Bill Bensley is world renown for his outstanding, unique and inspiring award-winning hotel, landscape and interior designs and eye-catching architecture. What is not so widely known, but comes as no surprise to those that know him, is that he is a concerned conservationist and passionate philanthropist.
Bill has seamlessly and brilliantly combined his work with these two passions to benefit the environments and communities in which he has created his incredible projects.
Sustainability is a hallmark of Bensley’s designs. Bill has loved and respected nature all his life. From a young age, he was inspired by John Muir’s conservation work in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. John was a Scottish-American author, environmental philosopher and glaciologist and an early advocate for wilderness preservation in the USA. Bill and his friends would be the first to get permits to enter the trails each spring as they navigated deep snow and hung their food to keep it from the bears. Even as teenagers, they had great respect for the wilderness and were careful to leave only footprints. He has always understood nature’s fragility, especially in the case of fire and water pollution.
The most outstanding and most recent example of this is Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection in the South Cardamom Wilderness in Cambodia which opened in December 2018 and has quickly gained worldwide attention. It is the culmination of Bill’s life’s work and exactly what he would build for himself. Comprising 15 exquisitely customized luxury tents, in a private sanctuary in Cambodia’s South Cardamom National Park, the camp is completely built around and blended into the natural environment with a low environmental impact and a huge impact on protecting the National park. Showing his playful side, Bensley created a 380m zip line over the river and three sister waterfalls over which guests can enter the camp. The entire project was created in order to showcase and protect nature and wildlife in this fragile wilderness, rather than see the pristine forest sold at a logging auction.
Other examples of projects where Bill has designed stunning hotels with little or minimal disturbance to nature include:
- Four Seasons Koh Samui in Thailand where over 850 coconut trees were not disturbed.
- Capella Ubud in Bali where he changed the project from 120 rooms that would have obliterated the forest, into a 23 tent camp with low impact and high yield, not disturbing a single tree.
- Intercontinental Danang in Vietnam where the footprints of the building were consolidated to minimize the impact to the site, creating a permanent expansive green lung of native wilderness.
Bill’s other heartfelt passion is philanthropy and one where he genuinely walks the walk and talks the talk. The Shinta Mani Foundation was founded by Bill’s business partner, Cambodian born Sokoun Chanpreda who has made a huge impact on Bill’s life. It was Sokoun who introduced Bill to the concept of giving and that charity begins at home – a concept that Bill strongly subscribes to actively participates in at every opportunity.
During his first visit to Cambodia back in 1991, Bill was devastated to see the extreme poverty there and decided to do something about it. Since that day he has made a tremendous difference to people’s lives both personally and through the Foundation. On one of his first visits, he met a young boy who was virtually blind who had a soulful singing voice and had sung at the hotel several times. In addition to flying him to Bangkok for a professional check up to see if anything could be done for his sight (alas it could not as the damage was permanent), Bill learned his family did not have a house, so paid for one to be built which was supervised through the Foundation.
Sokoun Chanpreda established the Shinta Mani Foundation in 2004, which is guided by his personal philosophy of ‘Open Doors, Open Hearts’. In 2011, their community projects were unified under an independent and locally registered Cambodian not-for-profit organization which operates in the core areas of education, micro-finance, sustainable farming, healthcare and direct assistance. 100% of all donations go directly to the Foundation.
The Foundation is very close to Bill’s heart and they are the main beneficiary of his philanthropy. Recently when he bought 250 water filters from KOHLER® they very generously matched the donation. The water filters were distributed to schools, health clinics, hospitals and families in Siem Reap.
Bill is a popular and highly sought-after public speaker around the globe and frequently donates the proceeds from these engagements to the Shinta Mani Foundation to continue the amazing work they do, which to date includes:
- 1,330 families having access to clean drinking water
- 1,500 water wells built
- 10,000 medical visits
- 220 hospitality graduates from the Shinta Mani Hospitality Training School
- 98 homes constructed
- 8,000 children living healthy lives
- 62 entrepreneurs providing income for their families
The Foundation spearheads the camp’s conservation and community outreach programmes, including providing long-term employment opportunities to the local inhabitants where there are minimal infrastructure and fewer work prospects. Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection, in conjunction with the Foundation, nurtures its natural environment through partnerships with respected conservation organizations including Wildlife Alliance and The Cambodian Government.
Funded by Shinta Mani, the camp’s ranger station enables the non-profit Wildlife Alliance to carry out vital conservation work in the area, including protecting animals from poaching, removing snares and preventing illegal logging. Guests who share Bensley’s passion for protecting the precious natural environment can join the rangers, motorcycling through the forest on anti-poaching patrols and tracking previously unrecorded wildlife activity.