Mo’ Money, Mo’ Impact
I believe in building better communities. I wake up and try to do that every damn day in one way or another, but the truth is some people are better at it than me. Some people are right there in the thick of it, armed with little to no advantage, their backs against the wall and their hands in the dirt. Those people deserve support. They need more hands. They need more help. And they need, every now and then, a little funding to keep the dream alive.
A Little Cash Goes a Long Way
Small funding does big things. Muhammad Yunus won a Nobel prize off the back of Grameen Bank’s powerful micro-lending model, leading to spinoff platforms like Kiva, which has facilitated more than $800M in micro-loans to entrepreneurs in 80+ countries.
As usual, though, my interest gravitates to the local level. How can we apply these lessons in our own cities? How can we coherently and repeatedly fund entrepreneurs, creatives, and community development gurus busy building things next door, down the street, or just across the interstate?
Two giving models have always stood out to me: Awesome Foundation and Soup. Both provide small but useful funding amounts, remove barriers to entry, and diversify recipients. Awesome Foundation started in Boston and has since made its way to 70+ communities. Each chapter takes rolling applications, hears pitches from 3 board-selected finalists, and gives $1,000 each month to the top idea. Here’s more about their unique funding model. I like it so much that I just joined Tallahassee’s chapter as a trustee. Got an idea? Bring it on.
If you want proof that micro-funding is having a moment, look no further than Soup, a regular pitch-plus-dinner series that got its modern day start in Detroit. Soup celebrates and empowers an eclectic mix of creative projects. The formula, like Awesome Foundation, is dead simple. Attendees pay $5 to get in the door. Everyone enjoys each other and eats–you guessed it–soup. Then four brave souls have four minutes to pitch their idea. The crowd votes, and everyone’s $5 is awarded to the winner (one can only hope that, in an ironic show of excess, it is delivered with an ostentatious, make-it-rain-style shower of bills). Thanks to its elegance and impact, Soup has spread across the world, igniting a movement of micro-funding. The UK alone now hosts more than 60 different Soup dinners.
Detroit’s Soup tells a powerful story. In a city where support systems failed, where institutions crumbled, where a slow burn of globalism, mismanagement, and corruption eroded entire neighborhoods–in a city like that people pulled themselves together, made a few vats of chicken noodle, and funded each other’s work. They did it without pretense. They did it without a strategic plan. They did it because they realized that they could. Because it was something, and it was a way forward.
They didn’t need permission. They just needed each other. So take a look around and find out what community builders are doing near you. I guarantee they’re out there. Support them. Join them. Or better yet, be them.