I had the pleasure of meeting Ashley who is vivacious, passionate and fun to chat about her role with the Awesome Foundation Ottawa (Awesome Ottawa). She is part of a dedicated group of trustees who donate money on a monthly basis to fund AWESOME projects in the city. No string attached. One of my favorite #Popscope.
Tell me about Awesome Ottawa?
The Ottawa chapter started about five to six years ago with the fist grant in May 2010. Someone had heard of Awesome Foundation in Boston where it all started. Avi Caplan and Gavin Cramer, two current trustees, were part of the initial group of trustees that founded the Ottawa chapter. It is a collective of people, normally around ten, everyone puts a $100 of their money in the pot. We take submission, meet and decide to fund whatever submission we collectively feel is awesome.
When did you get involved with Awesome Ottawa?
I actually won the award with my business partner at the time. We started a tiny company called The Meeples* Republic. We applied and won in January 2013. We used that money as seed money to run our first event. We started an event company that uses board games to get people to interact with one another. We had great success, and we were very lucky to get the funds, so I decided to get involved to give back so that other people can use this grant to do great things in the city. People say Ottawa is boring, it’s not, there are people doing great things but you have to look a little harder here than you might in other cities.
*Meeples are the little figurines you see in board games that represent you on the board.
You mentioned you work at Health Canada…
I am an analytical chemist. I am doing CSI type work, figuring out what the compounds are. I use a mass spectrometer. I look at chemicals and how they come up after exposure in humans from the environment. We look at human blood samples for contaminants to figure out as manufacturing processes change, as paints change, is there a spike in or a decrease in these chemicals in the Canadian population. It is a long term study with Statistics Canada.
What has been your favorite Awesome Ottawa funded project?
My favorite project is #Popscope “an urban movement that aims to reconnect diverse communities to the night sky and to each other by hosting free, “pop-up” astronomy nights in public spaces”. They have gone to start chapters in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Jacksonville. It’s amazing that they started here and they have gone to expand. Another one I liked is Ottawa Community Beekeepers to open up their beekeeping to the community and run workshops.
How many applications does Awesome Ottawa receive?
People apply online. Some months we get four applications others 12. Often when we fund a project and it gets a lot of coverage. A really good example is we funded a dumpster pool party which a lot of people are like ‘excuse me what???” essentially you rent a dumpster, you line it, fill it with water and you have a pool party in it. After that there was a rush of applications.
What’s a typical session evaluating proposals like?
Before we come to the meeting all the trustees have already decided what projects they are willing to fund. We pull up the top 5 or if someone feels very strongly about a project, even if it has only one vote, we will add it to the list to be considered. Anyone can speak to a project when it comes up. If you are passionate about it you can say why you think it should be funded. We will have a discussion and if people have decided yes it stays on the table. By the end of the meeting we generally have 2 to 3 projects we are stuck on and we do this collective speaking process where we pick one and work it through. Usually it comes down to if you personally could only pick one of these projects which one would you pick. Whoever has decided that they are not into the project we will check in with them because it really needs to be a collective decision; if a trustee is really unhappy with a project it will never be funded.
What’s the process for getting new trustees?
If someone is interested to be a trustee they can put themselves forward but generally it is by nomination. A lot of times it’s word of mouth. Sometimes someone will come forward and be really interested. We will meet with them and get a feel for their background and how they would mix with the group.
Have you thought about getting projects from youth or seniors?
Yes. One of the awards this year went to Stittsville Public School for “the buddy bench”. There is a bench on school property designated as a safe space where kids can go if they are feeling alone or sad. Children are thought to be empathetic to whoever is on that bench. We have also had some applications from seniors for gardening programs.
What are your challenges?
The biggest hurdle is getting the word out and getting people to apply. Often times if there is an old idea we really liked sometimes we will table it for the right time of the year. Or ideas that came up and people really liked but another idea got funded. So just because you applied in January and didn’t win doesn’t mean that your application is thrown away. And just because you applied once doesn’t mean you cannot apply again. One of the challenges in it being a loose casual organization is that there isn’t a ton of direction and people don’t necessarily know what happens and how the process works.
Does everyone complete their projects?
Of all the projects we have funded there have been only two that have not gone to completion other than that everyone has taken the money and done what they said they would do with it. The success rate is really inspiring.
How many projects has Awesome Ottawa funded so far?
We funded 71 projects to date. There is a running tally on our website. It’s a little skewed because some months we will fund two projects. Since we have more than 10 paying trustees there is extra money. Christmas time is usually a good time to do a double award.
Is there a project you would like to see apply to Awesome Ottawa?
There was a project that got funded before I joined Dance Dance (Office) Revolution Lunchtime Dance Party. I love these one time things, free for anyone to join and it’s just a chance to do a thing. These are my favorites. People could do more of these…that would be my wish.