Reporting back on my Shuttleworth Flash Grant

In late 2018, I received an email notifying me that I had been nominated for the Shuttleworth Flash Grant, a “no-strings-attached” one-time grant of 5000 USD from the Shuttleworth Foundation, awarded to “individuals they would like to support/reward/encourage in their work for social good”. Flash grant recipients are nominated by past Shuttleworth Foundation fellows, and the only requirement of the grant is that recipients share publicly at the end of the six months how they spent the funds — which I am doing here, now.

The bulk of the flash grant (4100 CAD) went to IntersectTO, a technology community I help organize for individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or people of colour (BIPOC) in Toronto. We work on creating a dedicated space for BIPOC to learn tech skills, build community, and hold critical discussions around digital justice, and how technology affects communities of colour in particular. Although we are a 100% volunteer-run initiative, funds enable us to: provide speakers and workshop facilitators honorariums; provide food at our events; cover the cost of ASL interpretation when needed; and offer transit fare for those who require it to attend our events. The flash grant provided partial financial support for an evening of talks highlighting BIPOC community perspectives on race, power, and colonialism in technology. It also supported a one-day conference on digital justice issues, and will support our event this month on BIPOC professional development in Toronto’s tech and design space. We still have some funds remaining that will be used for ongoing community initiatives this summer. The community is only made possible because of an incredible team of racialized organizers (Aljumaine Gayle, Emily Nguyen, Melissa Haughton, Nandita Bijur, Jennifer Cao, Hazelmae Valenzuela, Lequanne, Lluvia Machuca), and countless other BIPOC individuals who dedicate their knowledge and perspectives at our events.

1150 CAD was donated to grassroots organizations (that I have no affiliation with, but believe in their missions):

  • Unist’ot’en Camp: an Indigenous re-occupation of Wet’suwet’en land in “British Columbia”, working on blocking pipelines from being built on their land.
  • Noone Is Illegal’s Toronto Chapter: a grassroots migrant justice group, fighting for the rights of undocumented migrants in Toronto and Canada more broadly.
  • St. Stephen’s Community House’s Overdose Prevention Site: This life saving harm reduction service had their funding cut by our new conservative provincial government a couple months ago, an incredibly cruel and inhumane move in the midst of a severe nation-wide opioid crisis.
  • Literal Change: an organization that provides literacy education to incarcerated individuals in two maximum security detention centres in Toronto.

540 CAD went to Cup Doodle Project, a community arts group that I am a part of in Toronto. We are a collective of Southeast Asian and East Asian comic artists and zine makers exploring themes of grief & loss, memory, love & heartbreak, mental health, healing, identity, and family in the diaspora. The flash grant supported the cost of printing a set of zines and risograph prints.

Because of the conversion from USD to CAD, I still have some funds remaining that I plan to continue donating to grassroots groups challenging institutional injustice and pushing for systemic change. I recognize that these contributions are small, and they feel especially so in Ontario’s current political climate and seemingly endless list of funding cuts to essential social programs (these include cuts and/or elimination of: legal aid to refugees and immigrants, the Anti-Racism Directorate, funding for sexual assault centres, the Indigenous Culture Fund, financial assistance for low-income post-secondary students, the $1 minimum wage increase, $84.5 million in funding for children and at-risk youth, and so, so much more).

Receiving this grant has prompted me to reflect more about wealth redistribution and its limits, and I am working on reading and learning more organizations reimagining philanthropy through a justice-oriented lens, as well as challenging the nonprofit industrial complex and philanthropy itself.

In many ways I felt conflicted about being nominated for this flash grant. Many of the past fellows come from places of privilege, and the flash grant’s nomination system means that to at least some extent, those already with a certain degree of social capital within the fellow’s networks will be those rewarded — by virtue of being well-connected in the loosely termed “innovation for good” space. In her book Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, adrienne maree brown discusses the tendency for funders to gravitate toward “the narrative of a rock star leader, and have invested in individuals more than in missions”, and how even the idea of “rock stars” within social justice movements often replicates unhealthy power dynamics that movement work aims to dismantle. While far from being a ‘rock star’, I do recognize how incredibly privileged I am to have a far-reaching social and professional network that in one way or another, led me to receiving this grant. Despite these conflicting feelings, ultimately, I was grateful to have the opportunity to redistribute funds back to my communities, groups with social justice missions, and community projects closer to home.

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    I write about identity, family, feelings, the internet. Older content here is around scholarly communications and open science.