Calgary’s Higher Ground Café was especially busy one Thursday evening last month, but it wasn’t caffeine alone that had the crowd buzzing. Ideas were brewing too—one of which earned its originator $1,000 from the recently founded Awesome Calgary Foundation.
A small group of trustees—brought together by former eBay executive Lori Stewart—put up $100 a month each to fund the no-strings-attached grants. Among the four people who got 90 seconds to pitch their “awesome idea” on this night was a comedian in search of funding for his documentary, and an inventor seeking cash to build “Second Wind,” a device that could extend the usable time for the breathing apparatuses used by firefighters. But the winner of the ACF’s second event was Kiran Somanchi. The 27-year-old fast-talking petroleum engineer’s idea—“a mix of decentralized dance party, flash mob, vote mob”—is to use social media to amass a crowd of Calgarians in one location on Aug. 21, before sending them on an attention-grabbing march through Calgary’s more interesting neighbourhoods—all in the hope of spurring some civic pride.
Stewart, a technology business consultant, started Awesome Calgary because ever since moving there from Silicon Valley seven years ago, she’s found the city’s conservative, petroleum-oriented mindset stifling. “I felt like I’d been in a bad relationship with Calgary,” she says, “that I didn’t fit here.” But by working on Naheed Nenshi’s mayoral campaign last fall, she discovered others wanting something different for her city, too.
There are 89 chapters of the Awesome Foundation worldwide, including ones in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. “We just want to believe in people’s ideas,” says Stewart. And the power of belief, she’s sure, will turn ideas into action.