I had a bit of an experience recently in Chicago. I travelled there for the weekend with my dutiful manservant, my Dad, in tow and for the sixth Awesome Foundation Summit, or Awesummit as we Awesome Foundation Trustees call it. It was the fourth of these I’ve travelled to now and my first time in Chicago. It’s a nice place.
I’ve been an on-and-off trustee of the Liverpool chapter of the Awesome Foundation for about six or seven years now. In that time there has been a revolving cast of trustees, but generally always ten of us in total. The general gist of our thing is that ten people put £50 a month into a pot and people apply to us for £500 grants for projects that make Liverpool more Awesome. We’ve picked our favourite project from these applications every month for the past six or seven years and given the money away, no strings attached. It’s a great way to fund the types of things that we like but that would usually struggle to find funding. You can find out more about the things we’ve funded over the years, here.
There are almost 100 Awesome Foundation chapters around the world now and the project, founded ten years ago this year, has given out almost $4 million in grants in total to date. Each chapter works largely the same as ours, which to my mind makes this thing pretty remarkable as a project – $100 (or in our case, £50) contributions each month by people like me, to fund $4 million worth of Awesome in the places they live. How nice is that?
Every 18 months or so there is a call-out for chapters to gather together somewhere for a weekend to share stories and collectively figure out how we can grow and strengthen Awesome across the world. Awesome has taken me to Ottawa, Seattle, Washington and Chicago since 2014 – places I wouldn’t ever have imagined going to – but most importantly it has introduced me to a group of people I now consider good friends – a cabal of generous people who give enough of a shit about the places they live to fund new things there that are designed specifically to make people where they live, happy. Almost every day I’ll stumble across articles online about ‘how to find your tribe’ and I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve already met mine, in the capital city of Canada and then three major cities in the US, and they’re all bloody great.
There were too many stand-out moments from the weekend to discuss in a single blog post but hearing Awesome described as a ‘vast global conspiracy to make things a little bit better’ is something that I’ve thought a lot about since. Also on the second day, one of the founders of Awesome in Boston ten years ago shared this text from one of their early applications and grantees. It represents everything I love about this insane global conspiracy.
“I’ve been building cotton candy making devices since I was ten.
After a number of failed attempts, I finally produced my first (standard-output) cotton candy machine in 2007. Since then I have been working on two new designs – the insane-output cotton candy machine and the cotton candy cannon.
This summer I’ve nearly perfected the cotton candy cannon design.”
The fact that someone is out there in the world making cotton candy making machines fills my heart with joy and hope. How could anyone resist funding that kind of action? And who else would fund that other than something called the Awesome Foundation?
But this Summit also gave me a bit of a slap around the face in a number of ways I really didn’t expect. I always find the Awesummit a refreshing experience and they generally happen at a time in my life when I need them the most – this year’s was no exception – but something happened on the Sunday, which made me remember the real state of things in the world. A group of 20 or so of us were sat in a meeting room discussing how we’ll grow Awesome around the world and if there were projects we could collaborate on across cities when one of the trustees from Brazil spoke, visibly moved. She fought back tears as she spoke, until she couldn’t anymore (neither could many of us in the room at that point), about how difficult a decision it was for her to travel to Trump’s America for the summit – not knowing if she was welcome anymore as a person of colour, as an outsider. She ended by saying how happy she was to be there, with us all. The summit, the 74 or so trustees from around the world, had helped to soothe her fears – taken them away, even. A weekend surrounded by generous people does that. It restores my faith in the goodness of people in what is a largely uncertain world. It is by its very nature kind, in weird and random ways. And the world needs more of that.
And so this is the bit where I ask for help. If you’re in a city with an Awesome Foundation Chapter then please send anyone their way who has a crazy idea, with a realistic budget, that will make that place more awesome. Or join as a trustee if you can afford or want to. But, if your city doesn’t, you can set one up easily – you and nine of your mates. You’ll bring joy to your city and get to hang out with me at the next Summit. I’ll look forward to meeting you there.