“We are all out of money. Now we have to think.” It’s an aphorism that has been attributed to many over the years, from Ernest Rutherford to Winston Churchill, from Franklin Roosevelt to Bob Dylan. But it’s one that has been taken to heart by many over the past ten years.
Chief among them is The Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences, the somewhat grandiose full title of the Boston-based but globally active Awesome Foundation. Since forming in 2009, the Foundation has grown to a global organisation, with 99 local chapters, from New Zealand to Armenia. Collectively, they hand out well in excess of $1m a year to over a thousand projects.
We had a quick chat with Avi Caplan, the dean, no less, of the Ottawa chapter of the Awesome Foundation to talk some of the ethical business projects Awesome has funded over the past nine years, what lies ahead for the foundation, and why it’s not just business projects that make the Awesome grade.
Asked about the ethical businesses his chapter has funded over the years, Avi clarifies: “We interpret “awesome” pretty widely. Often it means something that creates surprise or delight. Usually it means something being done by an ordinary person, and something that might not happen without the money and the push that ten people think it’s a great idea.” As an example, the first ever Awesome grant in Boston was made to create the world’s largest hammock, for no other reason than the trustees thought it would be an awesome idea.
From humble beginnings in the post-crash environment of 2009, the Awesome Foundation has been responsible for providing seed funding for thousands of ethical startups across the globe, helping to fill the gap left by the retreat of government, charitable and institutional funding and investment.
Foodsharing – Awesome Ottawa, Canada
One of the projects that Avi’s chapter of Awesome has funded is Foodsharing Ottawa. Foodsharing Ottawa won an Awesome award of $1000 in August 2017 and has gone from strength to strength in the year since. Run on a voluntary basis by local resident Carolin Ross, the Foodsharing team nevertheless work closely with commercial businesses in the wider region to increase foodsharing, reduce waste, and raise awareness of food issues in the wider population. Avi was keen to support Carolin’s initiative: “We were pretty astounded to learn that nothing like this existed already here in Ottawa – what an obviously important thing to do, and one that builds community as well. We’re looking forward to seeing where our $1,000 and Carolin’s enthusiasm can take this.”
Working with both members of the food industry such as farmers, grocery stores, restaurants and bakeries, as well as individuals, the organization takes food that would otherwise end up in the garbage, including products that have passed their ‘best before’ date, but remain safe for consumption. It is then redistributed to charities, other non-profits, and the FoodSharing network.
It’s a simple idea, but one that neatly encapsulates the mindset behind Awesome – ideas that take the best of business, the best of charity, and the best of community, and merge them into one big pot of awesomeness.
Peer-to-Peer Wheelchair Repair Service – Awesome Disability, Global
This Peer-to-Peer Wheelchair Repair service was funded by Awesome’s specialist Disability Chapter.
In collaboration with Berkeley’s Easy Does It (EDI) non-profit and the Bay Area disability community at large, Katie Savin sent a proposal in to her local Awesome chapter to enhance the existing wheelchair repair programme that EDI has been running for the best part of twenty years. EDI has traditionally received donated wheelchairs with varying degrees of functionality, which are then donated to people in need. The model has been successful and long-running, yet Katie argued strongly that it had far more potential than was currently being tapped. A disabled adult herself, who has benefited from EDI’s wheelchair programme, Katie went to the Awesome chapter with a passion and vested interest in seeing the programme thrive. She wanted to provide more frequent and routine wheelchair repair workshops for the disabled community. In line with custom and practice around the world, the Awesome team heard her pitch – made in competition with others at the same meeting – and decided to dig deep into their own pockets to make the project a reality. $1000 later, and the Peer-to-Peer Wheelchair Repair project got off to a great start, with globally-recognised support and a city-funded base in which to grow. It’s a great example of good people coming together to make stuff happen, and not letting the absence of formalised funding mechanisms stop them.
Rádio Comunitária Alternativa FM – Awesome Minas Gerais, Brazil
Awesome Minas Gerais, one of the foundation’s Brazilian chapters, has funded Rádio Comunitária Alternativa FM – Alternative Community Radio. At the time of writing, the radio station has now been on the air for four years and has a reach of about 16,000 listeners. Its main broadcaster, Wallace Paixão, is one of those people who seems to know everybody, and has become the main go-to point for the local community on many issues of public interest, such as public transport and courier services.
The station follows all the legal requirements for community radio and has gospel programming, but it is not restricted to the evangelical public, and there is openness to programming by other religious groups. It is a channel for information and community mobilisation, making warnings about the operation of public equipment, donation campaigns, promotion of debates on violence, youth drug use, dengue control and others.
The project that Awesome Minas Gerais funded, aims to increase the reach of the radio to the entire region of Barreiro, including the commercial area, which will allow increasing support for its financial sustainability and will promote the promotion of this type of debate, constituting an important tool for the prevention of crime and promotion of citizenship.
Getmoova – Awesome Adelaide, Australia
Awesome Adelaide has historically been most generous to artistic projects, rather than ethical business considerations, but that changed in July 2017 when they agreed to give their $1000 grant to getmoova, a prototype children’s watch designed to increase activity levels. Project creator Lachlan Etherton takes up the story: “getmoova is an electronic smart wrist device for children. It combines a virtual pet that is rewarded for active travel or movement, along with an emergency notification system that sends a message and G.P.S. coordinate to the parent’s phone if the child believes they are in danger.”
Lachlan goes on: “the aim of getmoova is to get children active whilst being safe at the same time in a world where levels of physical activity are declining.” Still just 17 himself, Lachlan is hopeful that his prototype will attract interest and investment in order to develop a proof of concept. From first debuting his getmoova product at a Startup Weekend in Adelaide in 2017, he’s now combining his studies with a desire to pursue his dream of launching the product into retail.