An interview with CEO Ben Keesey on the incredible journey of the organization behind #Kony2012.
It’s been nearly a decade since Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey, and Laren Poole—three young, guileless college filmmakers with a used camera they had bought on eBay—embarked to east Africa to film the war in Darfur. Instead, they found themselves in Uganda, collecting footage for a film about an entirely different conflict. The low budget project was titled Invisible Children and documented the horrors perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a violent Christian fundamentalist group led by Joseph Kony. The LRA had been waging a war against the Ugandan government for more than a decade, using child soldiers and large-scale civilian attacks. When the film premiered in front of 500 or so people in a community center in San Diego, CA, Ben Keesey, a friend of the trio’s, was so moved by the film that he accompanied the filmmakers on a second trip to the embattled country to see the conflict for himself. It was there he decided to abandon a job offer from financial giant Deloitte to join the threesome and help turn the film into a movement.
And that is exactly what they did. You only had to attend one of their Fourth Estate Summits to see it. The organization’s annual awareness and fundraising event felt like a cross between a rock concert and Revivalist gathering, drawing in thousands of young, impassioned people from around the world. But it was Invisible Children’s campaign to “End a War” in Uganda that would propel the organization to global renown in March 2012. The campaign’s official hashtag, #Kony2012, achieved an incredible reach, with pop icons like Diddy, Beyoncé, and Justin Bieber making unprompted public pronouncements about the plight of child soldiers in Uganda. The video peaked at more than 100 million views on YouTube and Kony soon became the world’s most wanted man. But other stars were made as well—most notably Russell, the earnestly hopeful, protagonist of the film.