Community groups in Central Iowa have 30 days to launch one of 15 potential initiatives in their region, with the support of a combined grant from ChangeX and the Microsoft West Des Moines Data Center complex. 


The Des Moines Community Challenge is supporting up to 35 teams with $75,000 in grants, supported by a Community Empowerment Fund award from Microsoft. The fund is expected to be open for another three months or so, but grants will operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Although applications opened in November, ChangeX expects more applications to arrive this spring as warmer weather supports work on pollinator partnerships, a river cleanup and other project concepts. 


“Our mission is to build a global technology platform where we could make social innovations that were working available to communities anywhere, to really spread ideas that work,” said Niamh McKenna, ChangeX co-founder and head of impact. “Within the challenge, there are ideas that are already working in other parts of the U.S. and Europe that communities like Des Moines can get up and running in their local area.” 


Each team has 30 days to develop an action plan to be eligible for seed funding. The Challenge grants range from $500 to $5,000 for projects in environmental sustainability, digital skills and community prosperity; ChangeX and Microsoft will designate grants to individuals or existing community groups who apply. Applicants receive 70% of the funding at the start of their project, and receive the remaining 30% once the project is successfully running. 


The Challenge is offering grants in 10 communities across the U.S. and Europe.


 Headquartered in Ireland, ChangeX is a team of 10 individuals with one office base in the U.S. that partners with corporate foundations to distribute funds to local communities. 


ChangeX’s first project in the U.S. began just across the border of Iowa in Minnesota, working with Blue Cross Blue Shield to develop community health projects. After connecting with Microsoft, ChangeX launched a Challenge pilot program in Phoenix and Chicago nearly two years ago. 


“As of November we had invested a little over $105,000 with different organizations here in the community to empower some of these focus areas,” said Stephanie Westrom, solution assessment lead of Microsoft’s midwest region. 


At least one community group from Carlisle is being supported by the Des Moines Community Challenge to host regular river cleanups over the spring. Nationally, programs like establishing a community fridge or a First Lego League for students have proved to be popular grant opportunities among communities, McKenna said. As of late February, seven teams had already received funding, and the Community Challenge is still open to Central Iowa applicants who would take on the 30-day challenge.