Got an awesome idea that needs a bit of money to become reality? Lucky for you, the Awesome Foundation just opened a local chapter and is currently accepting applications for “micro-genius” grants of $1,000. To learn more about the foundation and exactly what kind of awesomeness it intends to fund in Miami, I traded emails with Natalia Martinez, AF’s Miami dean.
What is the Awesome Foundation, and what distinguishes it from other foundations?
NM: The Awesome Foundation is not a “foundation” in the traditional sense of the word. It is really a worldwide (and growing!) network of individuals devoted to investing in their communities and promoting “awesome” ideas that impact them. It was started in 2009 in Boston and has since expanded to 12 countries and 59 chapters. These chapters have awarded more than $350,000 in funding!
Each chapter functions independently, but the model is usually the same: a group of trustees is formed and pools their money on a monthly basis in order to award $1,000 grants to projects from their respective communities. Each chapter’s grants come from its own members. In the case of Miami’s chapter, we have 13 trustees from different industries who have committed to donate $100 a month for the duration of their tenure. This allows us to make a $1,000 – $1,200 grant every month! The grants can cover pretty much anything — arts, technology, social good, innovative enterprises — and they are given with no strings attached and no claims of ownership. As the AF website says, the intent is to offer a “micro-genius grant for flashes of micro-brilliance.”
Is the micro-grant model a matter of necessity (because of limited funds) or a reflection of the Awesome Foundation’s believe in the big potential of small projects? Both? Neither?
NM: From my perspective, the micro-grant model is very much a reflection of several key motivations. The first is that we do believe in the potential of “smaller” projects to have an impact, especially when they emerge organically from the very community they are seeking to impact. The second is a belief that a lot of good ideas go unfunded because they are unconventional, odd, or somehow unsuited for funding by large, established sources such as foundations, investors, et al. This usually leads to segments of the population of any given city feeling that their ideas are systematically overlooked. We are seeking to remedy this by having a low-hassle application process with a fast turnaround and no strings attached. I won’t speak on behalf of the whole of Awesome Foundation, but as a chapter, we come from a place of belief, passion, and trust in what all Miami residents have to offer and we want them to feel that our grants are accessible to all.
How did the AF Miami chapter come about? And how did you come to be its dean?
NM: The Miami chapter came about through a funny coincidence. I was browsing TED Talks at some point this past summer when I came across a talk and realized that I knew the person giving it. In fact, we lived in the same dorm in college! It was Christina Xu, who works at the Awesome Foundation’s research branch — the Institute of Higher Awesome Studies. After I got over my surprise, I watched the TED Talk and fell in love with the Awesome Foundation’s model of giving back and becoming invested in one’s community. I knew that I would be moving back to Miami after eight years in Boston and New York, so I immediately reached out about starting a chapter down here. I spent the summer collaborating with Tony Jimenez (one of our Trustees) and Jessica Goldfin (a fantastic friend from the MIT Media Lab) to invite trustees and lay the groundwork … and we’ve taken off!
In your opinion, what is the awesomest project that Awesome Foundation has ever funded (any chapter)?
NM: This is a hard one for me to answer because I know I haven’t seen all of the awesome projects that have been funded, especially considering there have been more than 350 worldwide! They’ve included everything from senior organic gardening to a social cooking contest to a documentary following musicians trying to preserve traditional Thai music. If I had to pick some to share with others, here are three:
Do you and your team have any specific goals for Miami? Any particular kinds of ideas you want to fund?
NM: To put it simply, our goals are to remain as open as possible in our grant giving and to reflect the diversity and richness of our community’s interests and needs.
Who is eligible for a grant? How often do you give them out?
NM: We are planning to give grants on a monthly basis and will be making each deadline for submission available over our Facebook page and Twitter feed. From our perspective, anyone is eligible for a grant, so we welcome all kinds of applications. However, we do ask that ideas take place and impact the greater Miami area and that they be awesome and peak the community’s curiosity and interest in some way.
Any advice for the awesome people of Miami?
NM: Apply, apply, apply! Be willing and open to test the waters with us! You can apply with different ideas or improved versions of an original idea as many times as you want, so don’t be discouraged from trying it.
To learn more about the Awesome Foundation, visit the Miami chapter’s landing page.