In 2008, Sandbox began as conversations among friends who felt there was something special happening with their generation. It was founded by Fabian Pfortmüller, Nico Luchsinger, Antoine Verdon, Christian Busch, and Severin Jan Ruegger. As teenagers in Switzerland, Fabian and Nico worked on an idea to connect the leaders of tomorrow from around the world in a network. The others were simultaneously demonstrating the impact of intentionally bringing young people together on an international scale. In May 2009, the five founded a organization to coalesce a global community of the most inspiring young people in the world, empowered to support each other, create with each other, grow up with each other, and one day run the world together.
Sandbox began with a series of dinners among inspiring millennials in Zurich, London, New York City and Singapore. There was a ‘magic’ in the recipe of values, community, and the people who showed up for these gatherings. Soon dinner attendees wanted to organize their own, similar gatherings in other cities. Sandbox began to expand with hubs and ambassadors across the world. Fabian, who had been working on the venture full time, passed on leadership to Antoine as the first CEO of Sandbox. This is when I joined the community in London referred by Rajeeb Dey, and later that year became a global ambassador. Nico later joined Antoine full-time as Head of Business Development before becoming CEO himself in 2010.
Nico designed Sandbox’s revenue stream and led the growth of the organization. Severin as Head of Strategy and later CFO led the first wave of international expansion and began focusing on strategic and financial issues. Meanwhile, Christian as Head of Community Development designed the hub structure and grew the Sandbox community to 20 countries. Early ambassadors such as William McQuillan, Gwendolyna Regina Tan, Kalsoom Lakhani, Bjoern Lasse Herrmann, Rand Hindi, Rainer Scheerer, Mariam Georges, Tim Rutten, Per Jonsson, Marion Cortina, Achyutha Sharma, Sebastian Lindstrom developed strong local communities that together formed a unique global community. To finance efforts, Sandbox received backing from the very beginning and at varying times subsequently from an investor, Centralway (co-led by two of Sandbox’ cofounders, Antoine Verdon and Severin Ruegger). Over time, Centralway became the majority shareholder of the company.
Equipped with funding in 2013, Sandbox hired John Egan as the new CEO. John on-boarded a new team: Alexandre Terrien, Belen Rodriguez Galvez, Jennifer Miksch and Nadya Ivanova. By relentlessly nurturing community and instilling a strong set of values, Sandbox became more than just a network, it became a family and home for those who were often made to feel ‘crazy’ due to the scope or audacity of their dreams.
It meant something to be a ‘Sandboxer’ and it was clear that this community of millennials would work very hard to help one another succeed. Sandbox became the community that fosters serendipity. Synchronistic stories began to multiply, like that of two collaborating Sandboxers obtaining an interview with Somali pirates as well as Lady Gaga within just a few days. This community is who you asked first. Sandboxers also continued to strengthen their connection to one another through annual retreats.
John directed his team to increase the quality of membership and engagement throughout the hubs and curated the first, fully-funded Ambassador Summit in London. Ambassadors had the opportunity to collaborate on hub development. Feedback from the Ambassador Summit gave John clear milestones. Anything seemed possible because 1000 members had seen the world re-created through the digital revolution within their lifetimes - they now played witness to the growing up of a generation that believed another world was possible.
In 2014, John revealed his vision to the Sandbox Board. I read John’s vision and only later realised it would be years before the community was ready. John, a visionary, was able to see an alternative, global system to help incentivise the company to work independently of the community, giving clear engagement metrics, a currency, a mayorship, and better yet - a global nation. Later that year, at the launch of the successful Buenos Aires hub in July, the majority equity owner, Centralway, decided the investment to fund this vision did not make sense. Centralway swiftly closed the community’s digital operations and announced to all members and staff, they would be starting again, from zero. Members could no longer continue activity using the brand Sandbox Network.
Sandbox Network had cultivated a generation of people in consistent digital connection with one another. Shortly after the surprising news, Rahaf Harfoush, a global ambassador, invited members to a discussion (with a new facebook page called HQ). Most active members migrated to this new group to partake in the discussion. It was the beginning of an involuntary transition. This was the first time, decisions were made without any mandated leaders and marked the beginning of a new era. Rahaf’s initiative invited others to join in the migration. Working committees were formed and lead by Sarah Kathleen Peck, Michael Mayernick, Kamel Magour, Kostas Grammatis, Marcus Kuhn, Mark Bao and Yezin al-Qaysi. To confirm whether members were happy to be associated with this new, nameless community, an opt-in phase ensured membership. In August 2014, a call for proposals lead to a collective decision to invite applications for a Transition Team consisting of five members: two for governance and three for operations.
By October 2014, the Transition Team was voted-in to carry out the tasks designed to take governance and operational decisions. HQ consisted of the legitimized leadership of Alexandre Terrien and myself in Governance and Michael Mayernick, Tahnee Prior and Asia Lindsay in operations. This gave us a safe place to lead a democratic process to transition the community. Myself and the rest of the HQ team, worked pro-bono for a year to determine a charity application in the UK as the best course of action.
A big question overshadowed the community, what do we call ourselves? For years, the demonym Sandboxer represented the name given to a member who displayed the values of the community. In an effort to recover the loss of identity, I emailed Centralway to ask if we could have the brand Sandbox back. With no response, the Transition Team launched a process of branding, by committee, which later we realised required much work to help ‘Sandboxers’ accept. The name ‘One Thousand Network’ (Later, Thousand) was voted in with the help of a branding committee in December 2014 - and was launched as the name of the community in January 2015.
Hubs expanded and a new member application process was on-boarded whilst keeping the community database current by Tahnee. The new website was managed by Michael; communication through social media and newsletters were kept lively by Asia. The culture had shifted to one of empowering the community members to ignite leadership. A global summit in Panama was launched, followed by retreats in every hub to update members with the next steps to launch an application for a charity.
In October 2015, a vote was cast for 3 trustees and 3 community managers to govern and manage the application of the charity under Thousand Network. Having put myself forward to implement our plans, I was voted in as Chair, Guy Cohen as Treasurer and Karen Mok as Secretary (later Guy stepped down and suggested William McQuillan, who kindly accepted); Kathy Qian; Abhineet Kumar; Rebecca Garcia, Annie Hodges, Rhea managed the community operations, Ceraun Loggins in communications. HQ launched four new hubs (Bogota, LA, Porto & Nomad) whilst onboarding 45 new Ambassadors and 250 new members and hosting 40 Retreats, 2 Regional Summits (The Americas, Middle East), a Virtual Summit and the largest physical gathering in our history in the jungle of Panama. After Panama, we launched and supported members hosting our first Governance Summit, Communications Summit, Sister-Hubs and retreats and Women’s Group.
Before the Global Summit in Panama in February 2016, Centralway communicated their desire to donate the brand back to the community. With the generous legal counsel of Amit Khanna, we worked on a negotiation to receive the Sandbox brand and its assets. Given the community’s experience of Centralway, we ensured the return of the heritage to the community was backed by strong legal representation. Late November 2016, Centralway and Thousand Network signed a contract for the transfer of these assets. In December, we shared this information with the community through townhalls and discussions. We launched a ratification vote on Facebook, our primary communication and mobilization platform. On January, 2017, we announced that 96% of the community ratified HQ’s decision to bring Sandbox back as the main name of the community. I’ve seen through some of the toughest times of our community, and believe this has required patience, strong faith and a view on what we can be. This is powerful. Sandbox is the place we foster, deepen and channel this power.
This is an eclectic community of nomads and adventurers, power brokers and politicians, ambitious angels dedicated to creating a world of our design. From San Francisco to Singapore you’ll find us rushing through airports we’ve never seen before, crashing on couches we’ve never known before and laughing through dinners with friends we’ve never met before. This is Sandbox. Home to us is not the building we live in, it’s the people we can’t live without. Although the experience is curated and built by all members, it is supported by HQ for its members to move from local impact to global influence. This is a family of over 1300 members from over a 100 countries, co-creating community among the next generation of leaders while leveraging their collective intelligence to meet some of the 21st century’s greatest challenges.
Every year our community represents a portion the world’s most visible pioneers of the Forbes list of 30 under 30. We have been featured on the front covers of Wired, Fast Company, Forbes, the Boston Globe and covered in the New York Times, BusinessWeek, Financial Times, Washington Post, CNN, ABC Inc Magazine, and Vogue to name a few. We’ve shared our experiences and have spoken at TED, the White House, the World Economic Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the United Nations. Despite these accolades, it is clear that ‘glue’ is not just about professional aspirations but also our generation’s deeply personal quests, an inner journey which drives our members to be more and give more to the world we live in.
Sandbox is a dynamic and evolving global family. A community that leverages local power to be an impactful force in the world. You’ll find there are no borders, once you are a member you are equally welcome to the rest of the hubs we have across the world. We believe in giving more than receiving as we infuse our interactions with humility, honesty and empathy and strive for authentic exchanges that enrich our community.
Our circle of trust is protected by a fundamental respect for the confidentiality, safety, and integrity of our community. With this, I invite you to join us at our most significant event yet, Global Summit 2017. It truly is time to shift a gear.
We've had some interesting, low times when things seem to be going awry. But by sticking together, we've managed to sustain our enthusiasm. For me personally, it has been the journey of my life.
Dr Tia Kansara, Chair Sandbox
P.S. This is a collective history and I have deep gratitude to the five Founders, John Egan, the participants of the governance summit; communications summit, all of our past and present ambassadors, and to participants of all of our retreats and hours of conversations that have resulted in this summary. Many thanks to Jess Rimington, who helped shape writing and thinking; ambassadors and members who have tirelessly worked on this community and there are many more.. you know who you are. This is just the start. Now we are free of encumbrances, who knows where we can go.