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Some Remarks on Awesome Summit 2012

August 15, 2012

To the Most August Members of the Awesome Foundation:

It’s been almost a month, but I’m still wrapping my head around the Awesome Summit.

Like the Foundation itself, the whole premise of the Summit was pretty simple and straightforwards: we envisioned bringing together a meetup open to any member of any chapter of the Awesome Foundation that wanted to show up to Boston to hang out with other members from around the world for a weekend. Incidentally, it ended up being the same weekend as the third anniversary of the founding of the Awesome Foundation, which made it a particularly fitting time to bring everyone together.

No doubt part of the idea was to have an opportunity to discuss issues of common interest to the Awesome Foundation chapters. However, just as important was the basic fact that the Summit would be the first time that such a large number of people involved with the Foundation would be in the same place at the same time. This was big: as we’ve grown, the links tying the far-flung chapters of the Awesome Foundation have been mostly digital. We communicate over e-mail lists, read of each others doings through the communal blog and Skype with one another when the need calls for it. However, I mostly hadn’t met (in person) the people involved with the vast majority of chapters that have exploded onto the scene since 2009. One of the odd results of this (particularly because we’re generally so decentralized) has been that it’s difficult to tell who precisely is behind all the various chapters. In some ways, the Summit was a way for the community to collectively ask, who are all of you awesome people?

And, like any internet community coming together for the first time, it’s always a little uncertain what the outcome would be. Would anyone show up? Would they be complete weirdos? Would everyone have enough in common to make for an appropriately awesome weekend?

Well, the Summit happened. And, frankly, the results I don’t think can be described in any words other than completely remarkable. Participants flew in from all around the world, ultimately numbering close to a hundred total attendees. We had representatives come to Boston from as far as Australia, Brazil and Mongolia. Without exception, everyone I met was inspiring in their own right — ridiculously active people hailing from a staggering array of backgrounds. Best of all, permeating the entire Summit was an immense sense of community, linked by a common effort to play a part in making their local neighborhoods and cities more awesome. I couldn’t have hoped for more.

It’s a sign of the broader robustness of the community that has grown up around the Awesome Foundation. In three years, the Foundation has grown from a single city to an organization that now numbers more than forty chapters in five different continents. As the data coming from the folks on the State of the Awesome team show, chapter growth appears to tracking very closely to a pattern of exponential growth. Most remarkably, the network effect of having chapters regularly supporting awesomeness worldwide is starting to add up: we’re on track to cross the $1,000,000 mark of total amount given sometime in the next year.

If you’re reading this and thinking — that’s ridiculous! You’re right, it is ridiculous. Ridiculously great. Because what the Awesome Foundation has demonstrated by practice is that, quite simply, the model works. Not only does the model work, it scales.

I think that’s a bigger fact than one might think. While the dollar amounts might be on a smaller scale, what we do at the Awesome Foundation is in some ways more fundamental than the latest crowdfunding platforms and applications that have seen so much popularity in recent years. It’s important to remember that these new technological tools are just that — tools. They are nothing without an active, vibrant dense network of human relationships and communities in the real world that use these tools to propose great ideas and support great ideas.

To that end, what we are engaged in at the Foundation is simply the hard, grassroots work for building that human network person by person, grantee by grantee. That community is something more durable, and in many ways more powerful and close to the heart of “crowdsourcing” in driving and encouraging awesomeness globally.

So where do we go from here? Emerging from the discussions at the Summit it appears there are three big shifts going forward with the Awesome Foundation:

  • Distributing Awesome: Mostly through historical happenstance and tradition, there’s been a few functions that have been done by a relatively small group of members of the Awesome Foundation. This includes helping new chapters get started, the management of content online and the planning of common events like the Summit. The Summit appears to have kicked off a general movement towards distributing these sorts of functions to a broader set of member around the world. This is really exciting: my sense is that this transition will tend to allow the Foundation to react more nimbly and get more done generally.
  • Understanding Awesome: Obviously, the name of the Institute on Higher Awesome Studies is a bit of a joke. But, the concept of “Higher Awesome Studies” might end up being a surprisingly deep endeavor. As a community we’re generating a huge amount of knowledge and a variety of different approaches in how to promote awesomeness in our local communities (and beyond). There’s a general effort towards documenting these methodologies and spreading what we’re finding, both among the chapters and to the world at large. In the long term, this will be a huge asset, since it will allow people to build upon what we’ve learned, both as a template within the Awesome Foundation and in their own organizations and projects as well.
  • Growing Awesome: Rumors of Peak Awesome are unfounded. With little effort on our part, chapters continue to spring up around the world as news about what we’re doing continues to spread. We’ll increasingly have to evolve as an organization that can support chapters from around the world and hailing from an increasingly diverse set of backgrounds. As I’ve mentioned, we’ve started to get calls from chapters this past year from places that are geographically and demographically way outside our origins in a group of tech nerds (retirement homes! twelve year old kids!). Like the other two developments, this will be a challenge and also a tremendously exciting boon to the Awesome Foundation. I think a big part of succeeding in this transition is to keep to our existing commitment to being extremely hands-off and letting new chapters run with the Awesome Foundation model. If the history of the Foundation shows anything so far, it’s that this will let the model continue to grow and adapt quickly to whatever local communities need it for.

And so the Awesome Foundation marches on. Personally, I’m honored to have gotten the chance to meet so many members of the Awesome Foundation, and hope it isn’t before the next Summit that we run into each other again. If you’re ever in San Francisco, do give a shout – we’d love to host you.

Tim Hwang, August 2012

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