By Sarah Beauchamp and Katie Kervin, Assistant Editors
conceived of and essentially operating as a nonprofit event (although organizers have not filed for legal status), the World Domination Summit lost approximately $30,000 its first go-round. But with a marked increase in attendees and higher ticket prices this year, organizers found themselves with money left over after registration closed.
There was a debate over what to do with the funds. Save for next year? Donate to charity? Start a foundation? But when an anonymous donor came forward with a gift for a WDS-related project, the team realized it would have roughly $100,000 to work with — or about $100 per attendee. WDS distributed that amount to each person at WDS 2012, asking them only to “do something amazing” with the money.
“Already we’ve heard some great stories about how this money is being used,” WDS organizer J.D. Roth said. “We look forward to sharing some of these stories at WDS 2013.” More Resources
Awesomeness Fest By Sarah Beauchamp, Assistant Editor
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Imagine a conference where speakers and attendees have a simultaneous, truly collaborative experience, making real and lasting connections. Somewhere tropical and gorgeous, with a program that raises thousands of dollars for people in need. It would be, in a word, awesome, right?
That’s why they call it Awesomeness Fest — an annual nonprofit, four-day experiential conference for social entrepreneurs that debuted in Costa Rica in November 2010. “What makes Awesomeness Fest so unique,” said Kara Zigay, an Awesomeness Fest representative, “is that we don’t separate the speakers from the attendees. There is no backstage.”
A Certain Amount of Exclusivity
Held this year on Nov. 2–5 at the Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Esmeralda resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico, Awesomeness Fest annually draws 250 to 300 attendees, ranging from writers and musicians to marketing directors of Fortune 500 companies — all looking to affect the world in a positive way. Past speakers have included Lisa Nichols, bestselling author and one of the stars of the self-help book and documentary The Secret
, and Tiffany Persons, founder of Shine on Sierra Leone, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life for communities in Sierra Leone.
“We always want to focus on attracting amaz-ing speakers and participants,” said Vishen Lakhiani, the man behind Awesomeness Fest. “The magic is really created by the mix of the people who attend.”
Lakhiani is co-founder and CEO of Mindval-ley, a company that “invests in businesses in the field of human potential,” according to its website. Awesomeness Fest was inspired by annual company retreats that Lakhiani hosted for Mindvalley employees along with thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and personal-growth experts, during which participants would gather in exotic locales to exchange ideas. Soon, word spread outside Mind-valley, and more and more people in the world of social entrepreneurship showed interest in attending the retreats. So, three years ago, Lakhiani created Awesomeness Fest, a place for spiritual leaders and innovators, teachers and entrepreneurs, to meet and make crucial connections.
To ensure quality interaction among attendees and speakers, a certain amount of exclusivity is necessary. “Making sure that the right people are there is always a priority,” Lakhiani said. Attendees must apply for an invitation to the event, then make it through two rounds of phone interviews with Awesomeness Fest staff. “We generally ask people what they’re looking to get out of the conference,” said Caela Gillies, an Awesomeness Fest employee. “We answer any questions they have, and basically see if they’d be a good fit.” The types of people Awesomeness Fest organizers search for are those who are passionate about personal growth; whether they’re yoga instructors or independent filmmakers, if they’re working to make positive change in their communities, then they meet Awesomeness Fest requirements.
Vision, Self-Mastery, Connections
Each year, Awesomeness Fest — a mix of “learning, presentations, parties, networking, and excursions,” Lakhiani said — encompasses three major themes: vision, self-mastery, and connections. “We select the speakers and the elements of our program very carefully, to find the best angle for all our main themes,” Lakhiani said. “We incorporate TED -style talks on personal development and entrepreneurship with very powerful individual or group exercises that help improve self-mastery and build deep connections with the other attendees.” Past sessions have included “Change Your Frequency, Change Your Reality,” in which “intuitive medium, healer, and facilitator for consciousness” Christie Marie Sheldon described to attendees how to create positive change by adjusting their inner energy; and “Go Big or Go Home,” during which entrepreneur and surfing aficionado Joe Walsh told the story of following his vision and founding a surf camp in Costa Rica. And, instead of getting on a plane and moving on to motivate another group of delegates at another conference, Sheldon and Walsh stayed for the duration of Awesomeness Fest, participating in team-building activities like sunrise yoga and surf lessons, and attending theme parties and beach bonfires — creating genuine, elevated networking opportunities.
Those connections are key to the Awesomeness Fest experience. Once you attend, you become part of the official “Unique People tribe” — which continues on past the conference via communication through a private Facebook group, accessible only to past attendees. “It’s the whole experience of belonging to the tribe that aims to change the world,” Lakhiani said. “A big evolution in the event since its inception three years ago is that it has become a movement.”
He added: “Movements need to be owned by their tribe, so starting from last year, Awesomeness Fest is a nonprofit event.” The event raised $30,000 in 2011 for charities of the tribe’s choice, including the Pachamama Alliance, an indigenous-rights organization; AIESEC, the world’s largest youth-run organization; and Shine on Sierra Leone. And the movement is spreading. “We’re finding that as the event and brand become more recognized,” Lakhiani said, “we have a larger pool of people who would like to get invited and attend. Our hope is to eventually expand Awesomeness Fest and host a second annual event in Asia.”
As the tribe begins to grow, Awesomeness Fest organizers continue to innovate. “We’re placing a greater focus on experiential and interactive presentations this year,” Lakhiani said, “and working in more time for networking and mingling among the attendees.” Location will also be important, as this year’s conference was slated for the Mayan Riviera; according to the Mayan calendar, the world will enter into a new age in 2012. “We want to focus on the overarching theme of entering into this new era as the best possible version of yourself,” said Lakhiani, who plans to focus on “creating break-throughs at this critical transition period.”
He added: “Many people have come up with epic business ideas, found business partners or clients, and made lifelong friendships at the event. We want to make sure to create a space for these incredible connections to happen.”
Awesomeness Fest isn't the first event to discover the benefits