The Awesome Foundation - Kind of Like Olin

By Nikki Lee '10


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I'm Nikki
Lee ('10, ECE), and I'm a Master's student in Human Centered Design and
Engineering at the University of Washington. In August I'll be
joining Microsoft as a Program Manager on the Windows team. I'm also the
dean* of the Seattle
Awesome Foundation
.

At this
point you may be thinking to yourself, "I've heard of UW and Microsoft,
but what is this Awesome Foundation thing?"

The Awesome
Foundation is essentially a guerrilla philanthropy organization. Every month we
get ten volunteers together (our trustees) and each of them contributes $100.
Then we take that $1000 and grant it, no strings attached, to whoever has sent
us the most awesome project proposal. It's a dead simple model that's been
extremely successful: since its inception in Boston in 2009, the Awesome
Foundation has grown to more than 60 chapters in 11 countries. Together we've
funded over 400 projects and given away in excess of $400,000. In Seattle we've
funded everything from science
kits for elementary school students
 to uplifting
postcards sent to random strangers
 to a
sticker machine that supports and promotes local street artists
.

In addition
to being, well, awesome, the Awesome Foundation kind of reminds me of Olin:

1. The
Awesome Foundation is all about giving back, which fits in perfectly with
Olin's core value of philanthropy. While we all have different ways of going
about it, Oliners are pretty socially conscious people.

2. Our
approach to philanthropy is quite
innovative. We fund the kinds of projects that most grantmakers would never
give money to - like meat-filled
pinatas for zoo animals
 - and we do it in a really different way. We
use a fast, lightweight, hands-off approach, and we're not afraid to support
unproven new ideas. After all, we're only out $1000 if we back a project that
falls flat. It's the same kind of experimental attitude that Olin is making
waves for.

3. I joined
the Awesome Foundation for pretty much the same reason I came to Olin: I
couldn't pass up the opportunity to be around the people it would connect me
to. The people I've met through the Awesome Foundation come from all kinds of
backgrounds, and they are some of the most positive and enthusiastic people
I've ever met. My friends in the Awesome Foundation consistently inspire me to
make the world around me a better place (it really does remind of college)**.

4. It's a
young organization that's being built as we go. Just like at Olin, everyone
involved in the Awesome Foundation is actively defining the culture. Because
there isn't a central governing body, individuals have to take ownership of the
changes they'd like to see. For example, I thought it would be really helpful
to foster more communication between chapters - so I emailed the global Awesome
Foundation mailing list and kicked off a monthly video chat for chapter
leaders. Conveniently, the experiences I had starting and leading initiatives at
Olin have made me a much better Awesome Foundation community member.

Being part
of the Awesome Foundation has been an
amazing experience. In addition to bringing me all sorts of neat opportunities,
like speaking at
Creative Mornings Seattle
 and joining the Global Shapers,
it's also helped me feel more connected to the community I live in. Every time
I walk past the community
paint-by-numbers mural
 we funded or hear about how past grantees are doing I get inspired
all over again. It turns out making the world more awesome is a whole lot of
fun.

* Being the
dean means that I keep everything organized and on track. It's kind of like
being the group's project manager.

** It's
worth noting that I'm not the only Oliner involved in the Awesome Foundation -
fellow alumni Greg Marra and Ellen Chisa are trustees in San Francisco and New
York, respectively, and professor Debbie Chachra is a trustee in Boston.

Posted in: Alumni Speak, Because I Wanted To, Just Plain Fun, Making a Difference