Ilana Ben-Ari

Ilana Ben-Ari







+ Virtual Keynote Speaker

A 30, 45, or 60 minute live keynote presentation delivered via zoom. 

+ In-person Keynote Speaker

A 30, 45, or 60 minute live keynote presentation delivered in person.

+ Hybrid Keynote Speaker

A 30, 45, or 60 minute live keynote presentation delivered in-person and livestreamed to virtual audiences. 


Empathy is the #1 Job Skill: The Future of Work & Learning

What does it mean to be human in the age of intelligent machines? What are the job skills of the future? How can we train ourselves—and our employees—to be indispensable to business success? In this interactive keynote, entrepreneur and inventor of The Empathy Toy Ilana Ben-Ari identifies creativity and emotional intelligence as two of the top skills workers need—now and in the future. Much of our work is becoming automated, she says. But a successful interaction between two human beings, or a creative way of thinking, can’t be automated. It can, however, be taught.

In a keynote and workshop customized for you, Ilana will first reveal the future of work and learning to your audience members. Then, she will lead them through a series of games and exercises that teach empathy, collaboration, communication, leadership, and creativity. It’s a fun, creative, and deeply human session that your audience will both enjoy and greatly benefit from.

Embracing the F Word: Why Failure = Innovation

Why is is that in music and sports, failure is called “practice”—but in school and at work, it’s something we should avoid at all costs? “Even though we know failure is key to design and innovation, most of us have an unhealthy relationship to it,” says designer and entrepreneur Ilana Ben-Ari. “Once we better understand how we, our colleagues, and our systems respond to failure, then we will be better equipped to deal with it. Instead of fearing failure, we will start designing for and around it.” So, in what turned out to be a stunningly meta project, Ilana spent three years failing to design the next toy in her line of interactive learning and development toys for her company, Twenty One Toys. But all that failure was just practice—it was essential to the process of designing this innovative new toy that helps players develop healthier, more productive relationships with failure.

In this interactive keynote that incorporates live gameplay elements, Ilana breaks down all the different forms success and failure can take, and reveals how understanding and embracing failure can enhance communication, collaboration, design, innovation, resilience, and grit.

The Business of Innovation: Ilana Ben-Ari on Entrepreneurship & Design Thinking

Ilana Ben-Ari’s company started with a simple Kickstarter campaign. Now, her first product, The Empathy Toy, is “one of six new technologies shaping classrooms and offices of the future” (TIME), and she just launched her new product, The Failure Toy. Why are her toys so game-changing? Good design. And how will she move forward with her plan to develop 19 more toys? Good business.

In this talk, Ilana tells two intertwining stories: her journey as an entrepreneur; and the importance of design thinking. She reveals how design can be a much more powerful force than many of the technological and digital tools that are being implemented in schools or workplaces—because it has the potential to change the way we learn. And, she shares her successes and failures as an entrepreneur without any investors, and what she has learned about the business of design. Ilana is a delightful speaker, and this is an inspiring and instructive keynote. Her takeaways on innovation, creativity, and collaboration can—and should—be implemented by any audience in any organization.


“Toys are the new textbooks,” says designer and social entrepreneur Ilana Ben-Ari. “If we're going to be ready for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, we need to value play and emotional intelligence, in our schools and our offices.” Ilana is the inventor of The Empathy Toy, an award-winning toy being used in over 1,000 schools and companies that teaches communication, collaboration, and creativity. Her new product, The Failure Toy, helps players develop healthier, more productive relationships with failure. In fun, interactive keynotes and workshops, Ilana gives audiences a visceral understanding of the power of empathy and the importance of failure, and how these skills and experiences can help us succeed.

Ilana Ben-Ari is the founder, CEO, and lead designer of Twenty One Toys. The company’s first product is The Empathy Toy, a 3-D abstract puzzle that was originally designed with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to bridge the communication gap between visually impaired students and their sighted classmates. It is now used as a tool for empathic learning and creative education for people of varying ages and abilities. Already in thousands of schools, homes and offices worldwide, it was featured in TIME as one of six new technologies shaping classrooms and offices of the future. Her new product, The Failure Toy, challenges the notion that failure is something to be feared and hidden, and instead teaches us that failure is something that can be practiced and developed as a skill. It surpassed its goals on Kickstarter and will start shipping in 2020.

Ilana has won multiple awards, including C2MTL's emerging entrepreneur award. She has spoken at TEDx and at conferences around the world, and has been featured in the Guardian and the Independent, among others. She has been working at the intersection of design and social innovation for a decade at studios in Montreal, Helsinki, London, and most recently, Toronto.

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Design Thinker & Founder of Twenty One Toys