This story was first published on The Vocal on February 6, 2017. Image courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo.
Good ideas can be plentiful but finding the cash to get a good idea off the ground can be harder. That’s why the premise behind The Awesome Foundation – who each month award $1,000 no-strings-attached grants to applicants they feel are most deserving – is such a simple but brilliant one.
A global community of givers
The Awesome Foundation was established in Boston in 2009, the brainchild of online entrepreneur Tim Hwang. Today it is less a foundation and more a global community of philanthropists with 79 chapters in 15 countries, including ones in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Newcastle. To date, they have contributed US$2.475m in funding towards 2475 projects around the world.
Each chapter runs autonomously but collectively they champion the idea they are ‘forwarding the interest of awesome in the universe, $1,000 at a time’. Chapters consist of a dean and ten ‘trustees’, the latter who each donate $100 towards a monthly grant, and together decide who receives it.
“It’s really truly grassroots, no-strings-attached ten people putting their hands in their pocket and voting with their dollars,” says Claudia Barriga–Larriviere, who is the aptly named Dean of Awesome for the Sydney chapter.
Ideas with impact
Awesome grants are open to individuals, groups and organisations alike, and no ownership is placed over the initiatives they support. Their only criteria being applicants define what makes their idea ‘awesome’. This is very much open to interpretation and only dictated by what captures the attention and interest of the trustees allocating the funds.
Barriga–Larriviere says the Sydney chapter aims to support applications that will “have a true local impact”. This sees funding go towards a diverse range of projects, spanning the experimental and artistic through to the community-led and environmental.
“While we don’t have any hard and fast rules about what the Foundation will or won’t fund, there are a few project types that are more likely to get my vote,” says Jay Boolkin, a trustee of the Awesome Foundation’s Sydney chapter and founder of Social Change Central, an online hub for social enterprises.
“Above all, I like big, bold and unusual ideas. At the same time, I also need to be confident that the project proposed can be achieved. Personally, I’m a sucker for projects run by individuals that have a distinctive and positive community impact and that otherwise would not happen without the Foundation’s support.”
How $1000 helps hundreds of kids
The Sydney chapter of Awesome meets once a month to decide who will be awarded the $1000 grant. Barriga–Larriviere says it can be a heated – but very fun – affair, with trustees having their own pet causes and approaches to choosing who receives it. When a decision is finally made, the highlight is calling the grantee to tell them.
“When we are lucky enough for them to pick up the call, it’s quite emotional because a lot of these projects are not only close to their heart but are community driven. They are people that want to make a big difference but don’t know how to get started. What they need is so small that it’s not worth going to a council or a charity or building a whole social enterprise around it. It’s amazing to be a part of that,” says Barriga–Larriviere.
Case in point is the December recipient of the Sydney chapter’s grant, Second Life Stationery. Founded by Natalie Wall less than a year ago, the organisation collect, sort, and re-distribute ‘gently used’ stationery and school gear for underprivileged students.
“Today, Second Life Stationery stretches from Maitland to Nowra and we have donated more than 380 filled backpacks and supplied a further 150 families with school supplies. We had seen how The Awesome Foundation’s grant had opened doors for so many wonderful organisations and we couldn’t wait to apply to be one of them,” says Amanda Petrie, who is a Second Life Stationery committee member.
Following an event in Wollongong which assisted over 100 families with back-to-school needs, the grant will enable Second Life Stationery to hold future open days to reach more families, with their next event being planned for Sydney.
“Be passionate about what you do,” advises Petrie on applying for an Awesome grant. “Be passionate about making Sydney, your environment and your community a more awesome place. Let this passion come across and engage people. Show them how your work is so awesome they cannot look past you for the grant!”
If you’ve got an awesome idea that would benefit from a $1000 kick-start, you can hop online and apply for a grant.