PROFILE: Avi Caplan, dean of Awesome Ottawa, talks dance parties and cadaver machines in the pursuit of awesome

Every month, members of the local chapter of the Awesome Foundation get together to present $1,000 to a creative endeavour that will — they hope — make the city a little more awesome. Avi Caplan is one of those benefactors on a mission. By Drew Gough

Money talks: Avi Caplan sees the Awesome Foundation movement as "an interesting experiment in philanthropy" — a way to connect with people more directly. Photo by Luther Caverly.

There wasn’t any money lying around anywhere. Not a penny. Not on the table, not on the floor, not even — I’d bet, if I’d had the nerve to check — under the couch cushions.

This was more than a little disappointing. I was standing in the living room of Avi Caplan, a philanthropist who refuses to see himself as a philanthropist. Every month, Caplan just gives some of his money away.

I figured him to be a careless spendthrift, a man without a bank account, a man with piles of coins stacked to the ceiling that he idly let fall between his fingers while talking. But no. The apartment is modest, neat, tidy. Caplan too. There’s no air of madcap millionaire, probably because that’s not his angle.

The 30-year-old is the new dean of Awesome Ottawa, the local chapter of the Awesome Foundation. Awesome Ottawa hands out $1,000 each month to a project it deems “awesome,” with each of its trustees ponying up $100 a month of his or her own money to contribute to the grant.

By January 2013, Awesome Ottawa will have contributed $30,000 to our city’s general awesomeness. Yet even though he’s a person who has made a hobby of giving away money, Caplan doesn’t like being called a philanthropist. “What’s interesting about the Awesome Foundation movement globally is that it’s an experiment in new models of philanthropy,” he explains. “I’m not thinking of myself as a philanthropist because, really, it’s a very small amount of money. I’m thinking of it, instead, as an interesting experiment in philanthropy. I’m seeing it as an experience in connecting with people more directly.” (more…)