"The best speech at the conference by a mile.” Chris Cramer, ex-President CNN International
Startup Founder. Keynote Speaker. Event Host. Community Builder.
Starting on a remote Fijian Island in 2006 I've built startups & projects that bring people together to solve real problems. I love helping organisations do work that matters to them (& the world).
I regularly deliver keynotes, host events & run workshops on building community, impact startups & adventurous careers.
Quick enquiry? Let me know how I can help.
'Keep your head in the clouds & your feet on the ground.'
Community & Business Building in a (fast) Changing World.
From building a desert island eco-village, to reinventing book clubs, to accelerating impact careers, I've spent 20 years exploring how to use tech & community tools to make a positive change.
I've experienced success, failure and lots inbetween. But I believe that an experimental, fun approach to work is the best way to create change and build memorable careers.
A lot of my work has focused on communicating with a diverse range of people on projects across our physical and digital worlds. From an island mosque in Myanmar to a CIA conference in Las Vegas; to hundreds co-working spaces, schools and keynote stages, I've been lucky to share what I've learnt and help inspire others to make the most of their opportunity.
Alongside growing startups, I love working with organisations who are ambitious about scaling their impact. We need bold leadership like never before. Whether in climate, AI, pandemics or genetic editing, we live in an 'exponential age' of rapid, consequential change. Decisions we make as community and business leaders (and citizens) today will reverberate like never before. This is both frightening and exciting.
If you're looking for a fresh perspective, with stories from the front-line of community and impact startup building, let's talk.
“Thanks to Ben for being a brilliant host for Simon (Sinek) and myself.”- Sir Richard Branson
"I met you when I was 7 on Vorovoro Island. I wasn't old enough to appreciate it but the experience easily became the most important of my life. I'm now in my second year of my Environmental Management Degree and I've been obsessed with protecting our natural world since being on the island ." Robbie Cale
"It was truly an inspiring presentation and brought more awareness on the “humanity” challenges we face and how strong communities can impact this immensely!" Chief Impact Officer, ASML
“Everyone found Ben’s session and presence inspirational.” Dame Jo Williams DBE, Chief Executive, Mencap
“Ben Keene gave one of the best presentations I have ever seen.” David McQueen, Executive Coach & Investor
Recent speaking events:
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Escape Artists Interview: A career journey from a remote Fijian Island to co-founder of Rebel Book Club & Raaise.
Part One: Tribewanted
"On January 14, 2006, Ben Keene received an email that changed his life. The weather outside was rainy, windy, and freezing and Keene was holed up in his loft office, the window fogged with mist. He had just taken a sip of hot tea when the message popped up, and Keene did a double take at the subject line: “A TRIBE IS WANTED” National Geographic
The idea behind Tribewanted was to recruit a group of similar people online before heading to the Fijian Island of Vorovoro to build a sustainable community alongside the local indigenous tribe.
The idea was swept along with a flood of interest (1000s of people paid and signed up), the island lease was secured, and the virtual community sprung to life.
Tribewanted had to quickly overcome multiple challenges including a fire sweeping through the island in week one of the project, a military coup, and a tropical cyclone threatened to wipe out the emerging village. Online disagreements also made decision making hard and pushed it to the edge.
Meet the Tribe: Observer Travel cover story.
The project survived, and for a while, thrived. I spent 10 years leading Tribewanted: building the crowdfunded sustainable-tourism village in Fiji (which was turned into a 5 part BBC series and book and invested over $3m into the local region), a beach in Sierra Leone (from ‘Blood Diamonds to Beach Football’ & measuring our impact) and a farm in Umbria (think River Cottage but with homemade pasta, olive oil and red wine).
Blog 2008 - 2014
Part Two: Escape the City
In 2010 I spoke in a Soho nightclub to 600 drunk bankers at the launch of ‘Escape the City’. Two good things came from that event - a new role helping build ‘The Escape School’ to support ‘escapees’ making the transition from unfulfilling corporate careers to something new, and I met my future wife, Susannah (not a drunk banker). Over the next 5 years the ‘Escape Team’ built two curriculums and led 1000s of people through 3 month part-time evening and weekend programmes. I led 10 ‘startup accelerators’ and am in regular contact with many escapee projects.
Alongside Escape the City, I worked with a sports development project, Right to Dream, which has grown into the most successful football academy for boys and girls in Africa (and now owns clubs in Denmark and the MLS). This led to helping host the Ghanaian Paralympic team from Right to Dream at London 2012. I joined the THNK: School of Creative Leadership as a founding participant, as a way to learn with other impact entrepreneurs from around the world.
Part Three: Rebel Book Club & Raaise.
Soon after our first daughter Isla was born, we headed to Bali to set-up an impact startup retreat. In a bamboo co-working space in the monkey forest I started Rebel Book Club with a friend, Ben Saul-Garner, to help solve the problem the Japanese call ‘Tsundoku’ - a growing pile of unread books on your bedside table (or, kindle).
Rebel Book Club is now a global community of paying subscribers who, every month, read one non-fiction book together, meet and, over a book-inspired cocktail, discuss it and see how they can apply its lessons. In August 2023 we will have run 100 months of the club and read 100 books together.
Alongside Rebel Book Club, I continue to support first-time entrepreneurs at Escape the City, Virgin Startup and in schools.
My goal is to be 100% ‘earth focused’ within the coming few years, to do the best I can to tackle the climate and nature crises through entrepreneurship and community, in the most creative, fun way possible. I've started doing this at Raaise, a new platform to help get more startup solutions to the climate emergency funded faster.
Blog 2014 - 2021
Started 'Career Break Cafe' blog after driving to Timbuktu to help people plan long-terms trips mid-career
Crowdfunded the renting of Vorovoro Island in Fiji (with 1000 new tribe members): Tribewanted was born
Survived an island fire, a cyclone & a political coup in the first year of island life
Celebrated 3 years island success - BBC tv documentary & book: 'Paradise or Bust'
Travelled to Sierra Leone & worked with Right to Dream on setting up the Craig Bellamy Football Academy
Spoke at launch party of Escape the City before setting up camp for a year on the beach in SL
Became a founding member of THNK: The Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership.
Supported the Ghanaian Paralympic team from Right to Dream with my fiancee at London 2012
Launched Tribewanted's first European project: Monestevole, a farm in Umbria, with Filippo Bozotti
Advised entrepreneurs at Virgin Startup, wrote about 'Schools for Life', mapped the world's treehouses & made the first 'Escape to the Woods' festival
Spent the winter hosting startups in Bali with Tribewanted (& pool hunting), started Rebel Book Club in London & led the startup tribe programs at Escape the City
Full-tilt at Escape London - leading 2 more startup tribes & building our team. Rebel Book Club hits 20 books + 150 members
Consolidated the Escape School - leading 2 more accelerators + getting our curriculums online. Mentoring at THNK & ZINC.vc + workshops with Virgin Starutp. Read 50 books in a year!
Strengthened the startup programmes at the Escape School. Doubled size of Rebel Book Club. Moved our family to Ko Lanta in Thailand!
Went full-time at Rebel Book Club and crowdfunded £150,000. Moved to Dorset with the family.
Pivoted Rebel Book Club to 100% online during the covid pandemic. Hosted a dozens of online events including a chat about optimism with Simon Sinek & Richard Branson. Welcomed a puppy called Bula.
Slow return to in-person events for Rebel Book Club. Launched Raaise and started on-boarding our first climate stratups. Recorded 'The Jump' podcast for Virgin Startup.
Steady year with good event & podcast series for Rebel Book Club, Raaise & Virgin Startup.
Highlights with Clover Hogan, Vanessa Nakate, Mo Gawdat & lots of fanatastic climate founders.
Its not what you start, its that you start. Selling online ads is hard.
Braveness is rewarded but comes with significant responsibility. Don't complicate the mission.
Tenacity is critical but being clear on priorities is not easy. Feedback can be good for the head but not for the heart.
Ego can be the enemy if you're not careful. Power is better shared.
New beginnings can revitalise.
Taking on the biggest challenge not always the best business move but often the best life move.
Keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground.
Inspiration can come from unlikely sources - stay open.
Sometimes its good to pick low hanging fruit.
Creativity should be central to most things.
Mindsets shift with community. Scaling impact models not easy.
Building a team (& family at the same time) is hard.
Focus on the product. Easy to say, hard to do well. When we did it made a big difference.
Sometimes your comfort zone is closer than you think.
Do everything at once.
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.
Staying focused is a superpower.
Organisations & projects I support with donations or time.
Tribewanted Book (2008)
"Couldn't put this book down - What a story. In a world where most of us fail to attempt anything bold, exciting or different it is refreshing to read of an entrepreneur who does so half the world away in a profoundly unique, intact Polynesian culture. Great pictures, too!"