EbenGroup’s Student Focus Group

Designing For Good
By: Cayla Mackey
June 20, 2015

For three junior Graphic Design majors at the Rhode Island School of Design, social enterprise is a work in progress – literally. Oscar Robert, Sarah Morse, and Haley Renken recently participated in a student-led focus group with EbenGroup, a recent graduate of the Social Enterprise Greenhouse Accelerator. Together with co-founder Candace McCreary, the small group hashed out the design of an exciting new product for the budding social enterprise.

The EbenPack, EbenGroup’s premier product.


EbenGroup is a social enterprise that was founded to alleviate education inequality. For every backpack they sell, they give one stocked full of school supplies away to a student in need. The backpacks and school supplies are purchased in the beneficiary country to stimulate the local economy and leave the smallest footprint possible.

EbenGroup co-founder Candace McCreary moved to Providence two years ago, in part because she saw Providence as a good place to base and grow the company. As Candace says, “Social Enterprise Greenhouse was a big part of why I decided to relocate my social venture, EbenGroup, to Rhode Island. The successes that we have had are due in large part to Social Enterprise Greenhouse.”

Candace (center) along with co-founders Emily (left) and Yohanna (right).


This year’s SEEED Conference was no exception. There, Candace made a connection to one of the world’s most successful and prominent social businesses through a keynote speaker from that company. The result was a commission for an original jointly branded product, and then the creative juices got flowing.

The students got involved because they had enrolled in a class at RISD on Social Enterprise co-taught by Kelly Ramirez (Social Enterprise Greenhouse CEO) and Dan Levinson (former Social Enterprise Greenhouse board member now strategic advisor). Kelly and Dan invited students in the class to participate in the creative process of designing this new product with EbenGroup.

The students gathered at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse Hub one evening and debated possible features and approaches for the new product and brainstormed solutions to flaws in current models.

It was an eye-opening experience for the students. As Sarah Morse said, “We’re art school students. I’ve never had an opportunity like this.” The chance to apply of what they learned in the classroom to a real world project brief is not something most undergraduate students encounter. As Oscar Robert remarked, “You guys have me hooked.”

The project will soon be released for limited sale in regional stores, with expansion to all stores hopefully to follow. To stay abreast of the news, follow EbenGroup (website, Facebook, Twitter) and Social Enterprise Greenhouse, and subscribe to their newsletters.



Cayla Mackey
University Initiative Director

As the Social Enterprise Greenhouse University Initiative Director, Cayla helps college and university students get involved in social enterprise. The University Initiative is a program funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation Innovation Grant to retain students and recent graduates in Rhode Island and enable them to work on and in social enterprises. Learn more about Cayla here.

Contact: cmackey@segreenhouse.org