phones came up.

What did the best review you ever had say about you and your work?

I have lots of favourite reviews and endorsements, but one which likely sums up me and my work best is from Alex Moen, Vice President of Explorer Programs at National Geographic:

“Ken Banks is the quintessential explorer, driven by curiosity and purpose, strengthened by obstacles, and culturally mindful. In “The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator”, Ken – a collaborator by nature – has swung the spotlight onto the heroic work of a group of driven individuals who are creating a better future for people and communities around the world. Transcending trendy terms and structured models around social entrepreneurship, Ken’s common theme is one of possibility and empowerment – anyone can effect social change. I believe this collection of stories of passion and impact will leave people hungering for more and will inspire more than a few readers to explore their passions and translate them into incremental stories of meaningful change.”

Alex touches on my curiosity, my thirst for knowledge, my passion for sharing positive and inspiring stories of social change (particularly those against the odds), and my love of people, culture and anthropology (which I studied at Sussex University).

How did you choose a title for your book?

The title is an interesting story in itself. As I explain in my introduction, I’d been increasing feeling that social innovation was being institutionalised, and formalised, usually within the walls of universities and the binders of academic courses. Much of what I’d seen in the real world didn’t follow a set pattern, and certainly didn’t follow something you could neatly lay out in a ten week course. Much was random, scrappy, born out of necessity and, in the case of the stories in my book, ‘reluctant’. I chose that word because the people featured didn’t set out to fix anything. Rather, they were individuals who encountered a problem in the world and become so frustrated and angered by it that they had no choice but to embark on a quest to solve it, often at great personal cost. A number of contributing authors challenged my use of the word, including the publisher – many of them thinking it was negative. Alternatives like ‘serendipitous’ and ‘accidental’ were suggested, but I held firm. “The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator” felt right, and felt like the name of a book that needed to exist in the world.

What is the single biggest challenge you faced when writing your book?

There were a few, including a lack of time as I did my day job, and a lack of money. My early attempts to raise the funds to self publish, on Kickstarter, failed spectacularly which pushed the book back by at least six months. I was also looking for a publisher, and having conversations with a few of them, but while this was all going on each of the ten contributors to the book were writing their chapters. So they ended up having about 18 months in the end, from an estimated six months initially. Once I’d got Archbishop Desmond Tutu to agree to write the foreword, which funnily enough was relatively straightforward once I managed to get hold of him, things came together. The chapters began to fit together nicely, I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign with a reduced ask, topped it up with some private funding from a US supporter, and got a publisher on board. The biggest challenge, though, was probably pulling everything together with newborn twins and a two year old son at home. The last six months were challenging, but frequent spells of being kept awake at night made for good editing sessions.

Are you jealous of other writers?

I’m good friends with a couple of successful authors, and would say I’m more jealous of the resources they have at their disposal than of them as writers. Being self-published, I’ve had to do almost everything myself and there’s plenty more places I’d like to see my book appear. It’s more frustrating when I read the reviews, and feedback, which give an overwhelming message that the book needs to be read by all young people, and anyone aspiring to make the world a better place. It’s this that relentlessly drives me on. But there have been some successes – getting the book on the shelves (and featured section) at Waterstones, hitting top spot on Amazon for “Development Studies”, and seeing it picked up by increasing numbers of universities to use as part of their social innovation courses. I’ve also done a few book signings, after giving talks, and they’re fun. I did two in a week recently – one in North Carolina and then another at Warwick University. I’ll keep plugging away, if only because I believe so strongly in the book’s message, and it’s a message that will never age.

Where do you find your inspiration?

My inspiration is all around me. In the people I’ve met and worked with over the years, and in the people and projects out there seeking to make the world a better place. I’ve also been fortunate to have developed a text messaging platform a few years ago, aimed at non-profits in the developing world, which is today being used in over 170 countries reaching tens of millions of people. I get inspiration from the users of that platform – FrontlineSMS – and all the things they’re doing for the people and communities around them. And I get inspiration from writing, and sharing stories, thoughts and ideas. Knowledge is nothing if it can’t be shared.


Where can I find out more about Ken and His book?

You can find The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator available in Kindle format here:

and can meet Ken on his website at

He can also be found on Twitter at and on Facebook at


Why ‘The Thursday Throng’?

These posts are called The Thursday Throng in honour of the throng that waits eagerly outside the book store when a new author is doing a book signing event or appearance. On this website it takes the form of a ‘Meet the Author‘ online event with some information about our author’s latest book and an interview. If you would like to take part in the Thursday Throng then why not visit Thursday Throng Author Interview Guidelines to find out more.

If you would like to see all the Authors who have been featured on The Thursday Throng you can click here:

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  1. How refreshing to read about someone who has lived in the real world and cares about the real world. I’m looking forward to reading more about Ken’s book. A very worthwhile interview.

  2. I think alot of innovation comes from cross-pollination, where ideas from one discipline are brought to another. Looking forward to reading your book.