By Tamir Virani
Imagine an organization that allows children to brainstorm and design their own video games, a group dedicated to empowering at-risk young women through mentorship, or even an initiative that aims to transform cigarette butts into energy and fabric.
According to JustChange, these innovative ideas are abundant in Ottawa, and it’s been their mission to seek them out and propel them forward.
JustChange is a micro-grant organization dedicated to dishing out $1,000 every two months to groups or people looking to affect change locally. The grants consist of money pooled together by the organization’s 12 members.
“Whether it’s social, environmental or economic change, we accept applications from individuals or groups with ideas that affect Ottawa,” said current Algonquin student and member of JustChange, Davis Carr.
The organization functions through a “Request for Proposal” application process. Individuals and groups are encouraged to seek out an application via JustChange’s website, fill it out with details regarding their respective ideas and then submit them to the board. The board then reconvenes to go through all the applications in order to choose one who gets awarded the grant.
“We have a top-secret grading mechanism, but also inject our own personal opinion,” said Carr on the decision process. “We discuss until there’s a consensus and then vote. It can be difficult sometimes when two people are arguing about certain applications they feel passionate about, but I’ve never left a meeting feeling like we’ve made a wrong choice.”
The process can be arduous as the organization has received as many as 26 applications in one cycle. “There’s always at least 10 applications every time and we carefully go through each and every one,” Carr said.
JustChange, while only about a few months old, has already awarded five grants. That’s a combined $5,000 towards affecting change in Ottawa.
“It’s important for us to help people take their ideas to the next level,” said Carr. “We specifically want to encourage people who can’t apply for other larger grants because they haven’t tested their idea or don’t qualify. We want to fill that niche.”
Bailey Reid, founder of Sisters Achieving Excellence, was just one group part of that niche. Reid’s organization, devoted to providing support for young women at risk, was the very first recipient of a grant from JustChange.
“We used the grant for volunteer training,” Reid said. “I was so touched that we were chosen. It was lovely to be recognized and have our work valued in that way.”
As for the applications that don’t end up being chosen, consolation packages are given out. JustChange has partnered with HUB Ottawa to offer runner-ups HUBConnect memberships. The winner also receives a free one-hour session with CISED, an organization devoted to social enterprise development.
“We also strongly encourage applicants to re-apply if they don’t get it the first time. Sometimes ideas just need to be fleshed out a bit more,” Carr said.
Follow-up with the grantees is equally important to the organization.
“Our role is not only to help with financial need but also connect them to our expanding networks,” Carr said. “We ask grantees to write blog posts on our website detailing what they did with the money and how.”
JustChange has altered Carr’s perspective on the changing landscape of Ottawa.
“In high school I always thought Ottawa was pretty tame and boring,” Carr said. “Seeing all these proposals has given me this energy and excitement about what’s happening in the city.”