By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. If you live in a college town like I do (Cambridge, Massachusetts) you’re going to hear the undergrads talk about the “awesome” this, the even more “awesome” that. Usually I don’t pay much attention to this because the word is habitually misapplied and misused. I mean just how “awesome” can the umpteenth pizzeria be, right?
But today I have got an idea for you, an idea that’s, well, “awesome”, particularly if you’re of an inventive turn of mind and need 1000 smackers to help you with your improve-the-world idea. Just a free thousand bucks, with no strings attached.
Too good to be true? That’s the awesome part! It’s that “once in a blue moon”, “it is what they say it is,” “I’ll be darned” idea.
For such an idea, soon to be revealed to you, I’ve selected the song that’ll start any day off right, even if your voice needs re-inventing. It’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin;’ ” from the 1947 Broadway musical “Oklahoma!” by Rogers and Hammerstein. You can easily find it in any search engine. Let ‘er rip… especially when you’re completing the simple form that could net you a free grand.
2008 Harvard grad Tim Hwang’s awesome idea.
Tim Hwang, like most of us, hates paperwork, bureaucracy, and wasting time with stupid and “what’s the point?” tasks. But unlike the rest of us, Hwang actually did something about his annoying pet peeve and irritation. The beneficiaries are those special people who have had that proverbial “aha!” moment, that exciting instant in time that signifies the fact you’ve just given birth to what the world always needs… another bright idea. We just can’t get enough of them.
In the real world, your brand-new, bright-shiney idea would quickly become the easiest part of an endless list of things to do, especially if you want — money! (As every single inventor in human history has.)
It becomes a backbreaking task, doing this, doing that, hurry up and wait for funding sources that seem to be friendly and accessible in their brochures, then morph into inhabitants of an “undisclosed location” when you want to hit them up for something. That common situation is awful…
Hwang’s “aha!” moment.
Cambridge is a city where everyone and his brother is Always Imagining Something, Doing Something and, in due course, Achieving Something and (nice this) Giving Back Something. It’s a very exciting, motivating environment where establishments of every kind could well have “Creative People Need Apply” signs on the door. It’s most addictive. Tim Hwang is one of these people and even at his young age is already in the Give Back category. Here’s what he dreamed up… and how that object of your affection — you! — can benefit.
First Hwang came to be aware of one of the truest facts on earth, viz. that to get money from people they require you to fill out a whole filing cabinet’s worth of forms. It’s time-consuming, often daunting, and always as dull as dishwater. But Hwang built a better mousetrap, so to speak, giving away money — real Yankee greenbacks — with a form so simple you won’t have apoplexy or worse completing it and — drum roll — no (universally hated) reporting requirements at all. Nirvana!
Hwang credits the MacArthur Foundation for inspiring him. MacArthur awards the so-called “genius grants” which give folks a truly awesome $500,000 to use however they want without being forced to complete a single page of application or meet a single reporting requirement. I could use one of those myself! Hwang took this established mode of helping idea people… and gave it an awesome turn.
The Awesome Foundation.
Hwang’s idea was new, innovative, and (biggest deal of all) so flexible it could help any idea reckoned as “awesome” by either the trustees of the newly established “Awesome Foundation” or the people who came up with the ideas and applied for the money. Hwang’s “foundation” is not a classic grants-making foundation at all. Instead it is a singular way for idea people to apply — and easily get — a thousand dollars to use towards any idea they dream up and submit to the trustees.
These trustees are a key to the foundation’s success, first because they each kick in $100 a month, from which the awards are made; second because they are responsible for determining which “awesome” idea gets the money. This involves judgement as fine as King Solomon’s. Here’s an example of a recent conundrum presented to the trustees of the original chapter, now known as the Boston chapter. 130 folks applied in August, 2011… 128 of these, while awesome , were not awesome enough. And so it came down to just 2 people.
The first wanted to buy a couple of goats to rent out as urban lawn mowers. The second was a sculptor who wanted to change careers and asked the Foundation to fund a portable welder so he could go round and fix his deteriorating city. And so, after further careful consideration, the trustees selected the disenchanted sculptor and his awesome idea for reinventing himself and his city.
It grows as it goes.
The motto for the state of New Mexico is also appropriate for the Awesome Foundation and its labor of love. This simple idea of people helping people and providing some financial encouragement, too, is truly an idea whose time has come. As a result Tim Hwang has got himself a tiger by the tail. There are already 23 chapters around the world; Australia is the farthest away from Cambridge… Detroit is the newest. They both need a hand from whoever is willing to help.
Largesse from the Knight Foundation.
At the Awesome Foundation’s website (awesomefoundation.org) enthusiastic members post evidence of their work’s success. It reads like what it is, a bulletin board of all the available evidence that the Foundation is moving ahead smartly. It is an amateur production in need of sharper design and copy, but the overall effect is positive; of real people who could have ignored the problems they deal with choosing instead to do something useful, even if that was limited.
This positive, hands-on, people-helping idea came to the attention of the bigger fish at the Knight Foundation whose decision makers liked what they saw, and gave $244,000, so joining the Awesome cause. This grant, the biggest yet to Awesome, will fund an initiative to provide microgrants to citizen journalism projects in Detroit. It’s Knight’s way of endorsing Awecome and helping Detroit, a basket case among America’s wide array of urban plights.
And I’ll tell you something. I think that’s just plain Awesome, don’t you think?
To apply for one of Awesome’s $1000 no-strings grants, go to awesomefoundation.org
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at worldprofit.com and JeffreyLantArticles.com
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