From ethical capitalism to the importance of finding your purpose, Globetrender speaks to Britnie Turner, visionary philanthropist and founder of the Aerial BVI, about the personal Elevate Summits she runs on her private island eco-resort in the British Virgin Islands, why good people need to get rich, and how she is rescuing orphans in Ukraine.
What is the story behind the Aerial BVI?
“Very long story short, I wanted to do missionary work since I was 12. I went on trips every year and I saw that as much good as we were doing, we weren’t actually solving problems. From there I went on to form multiple companies that solved many of those issues. I practised in my own backyard of America, solving the same problems but at different levels as I wanted to solve in Africa, specifically.
“Then I went from doing it in my own back yard to doing it in islands. I asked how we can create real solutions to wipe out desperation and poverty at its root because I was meeting people in the most impoverished regions where people were selling their kids into sex slavery for US$25? I have dedicated my life to making this not a thing. How can we give people better opportunities so they don’t have to do such things? We are going into countries that have been hit by disaster to help them work out how they can come back better.
“I first got the island in the BVI in 2016. I fixed the property up just before the biggest storm that had ever made landfall in the Atlantic – Irma, which was soon followed by hurricane Maria. So I had to restore it again but everything is a gift. I didn’t realise that taking part in the recovery of that disaster – not just on my own island but in the local community too – would be a blessing.
“The point of the name ‘Aerial’ is to give you that bigger picture in realising it is not just about you, it’s about the impact you can make on the world. It is obviously a very different concept but it is way more impactful than I ever imagined.”
What kinds of transformational experiences do you offer?
“I bought an island in the British Virgin Islands because I wanted to create an epicentre for people to be able to meet and share and pool ideas to solve world problems. And what I have discovered was that I bought it for me and my own events but I found that people would come to this healing space and find their own light, even if they are just people coming on vacation. For example, they get to eat in a way that is so different that they are able to think at another level that they haven’t been able to before.
“The normal things that are blocking your life that you don’t even realise are there start to fall away. When you reconnect with nature, when you interact with our equine therapy horses, when you explore in a way that you haven’t before in the ocean and the you start to heal, you start to realise your own potential.
“It’s so important that people find their gift to give to the world otherwise they won’t find any fulfillment. So we’ve created an environment for people to thrive and find themselves, and it’s direct and indirect it just depends on how you come. But that is truly how we create a ripple effect of good in the world – helping people find their own thing.
“We offer a series of five-day ‘Elevate Summits’ throughout the year where people come to elevate different areas of their life so they can achieve whole life success. At the Abundance Summit, for example, the aim is to get clear on your own vision – most people have never taken the time to go deeper and design their life around what they really want, and how to align their wealth. How do you make your money work for you and your purpose? How do you own it versus it own you? The Love Summit is about finding how you can love yourself so that you can even have the capacity to love and partner with other human beings.
“The Strength Summit is about aligning you body with the long-term vision of ‘you’ and allowing yourself to step into that. And then the Presence Summit is actually a silent retreat – there are still sessions but there are no phones and no talking except for the speaker. I will be taking part in it but not leading it. If you can’t be with yourself, how can you be with others? You have to learn how to be present, otherwise you are going to miss this moment and you are going to miss this life. This is your one chance on Earth.”
How do you define ‘whole life success’?
“If you are a billionaire but you don’t have any love in your life and you are only with someone who is using you, does that matter? Or you are on a yacht but you have trashed your body because you have engaged in junk your whole life? You can’t be the leader that you are called to be or impart what you want to when your brain is so fogged. We want you to have the opportunity to be and give your best, so this is a place of healing for you to do that.
“Being successful in all the most important areas of your life. You’re successful in your relationships, your body and living your dreams. Body, mind, spirit – they all need to work and be in alignment. You might be wildly successful in your relationship but terrible with your finances. You can have it all – it’s bullcrap that you can’t. It’s just taking a minute to organise it and take these steps of intentionality to actually bring it about.”
Obviously you would have to be very wealthy to buy out the entire island…
“Not true. It’s only about US$1,500 per night, per person for 28 people – all-inclusive. No. If you look at what people are paying to go to conferences – people pay US$10,000 to go to a Tony Robbins event where there is no room and no food included.
“Booking the average private island costs US$155,000 per night and we are starting at US$40,000 a night. We are working hard to be accessible. Our Summits are US$10,000 per person. People also sponsor other people to come to them so we have a nice mix of people.”
What kinds of people are signing up for the summits?
“I personally want to use the island for hosting world leaders so they can pool ideas. We had a Resiliency Summit last year which was for country leaders and top NGOs that served in the disasters of the last 20 years and shared what they learned. My big thing is don’t reinvent the wheel. You can move way faster when you can just take something that has been figured out and just apply it to new spaces.
“If we have ever solved poverty before – it can be done again. If we have ever had a country go through a disaster and rebuild and come back better, how did they do it? What did they do right? It’s all about education. You might be the president of a country but you are not necessarily trained on disasters. Island nations face particular challenges as you can’t just go over a state line and get help. They have no resources sometimes. To rebuild houses quickly and get people what they need quickly is a much bigger deal.
“How do you help people and places recover from trauma? After a hurricane, we went to one place where only five people were killed because it happened in the day but 500 people died in the following 90 days because of depression and suicide. Hopelessness is a really big deal. When someone else has already overcome this then we can help them recover much more quickly.
“I also host top nonprofits in the world that are working to end sex trafficking and getting them to share ideas. When it is God’s work, there is no competition so stop acting like it. A lot of NGOs get competitive over donor dollars – it’s the same cause.”
Tell us about your humanitarian efforts, particularly in Ukraine?
“We were running Aerial Recovery Group before we launched the Aerial BVI. We have over 1,000 volunteers, many of whom are ex-United States Army Veterans, and they are doing work all over the world. Aerial Recovery Group has gone from dealing with the earthquake in Haiti, to the volcano in St Vincent, the tornadoes in Kentucky, the hurricanes in Louisiana, all these different disasters, to helping rescue people in Afghanistan and now an active war in Ukraine where we are saving orphans.
“At the same time, the Aerial BVI has hosted a ‘Heal the Heroes’ retreat where we welcomed veterans from all over the world. We have all these amazing warriors come through our doors who have millions of dollars of government training – a lot of them were special operations – and we help them find their purpose even though they are retired. They are now working using their skills making them their happiest and most effective when we deploy them into these zones.
“They are in their 30s and 40s but even older veterans are amazingly effective. There is so much need in the world – before anyone quits they should get in touch because we can help you get back out there. It makes me cringe when I hear about the suicides that happen in that field.
“Everybody needs a purpose but for these people, it is even more heightened because they have been given a purpose to serve in life. It’s the same for pro athletes – they have been given an environment to thrive in but then they think it is over.”
Why are you yourself going out to Ukraine?
“I always do it. This is my life, my company, I was made for this since I was 12. I will never stop no matter how much wealth I have. Your wealth should never stop you from doing what you want to do. You’re never too important. I am an entrepreneur dedicated to solving world problems.”
Are you worried about something happening to you? Is there an argument for you staying safely outside the country and managing it from a safe distance?
“I am going to die someday, guaranteed, we all are. But I don’t take unnecessary risks. Normally the disaster is over when I arrive but in the case of Ukraine, it is on-going. My husband has 20 years of experience in war zones – he wouldn’t take me out there if it wasn’t safe enough. Is it the safest? No. But the level of experience will determine what missions people in the team go on.”
What is happening with the Ukrainian orphans you are saving?
“A big misunderstanding is that we are just taking them over the border. But if you are not processing them properly then it is technically trafficking. Ukraine doesn’t want to lose their people, their orphans, so we are taking them to other places within the country and processing them properly before they go over the borders. We have been put in charge of this happening by President Zelensky himself. If it is not done in the right way then what you create is a double disaster. We are working with Global Empowerment Mission and several other organisations out there.”
What are your plans for growth for the Aerial BVI and is this a concept that you want to scale?
“The mission is for people to know this is the island is the space to do that, whether or not I am there. When you walk on to that island you feel it – it has its own energy.
“You need to take a second to be real with yourself and think about what limiting beliefs and habits are holding you back. The longer you ignore your needs, the longer you are going to suffer and go without meaning and purpose. Start thinking about the person you know you can be. If that is not a conversation you are having with yourself then start having it and watch how life unfolds for you.
“My dream is for the Aerial BVI to be the place where you go to have those kinds of experiences. We had a very quiet opening – by trying to do something that has never been done before, we have succeeded. It’s great to have that become reality but we have had to be extremely picky about the kinds of events we host on the island because not everyone rents private islands for good reasons.”
Would you open another location?
“Maybe someday but not right now. But it would be great to expand this. I believe what you will see will be a lot more mainstream-type resorts wanting to do this. I think there is a difference between trends and movements and this is actually a movement. It’s something that resonates with the human spirit – it is not something that comes and goes. I believe this is a movement that a lot of people are going to try and figure out.”
What have you learnt about success and wealth so far in your career?
“There is nothing holy about being poor. I always thought it was. That is because we are sold this idea that if you make money then it controls you. But if you can’t help anybody else because you are barely paying your bills then what’s pure about that?
“How can you find a way to get rid of everything holding you back including financial limitations so you can be a blessing to whoever you want to be. Why would you not? I never want to be limited in how many people I can help because of money. I am not a billionaire – yet – but why not? How many more people could I help if I could generate that wealth?
“I want to encourage people – you don’t have to be an entrepreneur, you don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference. But if you are working for money every day then you are serving money versus money working for you. It’s actually easier to learn how to create wealth than it is to learn an instrument. There are a million books on it.”
How can I make a lot of money?
“Step one – get your mind right. If you think you are going to become a bad person by having money then you will never do it. Start looking at and going to places where people are suffering and then see how you can’t help them because you don’t have money. You can always help them at some level but how can you help them at scale? When you see a kid not make it because you didn’t have the resources, you will be fired up enough to figure it out. I stay in these environments and I stay fired up. It’s called perspective that gives you an edge to overcome your own bullcrap.
“Step two – study anybody else that has done it and then see how you can do it in your own life. You can either create businesses that change the world in the way that they make money, you can buy assets like rental properties that bring in cash flow so you never have to think about money again, or you can build things and sell them. There are a lot of ways to create that financial flow of income that sets you free and allows you to live your purpose.
“Step three – getting really clear on why you are doing it is super important. I don’t coach anybody until they have written their own eulogy because I want to see where they want to go in their life and who they want to be. Money is an expansion tool of the heart. Whatever money touches, it expands.
“So if your heart is all jacked up on buying stuff to prove that you’re enough, then it is going to expand your brokenness. Money doesn’t change you – it reveals you. I am the same girl that lived in her car as the girl who owns the island. I am just as worthy and valuable. Things can go away in a second so who are you at the end of the day?”
What would you like the travel industry to learn from what you are doing, especially with regard to being ethical, responsible and sustainable?
“Good, I love that. Let’s celebrate what they are doing. Let’s realise that in the last ten years they have come a long way. I love that the minimum standard is getting higher. Let’s always celebrate people who are trying. The idea of making people’s lives better by coming into a space, they can take away too. It’s all trending in the right direction.”