Ben Keene – Impact Entrepreneur & Keynote Speaker
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.
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).
Part Two: Escape the City
In 2010 Ben 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 he 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. he led 10 ‘startup accelerators’ and am in regular contact with many escapee projects.
Alongside Escape the City, he 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. He 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 his first daughter Isla was born, they headed to Bali to set-up an impact startup retreat. In a bamboo co-working space in the monkey forest he 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 he will have run 100 months of the club and read 100 books together.
Alongside Rebel Book Club, he continues to support first-time entrepreneurs at Escape the City, Virgin Startup and in schools.
His goal is to be 100% ‘earth focused’ within the coming few years, to do the best to can to tackle the climate and nature crises through entrepreneurship and community, in the most creative, fun way possible. He has started doing this at Raaise, a new platform to help get more startup solutions to the climate emergency funded faster.
SPEAKING, HOSTING & WORKSHOPS
Community Building in a (fast) Changing World.
From building a desert island village, to reinventing book clubs, to accelerating impact careers, Ben spent 20 years exploring how to use tech & community tools to make a positive change.
He has experienced success, failure and lots inbetween. But he believes that an experimental, fun approach to work is the best way to create change and build memorable careers.
A lot of his 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, hes’ been lucky to share what he has learnt and help inspire others to make the most of their opportunity.
Alongside growing startups, he loves working with organisations who are ambitious about scaling their impact. He feels 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.
“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 on the ideas behind Tribewanted.”
— David McQueen, Speaker, Entrepreneur, TV Presenter
“The best speech at the conference by a mile.”
— Chris Cramer, ex-President CNN International
“Brilliant talk, brilliant structure, utterly relevant, captivated the students.”
— Malvern College