Meet Sandra Enos, the creator of Giving Beyond the Box. As a recently retired sociology professor, and participant of both the SEG Incubator in 2019 and now our 2020 Impact Accelerator, Sandra knows the value of teachable moments. Describing what she now calls her doable moments, she shared with us what it’s been like to plan and host a launch party, sell out of her first two boxes, and engage with community every step of the way. (Above at right, Sandra displays the contents of one of her gift boxes with Lanna Nawa of Impact Everything.)
Serena Manna: What is the mission of Giving Beyond the Box?
Sandra Enos: Our mission is to curate gift boxes that are purposeful and meaningful. Each box features an array of products that create social impact by connecting givers and recipients over shared values.
SM: How did you come up with the idea?
SE: When I was a college professor, I used to organize pop-up markets that featured social impact products around the holidays. The idea was to see if people would buy these products – all with a social mission – if they learned about them. I discovered that many people were happy to know that as a consumer they could choose to make a positive impact on issues they care about. Shoppers at the market learned about this sector and the wonderful work being done by our vendors and partners.
SM: What were you doing before starting Giving Beyond the Box?
SE: I just retired from a twenty-year career as a professor of sociology, where my research focused on women and mass incarceration and on the pedagogy of social change. Before my academic career, I had several jobs in policy development, program management, and leadership – mainly my work was in child welfare, corrections, and public administration.
SM: Tell us about the boxes and how you go about creating them. What are the different kinds of boxes that you sell?
SE: I am always on the lookout for new ideas for our boxes. We’ve created and sold three kinds so far. This past December we created a box that celebrated holidays and special occasions and launched our first Holiday Box of Light. We also sold the RI Little Box of Hope, which included products exclusively from RI vendors. Both boxes sold out before the holidays were over! More recently we put together a smaller box for Valentine’s Day and are excited to launch our new box this month, the Mother’s Day box, which includes local products that celebrate the spirit of Rhode Island. Some of the profits from these boxes will be directed to support pandemic relief where it is most needed. We are also looking to create boxes that are organized around themes, like the environment, women’s issues, humanitarian relief, and others. Our slogan is “Gifts they’ll love that love the world back.”
“A benefit of turning your idea into a reality is working with a community focused on problem solving and getting things done in a reflective, transparent, and accountable way.”
SM: What’s special about how the boxes are curated? What suppliers have you worked with?
SE: We find suppliers that offer social impact products. Suppliers that provide clean water, support refugees, empower women, provide solar light to folks off the grid, provide humanitarian relief to malnourished children, and many more. The boxes bring together outstanding organizations with people who want to make a positive difference in the world. We have worked with almost twenty vendors at this point and are always looking to partner with others. Some include Luminaid, Conscious Step, Thistle Farms, and locally Impact Everything, Edesia, Beautiful Day, Shri Snacks, Sanctuary Herbs of Providence, Bellicchi’s Best Biscotti, and more.
SM: Does Giving Beyond the Box help other social entrepreneurs grow their businesses?
SE: Our goal is to serve as a distributor for the wonderful products developed by social entrepreneurs to help them reach new populations and markets. We plan on designing boxes for corporate and nonprofit partners to engage their stakeholders and communities.
SM: You launched Giving Beyond the Box in November 2019. What was that moment like?
SE: The launch took place at SEG and was the first time our boxes were for sale. Catered by local and social enterprises like Harvest Kitchen and Riverzedge Arts, it was a wonderful event to bring together communities that should know each other. At the launch, vendors who had products featured in our boxes came to tell stories about their social-impact work.
SM: How many boxes have you made and sold? How do your partners get paid?
SE: We sold out of our Holiday Boxes and RI boxes! We produced and sold 100 of each of these boxes. I pay the vendors for their products upfront because many of them have challenges with cash flow.
SM: What have been some of the challenges?
SE: There are lots of costs associated with an operation like this one – acquiring inventory, designing, printing, and producing boxes, finding distribution channels, marketing, and more. Like many small businesses, I am challenged to develop a product that will have high value for customers at a price they find affordable and worth it.
“As professors, we talk about the teachable moment, and this was my doable moment – moving ahead with purpose and direction.”
SM: How did you first get involved with SEG, and what’s it been like to grow your venture with us?
SE: I’ve been involved with SEG and its predecessor, Social Venture Partners RI, for many years. When I was teaching, I created a social entrepreneurship program at Bryant University to help students understand this emerging field. To me SEG has been one of the most innovative organizations by creating a culture for social impact. I’ve had help from SEG at every turn – a great coach (Todd Grant of Squadlocker), wonderful advisors, and inspiring programs. The network of other social entrepreneurs here is invaluable. Between SEG staff, members, and leadership, there’s no challenge that I face that someone in our community can’t help me solve.
SM: You participated in an SEG Incubator in 2019. What was the most important thing you learned from the experience?
SE: A key lesson was appreciating how all the pieces of creating and running a business need to come together. I learned important concepts and key vocabulary and found great mentors to work those concepts into planning for my business. For me, the Incubator was perfectly timed. I have always been blessed with ideas, but I haven’t always had the chance to put them into practice. The Incubator afforded me that opportunity – to take an idea, test it, and see if it will fly. So far, so good!
SM: How does it feel to turn an idea into a reality?
SE: It feels wonderful to be working on an idea that is yours, including the pluses and negatives that come with that ownership. A benefit of turning your idea into a reality is working with a community focused on problem solving and getting things done in a reflective, transparent, and accountable way.
SM: You’re now enrolled in our 2020 Impact Accelerator. Why was that the next step to take?
SE: My business was at that stage where I needed to get more serious – to create a more formal structure, production schedules, marketing strategies – and the Impact Accelerator was the perfect platform. As professors, we talk about the teachable moment, and this was my doable moment – moving ahead with purpose and direction. I am learning the language of business, and the course has made me aware of the array of things I need to attend to. It has helped me to appreciate my own talents and limitations, and understanding of how to make the best of those.
SM: Can you share any growth projections and future plans?
SE: I would like to increase the number of boxes I sell so that I can buy more products from social impact vendors and extend their impact. I am also interested in custom-designing boxes for organizational partners who are looking at new ways of engaging with customers, employees, and stakeholders. I plan on having more boxes for major holidays and a series of impact themes. I have a strategy for very deliberate growth.
SM: How have you responded to COVID-19 and what shifts have you made?
SE: In addition to currently selling our Mothers’ Day boxes online and available for pickup at Impact Everything on Thayer Street, we are designing a CANdemic-RI box to celebrate the good work happening in our community. It is a challenging time. I am looking forward to seeing what Giving Beyond the Box can contribute to the community. We are always seeking new opportunities to do some good.
By Serena Manna
SEG Communications Coordinator