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Lonely Planet Founder Wants to Change the World - Through Business

Updated: Jul 17, 2018

The man who brought backpacking to the masses is now banking on business to make the world a better place.

Together with his wife Maureen, Tony Wheeler - founder of the iconic Lonely Planet travel guide - has set aside 10 million pounds ($13.40 million)to educate a new generation of leaders to lend their business skills to development issues.

"If you're pushing entrepreneurship, it's the developing world where we would particularly like to see it happening," he said of his financial support for the Wheeler Institute of Business and Development at the London Business School.

It's worlds away from the hippie trail that made his name but it is driven by the same passion for far-flung places.

Since he first hit the open road in 1972, Wheeler has visited 170 countries - Nepal is his most visited, Iraq where he felt most uneasy - and has seen myriad changes down the decades.

"People are more aware of inequalities now. What's it all about in the end? It's about business and jobs and work and if we can do that in a good way its a good thing," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Wheeler Institute wants students to use their nascent boardroom skills in poorer countries, with an eye on creating jobs and growing businesses with a positive social impact.

Guest speakers from government and development agencies explain the concrete difference students can make. Then they go out in the field and apply their new skills on real businesses.

Aside from backing business with a conscience, Wheeler said he wants to give back to his alma mater where he studied for free, in contrast to the steep debt run up by today's students.

After graduating in 1972, he headed overland to Melbourne, which resulted in a first book "Across Asia on the Cheap". Lonely Planet was born, offering advice on budget travel and growing into the world's biggest guide book publisher.

Toted by travellers across the globe, Lonely Planet has printed more than 100 million books in nine languages, mapping out tourist trails from Austria to Antarctica.

In 2007, the Wheelers sold Lonely Planet to the BBC and by his own reckoning, his net worth is now "over $100 million".

Wheeler said he plans to fund the institute for three years and assess its impact before committing further. ($1 = 0.7462 pounds)

Article courtesy of The Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Lee Mannion writes, edits and commissions stories about social innovation and social enterprise for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Thomson Reuters covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit


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