Feature Story: Edmonton philanthropists add more “awesome” to the world one idea at a time

Edmonton philanthropists add more “awesome” to the world one idea at a time

Photo courtesy: Linda Hoang

Edmonton philanthropists gather for the Edmonton Awesome Foundation’s January “pitch party.” Each month Edmontonians are encouraged to submit their “awesome” ideas that will better the community in some way. Then one Edmontonian is awarded $1,000 to go towards funding his or her “awesome” idea. No strings attached.

Linda Hoang, Sunday, January 29 2012

EDMONTON – Pitch an awesome idea, win $1,000.

The concept is simple enough but what results from it could have a huge impact on the city.

Ten Edmontonians who share the same philanthropic ideals have come together to form the Edmonton Awesome Foundation.

The “awesome” trustees pool their money together to award someone with an “awesome” idea $1,000 each month.

“One of the questions we ask each of the applicants when they apply is how do you think your idea makes Edmonton better?” says Raj Dhillon, an Edmonton Awesome trustee.

“When you’re doing these kinds of pay it forward ideas, philanthropic ideas, they always focus on improving someone’s condition or someone’s community or someone’s city. We really want to focus on making the city more awesome.”

The Awesome Foundation first began in Boston and has since spread with chapters in cities worldwide.

Applicants can pitch their ideas online and each month trustees narrow down the applicants to five finalists who are invited to the monthly “Pitch Party” where a winner is chosen.

Lucas Coffey’s idea to redesign his “People Powered Parties” took home the $1,000 prize for January.

Lucas Coffey wins $1,000 at the Edmonton Awesome January Pitch Party.
Photo courtesy: Linda Hoang

People Powered Parties are events powered by people pedalling on bikes connected to generators that create electricity for that specific event.

The grant money will be used to redesign Coffey’s bikes, making them more comfortable for riders and thereby increasing the amount of time people spend pedalling and increasing the amount of renewable energy the bikes create.

“This is our huge project of 2012,” Coffey says.

“We can now launch it right away.”

Coffey’s idea was chosen because the foundation believed it was innovative and could make a big, “green” impact on the city.

Previous winners’ ideas have also helped the community in some way.

November winner Jason Norman is using his $1,000 to expand on his Words with Friends project. Words with Friends brings Edmontonians together for a night centred around performances of song, poetry, comedy and storytelling. Norman and Words with Friends co-creator Kasia Gawlak will use the grant to help launch free arts-related workshops for anyone to attend and he also plans to take Words with Friends on the road to do open mic nights at different locations.

A performance at Words with Friends 3. Photo courtesy: yegwords (yegwords.wordpress.com).

“If I didn’t get the money I wouldn’t have started even the planning process that I have now,” Norman says. “I think it would have taken way, way longer.”

October winner Darcia Parada used her money to fund the 104 Underground Operascape, an opera performance inside the Bay LRT station.

The crowd at 104 Underground Operascape. Photo courtesy: Mack Male (mastermaq.ca)

“I think the nature of the idea is what captivated them because it’s unique,” Parada says, adding that the operascape exposed Edmontonians to a different part of the city. “Some people had never even been in an LRT,” she said. “It really did liven up downtown.”

Other finalists don’t walk away empty-handed either. Often a finalist who doesn’t win the $1,000 prize still receives help or support in some way from an Awesome Foundation trustee or even just pitch party attendees who feel passionately about the idea as well.

(View the Edmonton Awesome Foundation January Pitch Party Storify to see what extra support January’s finalists received).

Edmonton Awesome has received between 15-30 applicants each month since it began in September and it expects that amount to grow as word about the foundation spreads.

And it isn’t the only philanthropic organization trying to help kickstart local ideas.

Edmonton’s Next Gen also encourages people to propose projects for free funding as well.

Their MEÆT initiative tries to “stimulate and promote experimental, critical and imaginative ideas that may not be eligible for formal funding.”

In the end, those involved with Edmonton Awesome believe Edmontonians have plenty of great ideas just waiting to be actualized,

They just need to take that first step.

Edmonton Awesome trustee Raj Dhillon encourages all Edmontonians to come forward with their awesome ideas! Photo courtesy: Linda Hoang

“Get off your ass,” Dhillon says with a smile.

“If you look at people like Einstein or Martin Luther King Jr., just think to yourself what would have happened if they had sat on their idea? Nothing. So get off your ass and get going.”

“Nobody’s changing the world, we’re not at that stage yet, but maybe later down the road we will be. This is going to grow, we know that much. How far it will grow remains to be determined.”



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