In 2015 I met Dennis Karpes at a fundraiser workshop for the Alzheimer Lab. I was blown away by Dennis who shared how his life took a u-turn, a shift from a leading role in the flashy global jeans industry towards a mission to heal our planet. I called Dennis during the COVID19 lockdown to check in on him, and on the Justdiggit mission. Below is an excerpt of the open sharing by Dennis about his struggles, and purpose powered drive. Thank you Dennis, for “just” digging it, Joost d’Hooghe.
Dennis started his career as a marketing rookie in the jeans industry. Although he was very successful, money or pursuing a successful career in a corporate company did not motivate him. Living in the fast lane, he found great inspiration in a conversation with a man in an Amsterdam park that changed his life forever. The man, who later turned out to be a famous astrologist, told him that Dennis had a larger purpose in life, and that he should act upon it; “Your sixth sense was already present at your birth, you are on this planet to tell others about what you’ve seen. You know what is possible, show them what you have seen. The only thing you need to do from now on is to take the stage and share the story, lead others towards your vision.”
The man turned out to be right: about eleven years ago, Dennis Karpes quit his career in the jeans industry and, in one day, put an idea on paper: Dance4Life was born. This organization hosts educational projects and dance events to inform youngsters between 13 and 19 years about HIV and AIDS. Dance4Life became a huge success: Dennis managed to commit stars and DJ’s like Maxi Jazz and Tiësto to the organization. Since then,Dance4Life has become an internationally recognized charity organization that is active in more than 30 countries.
Karpes is great at sparking new ideas and concepts and in selling them too. The natural born marketer seems to be able to turn everything he touches into gold. He is the co-founder of the sustainable jeans brand Kuyichi, which nowadays is sold worldwide. Karpes was appointed in 2008 by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader (YGL). In 2009 followed an honourable appointment as Senior Fellow by Ashoka, the global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs.
After co-founding Kiyuchi, he embarked on an even greater mission: In 2009 Dennis met the late Peter Westerveld, who was born and raised in Tanzania. Peter showed him that it is possible to transform completely dried up ecosystems back into green and lush ecosystems again. Dennis was sold right away by this idea, and together they founded Justdiggit.
With Justdiggit, Dennis now builds further on Peter Westerveld’s mission:the battle against desertification. Their slogan? “If we can warm up the earth, we can also cool it down. Justdiggit makes desertified areas green and fertile again, simultaneously fighting water shortage in Africa. Currently, Justdiggit is active in Kenya and Tanzania. They’re planning to be active in Uganda, Malawi and Ethiopia by the end of this year. Besides regreening through their own programs, they are building a global movement to activate people to join their ReGreen revolution. They do this by setting up global communication campaigns with their media partners Havas, JCDecaux and Kinetic.
Justdiggit’s mission has had its ups and downs. “Nothing is easy, and every time when you think you’re close something always happens.” Dennis mentions that he is now on a short sabbatical, after having committed a great amount of energy into the realization of the organization’s mission. When I asked him if in hindsight he should have taken it easier, he fiercely states: “no”. His mantra is to go all-in; “Follow your purpose with passion.”
Also the Justdiggit approach of doing and trying-out, instead of over analyzing, was first ridiculed by geological experts; “this is just a marketing story…”. Now this mentality and the positive results of Justdiggit’s first projects are praised: It is possible to regreen dry lands with ancient techniques, modern technology and a strong communication approach.
Fortunately Dennis is now fully recharged and planning to get back to work in a month from now. It seems, after 10 years of hard work, the pieces of the puzzle are finally starting to come together, as Justdiggit recently signed a number of big corporate sponsoring contracts, good for up to 9 million euros.
Justdiggit currently focuses on Africa, which is a great challenge: “the population is doubling, and Europe needs to wake up. Big time. We need to create awareness and start helping Africa. Fortunately the SDG agendas of numerous big corporates are promising.” Dennis is convinced that these SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals), which corporations are embracing and which are driving their agenda, are the engine that will eventually make a huge impact. An even bigger impact than any government is capable of creating.
In this strange COVID19 period, which has a dramatic impact on people and the economy, there are also unique highlights to mention. During the call with Dennis I shared how I just witnessed two wild eagles circling above our garden in Limburg, the Netherlands. Dennis confirms that the global “pause” is allowing mother nature to take a breath; waters are getting clear again, and blue skies are opening up.
Dennis now recognizes that already at a young age, he felt an urge to follow his purpose. At RizeClub, we as members are also attracted towards a purpose; to #RiseTogether – helping people which you don’t even know yet. Knowing that they will pay it forward.
Dennis’s advice; “Always follow your purpose with passion, listen to your heart, use meditation, have imagination, no fear and make a positive impact. Justdiggit.”
Special thanks to RizeClub’s Julian de Vriend and Cris van Wolffelaar for the editorial work.