About two-thirds of Gen Z Americans believe changes to the climate should be a top priority to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations, according to a 2021 study by the Pew Research Center. But less than one-third of Gen Zers had personally taken action to help address a changing climate within the last year.
Reddit Co-Founder and Executive Chairman Alexis Ohanian wants to push that figure higher–and he’s willing to put up a lot of money to make it happen. To that end, Ohanian recently launched the 776 Foundation, a fellowship program that will give $20 million to young people over the next decade to work on climate solutions.
The foundation, named after Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six venture capital fund, was announced mid-March. It will provide grants of $100,000 each to 20 climate fellows a year between the ages of 18 and 23. Those selected will also get support from the foundation’s network of founders, investors and partners.
Ohanian will serve as president of the foundation, but it will be run by fellowship program director Lissie Garvin, who was previously chief of staff at Seven Seven Six, Reddit and Initialized Capital. The 776 Foundation’s mission, outlined on its website, is to provide money and support to young people so they can “fully immerse themselves in what could be the next world-saving idea.”
Grant recipients will take two years off from school to focus on addressing and solving climate-related problems.
“When we looked around, we tried to think about this from first principles,” Ohanian told Fast Company in a March interview. “Ultimately, nothing matters if planet Earth is [bleeped]. All of the things we want to get in the way of a better society…start with making sure we can still inhabit this planet over the coming decades. And, obviously, climate disproportionately affects marginalized people.”
The grants will support a wide range of early-stage initiatives that range from climate-tech startups to environmental activism. Fellows will be challenged to think critically and creatively.
“Part of this is like, let’s see what happens when we open it up to the creativity of folks,” Ohanian said.
Every quarter fellows will receive part of their $100,000 payment, which can be spent however they deem fit to bring their ideas to life over the next two years. As the 776 Foundation puts it: if you need to be told exactly how to spend this money, this fellowship likely isn’t for you.”
The selection process aims to reach as many people as possible, including those who might not otherwise have access to the kind of funding and expertise the fellowship provides. Ideas and passion matter more than academic credentials.
The ultimate goal is to galvanize young people to bring creative solutions to the climate crisis before the crisis deepens even further.
“We so desperately need the energy, especially from young [and] motivated people, to be in problem-solving mode,” Ohanian told Fast Company. “And I hope this cascades, because yes, this is a huge, huge problem. We need the energy of the builders. We need our best and brightest minds.”