Shifting focus to mindful gifting

Collabox is a social enterprise that puts together socially conscious, locally produced products in one box.

by Portia Ladrido

Inside are ethically produced products all sourced from the Philippines. © Collabox

A poll conducted with 30,000 consumers across 60 countries asked about their buying behaviour, purchasing capacities, and what influences their choices. The report concluded that majority of these consumers are willing to pay more money if the products have one element: sustainability.

The word ‘sustainability’ has become a buzzword in the recent years, sometimes even losing its gravitas for the frequency of the word’s use in businesses, media, and even politics, among others.

However, with the very real impact of climate change on communities around the globe, and the clamor of the public (the youth, in particular) for more ethical practices that can save the future, sustainability has now become need of the hour, rather than just a nice-to-have.

This is what April Ong Vaño has kept in mind since starting Collabox, a social enterprise that puts together socially conscious, locally produced products from the Philippines in one box, which can be given as gifts or souvenirs.

“Collabox started out as a birthday fundraising project where I wanted to have tokens given to donors who contributed to support the charity,” she says. “I chose to give them products made by community livelihood programs in the Philippines.”

In time for the holidays, Ong Vaño shared some insights about her enterprise with INKLINE.

April Ong Vaño (center) started Collabox as a fundraising project; and now it has turned into a full enterprise. © Collabox

INKLINE: Why did you start your social enterprise Collabox?

April Ong Vaño: I strongly believe in the power of collaboration and, when such power is harnessed to create positive change, possibilities are endless. 

Two years after my birthday fundraiser project, I decided to turn it into a social enterprise and also support and promote these locally made products through gift giving. I saw the opportunity to tap private organizations and individuals who would be keen to discover and purchase curated gift boxes. I strongly believe that economic empowerment through sustainable business and wealth creation is a holistic approach to solving various social challenges.

I: How do you choose your collaborators? 

A: They key factors that we look into are the business models employed by these enterprises. Some of them are for profit while others are non profit but the common denominator lies in the impact as part of the thrust of the business.

From job creation to environmental protection, the vision and mission of these enterprises make them the unique stories we want to showcase in our curations. For now, we are in the Philippines and choose locally made products from here. But we are keen to explore developing partnerships with local enterprises around the world. 

Some Filipino products inside a Collabox. © Collabox

I: What are the main pillars of Collabox?

A: The main pillars of Collabox as a brand are social procurement and advocacy campaigns. We aim to be a platform to connect companies and organizations to homegrown brands with a positive impact. For social procurement, we provide market access to corporate buyers and international markets. We also explore and execute strategic partnerships to raise awareness on sustainable development goals and encourage clients to practice responsible consumption. 

I: Most products in your boxes are from social enterprises. How important is it to support them? And why do you think social enterprises’ role is crucial in any society?

A: The common framework employed by social enterprises is the triple bottom line – that’s people, planet and profit. This is as important to us as an advocacy enterprise and we are intentionally building partnerships with brands that share our vision.

With that, our partners commit to focus on the results and impact we have on people and the environment just as much as we ensure profit and sustainability. With the growing number of challenges across sectors, the core purpose of social businesses is to offer solutions to one or more of these issues through creating value for its customers and building wealth for its stakeholders.

Collaboration is key for Collabox. Their cause is strengthened through partnerships with different organisations. © Collabox

As we aspire to become a network or portal that transforms the way people make choices as consumers, we are working towards shifting society’s view of how all businesses can operate. In a broader sense, social enterprises offer alternatives to promote a sustainable lifestyle. Each enterprise creates its own influence and impact on local producers, farmers and artisans which in turn increases economic activity. As a community thrives with sustainable jobs, quality education and training, people can work towards overall good quality of life.

I: What are the challenges of running your enterprise? 
As we currently focus on business-to-business transactions, there is a challenge in positioning social enterprise products amongst other products being considered for corporate procurement. Artisanal products cannot compete with the pricing of mass-produced items.

The common procurement practice is to always find the most economical product provider that will incur the least cost for a company. With that, there is an added layer of advocating and negotiation in order for us to present our line of products in such a way that companies see them for its value, quality and overall impact. 

Collabox is bringing sustainability to gift giving. © Collabox

I: What has been the most memorable Collabox moment?

A: Just as we started promoting on social media, I organized a World Food Day meet up in order to gather fellow advocates and invite innovators working on sustainable agriculture. At the last minute, I was invited to join the morning news show to speak about the advocacy and how our enterprise aims to be a channel for people to support local producers. We were just getting started and we were able to reach a wider audience than expected. This generated momentum for me to work towards taking the idea forward.

I: What do you hope for Collabox to become? 

A: I hope that Collabox can become an active global community of local advocates who are mindful and meaningful gift givers and shoppers. From corporate clients to direct customers, we aim to become first in mind for collaborative initiatives to support sustainable social enterprises.

I: Any new projects that we should look out for?

A: As we pivot our way to capturing direct consumers for both personal and gift shopping, we are working on developing a crowdfunding component as a tool for advocacy and awareness campaigns. With this project, we want people to buy a gift and make a donation with every purchase. 

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