A Foundation that Nurtures Awesomeness

An 18-foot interactive electrical CLOUD created with over 5,000 burnt out incandescent light bulbs is intended to create awareness of the possible applications of otherwise useless domestic objects.
Photo credit: Caitlind r.c. Brown.

A Foundation that Nurtures Awesomeness

Grassroots organization grows to more than 70 chapters globally in four years

It’s a simple and spreading idea: 10 people each with $100 in their pocket meet monthly and pool their funds to advance something loosely defined as “awesome.”

The $1,000 micro grants are given to people with no strings attached, and the funders lay no claim to ownership of the projects.

  Wayne Garrett and Caitlind r.c. Brown, creators of the CLOUD.

Since the first Awesome Foundation was founded in Boston in 2009, grassroots foundations promoting good ideas are growing globally. There are more than 70 Awesome Foundations in 12 countries, stretching as far as Mongolia and Lebanon.

In the United States there are 30 Awesome Foundations, and 17 in Canada. In some cities like Boston and San Francisco, there are two chapters.

“Initially, I couldn’t wrap my head around it, says Reg Tiangha, dean and co-founder of Awesome Foundation Calgary.

“No strings attached, where is the return on investment?”

Then Reg learned about the first project funded by the Awesome Foundation in Toronto.

Called “Connect the T-Dots,” the idea was for an artist to paint a white dot on people’s roofs. Then, using aerial and satellite views of Toronto, the artist would create a giant number puzzle forming various shapes unique to each city neighbourhood. In Cabbagetown, for example, the dots could form the shape of a cabbage.

“It’s about awesome ideas that may never make money back but they’re just cool to do. When I realized that, that’s when I got behind it,” Reg says.

  Bare Bottoms Diaper Drive collected 60,000 diapers in one month to aid familes who struggle to buy diapers for their children.

When the foundation’s Calgary chapter first launched in 2011, Reg says it initially received proposals from artists. During one of its monthly pitch nights called Thousand Dollar Thursdays, several engineers were in the room listening to the ideas. They were intrigued.

“All of a sudden these engineers were reaching out to artists and they were collaborating on stuff,” Reg says.

One of the projects that resulted was MakeFashion, which pairs local fashion designers with tech-savvy "makers" to create innovative artistic pieces that glow, flash, and respond to touch and sound.

“People see what’s available, they get inspired, and they do something crazy on their own or they collaborate, and that’s really the value we’ve seen with the Awesome Foundation in Calgary,” Reg says. “It’s breaking perceptions about what’s possible and enabling people to act on their crazy ideas.”

Other projects have been more practical, like a new mother who brought awareness of the reality that one in five families struggle to buy diapers for their children. Awesome Foundation Calgary provided her with funding to promote a city-wide diaper drive collecting 60,000 diapers in one month.

Jody Rechenmacher, a community infrastructure consultant with Urban Systems in Vancouver, recently joined the Awesome Foundation’s Vancouver chapter. Having volunteered with Engineers without Borders, Jody says she’s interested in international development and how to contribute resources in a way that creates positive change.

  The MakeFashion fashion designers and tech-savvy "makers" who are converging of technology and art to create a form, fashion and community brand new to Calgary.

While the Awesome Foundation is not systemic, it offers a bottom-up approach, which appealed to Jody.

“I think it’s important to have money to experiment with that’s less attached to specific outcomes,” she says.

“It’s trying things out because you don’t always know what’s going to work and what’s not.”

Awesome Foundation Vancouver chapter just provided its third grant to the Vancouver Trade School to help the new organization create marketing materials and establish itself as a charity.

“We think it’s awesome because it engages the community in sharing knowledge and makes very diverse knowledge accessible to just about everyone,” Jody says.

The Vancouver chapter is moving to monthly granting and looking for more applications. To learn more, click here.

In addition to community chapters, the Awesome Foundation has worldwide chapters focused on specific issues, such as food, open web or Hurricane Sandy.

If you’re interested in joining or starting an Awesome Foundation in your community, click here.

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A version of this article was originally written for the Urban Systems news service. This repost, for which we received permission, follows the style guidelines of the original post. To learn more about generative newsroom options for your organization or community, please contact peter(at)axiomnews.ca.

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Camille Jensen

Camille Jensen is an employee share ownership consultant with ESOP Builders, Canada’s largest provider of employee share ownership plans (ESOPs) for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Prior to joining ESOP Builders, Camille was a generative journalist and team member at Axiom News. She credits her time at Axiom as fundamental to her understanding that business is one of the best opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Camille is a B.C. Partner for Social Impact and volunteer with Okanagan Changemakers.

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