BENI – The Dream to Break Barriers and Connect People Through Inspirational Stories

For centuries, storytelling has been a way to connect people with each other. Stories have the power to introduce you to a world that is far different from your own. They stimulate empathy, a worldly view on things, and most importantly they create an open mind that allows people to look at things from a different point of view, even one they might not particularly be used to. Of course, for stories to be told, we need storytellers. One of them is Nadir, a twenty something year old ‘London boy’ with roots from different countries located in different continents. He’s the founder, heart, and soul behind BENI, a platform that allows people whose stories haven’t yet been told, to share their narrative. But it’s so much more than that—it’s a safe haven for people whose stories are usually frowned upon. This is the story of a boy with a dream to connect people and break barriers by creating inspirational content.

Tell us something about yourself

Who am I? That’s always a hard question. I am a London boy with roots from Indonesia, Yemen, Kenya, and Pakistan.  I am a hybrid, I am a mish mash of cultures and I am trying to put together these puzzle pieces of my identity together. I travelled a lot because I had no idea where home was, I still don’t to be honest I just know it is wherever my parents are. However don’t get me wrong I love it, I enjoy being able to mesh seamlessly with a variety of different cultures and perspectives, I feel like I have an attachment the the whole planet as supposed to being anchored or rooted in one geographical place.

Anyway I started BENI – a digital storytelling platform with the aim of turning social influence into meaningful content to encourage creativity and adventure. A lot of the inspiration behind it is to further probe this idea of intersectionality, young people worldwide who combine seemingly disparate worlds, and how they are contributing to all of them. It also seeks to provide a platform for unusual and unheard stories that don’t have the safe space to tell them. Finally it hopes to be visually innovative and echo the engaging stories with high quality aesthetics that are in line with the contemporary zeitgeist.

What has drawn you to come up with BENI?

The last few years my day job was working with influencers from all over the world and making online content for brands. I was particularly interested in understanding how we can leverage social influence to expose young people to more diverse, meaningful and out-of-the-box content.

As a creator, it is exciting because you have these new mediums to connect with people; there have never been fewer obstacles for you to reach so many people. Realistically, you could come up with an idea tonight, and post something on YouTube or Facebook in the morning and reach hundreds of people. You’re free to tell the story you want, and have access to millions of people worldwide; however, with this power there is also a great responsibility.

The problem was whenever I went online to see what content creators were doing with this opportunity, it was predominantly make-up tutorials, game videos, and pranks. I’m not saying these are not important, because I genuinely believe they’re useful for many people. I just could not help but think there must be more to us than that. I know for a fact there are people worldwide who are doing incredible things that engages with the world around them in fantastic ways. The mainstream has established online channels like SOULPANCAKE, UPWORTHY and VICE even, companies creating engaging, meaningful, high quality content that is relatable to a mass global audience regardless of their faith, ethnicity or background.

I ask myself: isn’t inclusivity and meaningfulness the core principle of our community? That’s what I was taught anyway. Yet very few were doing it? What did that say about us? Do we value these things less than other people? Do we prefer to watch only pranks or gaming videos? Shouldn’t we be the examples of how young people utilise modern media to connect with people in eclectic and creative ways? People will only judge by what we’re creatively and culturally exporting out to them, and online content is the art of the future. If our content lacks creativity, imagination, and relevance, we will become associated with those same qualities.

In my opinion, you break barriers between people through a shared understanding of ethics and a common human experience. We should be producing the most creative, the most inspirational and the coolest lifestyle content online. Others should be looking at us and thinking ‘dang, these people are creating incredible stuff!”. Its how you cultivate empathy with people who are so misrepresented online. People want to feel like they can vibe with you, like there is a common language we speak. It’s that hole I really wish BENI would fill.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Two things. Firstly, people inspire me. I’m someone who enjoys socialising. I grew up in a house where everyday we had people from all walks of life coming in and out. There were times when it was challenging, but it wasn’t until I was older that I realised its impact on me. Thanks to that upbringing I understand people and how to negotiate a variety of different social contexts. As a result, I am able to zoom out and find what the common denominators between them are, and subsequently connect those dots.

Secondly, I hope I don’t offend anyone saying this but I can’t help myself. I really feel like our community has thrust a lot of unrealistic religious expectation on our youth. At young, insecure ages we’re supposed to embody what others believe to be the “perfect” archetypal Muslim, or else feel the community’s wrath and alienation. Like it or not young people are hurt, made to feel as if their day to day experience isn’t valid or significant. The current religious framework gives little room for self-discovery, imperfection or nuance. Yet the human experience is fragile, it falters and wavers, doing its best to stay balanced on the tight rope that is life. On the contrary I think it is beautiful when individuals are in sincere conversation with themselves, somewhat distanced from what society expects of them and navigating their own human story. In fact it’s these experiences that make the most impactful stories, the most relatable stories and where BENI find its place.

BENI is not a religious space; I do not wish to play under those criteria because no one can win. BENI is a cultural space. It connects to culture as the language through which to discover our innermost selves, express who we are and what we aspire to be. That cultural language is my inspiration, because it has given a space to be able to articulate these important experiences.

What are your hopes for the future?

For BENI to be global, and people associate it with quality and vision.  I want it to be a few steps ahead with its video content. I also dream for it to transition from a digital space to a physical one, with cafes worldwide where the vibes you feel online can be felt offline. Nothing can replace a physical interaction between people. I hope one day that it becomes a place where like minded, interesting and good people can connect and kick it with each other. That’s the dream!

Any advice for anyone out there with a dream?

I don’t know if I’m in a place to be advising others about their dreams as I’m still chasing mine. What I can talk about is my approach. I realised that my biggest hurdle was myself. I was scared of failure and what others would think of me. I was scared of the negative comments. I was scared of producing a video and it would get 300 views. I was scared people would think badly of my work and me. It took me a long time to start getting over myself. Eventually I realised that I’m not going to get anywhere with that mindset, and I am no longer concerned about what people think anymore. “One who doesn’t make mistakes makes nothing at all”. I urge you, if you’re serious about making something. JUST. DO. IT. Stop talking about it, get up and do it. You’ll hit all sorts of obstacles but if you’re not then you’re not doing it right.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face?

Ironically it’s the exact same platform I intend to use which simultaneously is my biggest challenge, social media. The social media world is not a nuanced space, it’s a world of keyboard warriors and trolls who consume to further perpetuate what they already believe. So given this, how do you create a space that encourages people to think beyond black and white and see the bigger picture?

Also, me. I’m my biggest challenge, I’m only limited by me and the work I put in. How strong I am mentally to deal with negativity or obstacles, it all boils down to me! So I’m taking a lot of time to invest in myself physically and mentally. Ok I’m eating a donut whilst I write this so feel a bit insincere, but physically will definitely start tomorrow!

What’s one thing that happened in your life that made you the person you are today?

Again, I don’t want to sound too cliché but my parents are definitely the two people who’ve made me who I am. They both are public figures in the Muslim community through their activism and journalism, so growing up in their shadow was never easy. Yet I couldn’t have asked for more supportive parents to give me space to figure out the complexities of life. They were always respectful but always called out injustice and stood up for what they believed in. Despite all the fight back and criticisms they received. I admire their strength and resilience despite the heartbreak they suffered through their work, and I’ll never forget the things they’ve taught me. Even though I can be really difficult son at times haha.  They sacrificed their lives being activists and they did it for no reward, we weren’t wealthy growing up but the life and experience they gave me made me rich beyond my imagination.  I really believe what I intend to do is an extension of their sacrifice, in an indirect contemporary way. I hope I can do it justice. BENI won’t be what a lot of people expect it to be, I just hope it can be what a lot of people need it to be.

Finish this sentence: In 2017 I strive to …

Build BENI and grow, grow, grow. I’m going to work my socks off to make it happen. I also want to detach myself from negativity. I’m learning to surround myself with people who have a positive impact on me. Lastly I’m learning to prioritise my spirituality, time and family, things have been crazy for me recently and I’ve been really absent. I don’t want that to be a regular thing, and hope to find a balance so I can be there for those I care about a bit more. Otherwise, what is the point of it all?

Are you curious yet? Get to know more about BENI by watching the A to Z video here and follow Nadir’s journey on Instagram and YoutubePrepare to get inspired, engage with likeminded people and more importantly: discover new voices.

Written by Latifa Saber

Latifa Saber is a 21-year-old student with strong opinions on pretty much everything. Feminism, literature and fashion are her main fields of interest.