Alexis Ohanian was 22 when he cofounded Reddit in 2005. If he were starting his career now, he says he would work on something completely different: climate change.
Today, Ohanian launches the 776 Foundation—named after his venture capital fund, Seven Seven Six—and its first campaign, a fellowship that will give $20 million to young people over the next decade to work on climate solutions. Each year, 20 climate fellows between the ages of 18 and 23 will receive a $100,000 grant each, along with support from the foundation’s network of founders, investors, and partners.
The foundation, which will be run by Lissie Garvin, previously chief of staff at 776, Reddit, and Initialized Capital, aims to fund new ideas that can support underrepresented and marginalized people, beginning with the fundamental challenge of climate change.
“When we looked around, we tried to think about this from first principles,” Ohanian says. “Ultimately, nothing matters if planet Earth is fucked. All of the things we want to get in the way of a better society . . . at the end of the day 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 range of work, from building new climate-tech startups to activism. “This is designed for super, super early ideas,” he says. “And they don’t have to be for profit. Part of this is like, let’s see what happens when we open it up to the creativity of folks.”
The process is designed to be as inclusive as possible to reach people who might not otherwise have access to funding; the application doesn’t ask, for example, where someone went to college. “This feels like an obvious thing for us simply because we’ve taken pitches for over a decade and never once asked a founder, where did you go to college?” Ohanian says. “Because it doesn’t matter.” Applications will be open through the end of March, and the foundation expects to announce the first grantees in June.
The fellowship is a way to catalyze more climate action at a critical time. “When I see folks who feel really helpless about the state of things, I get it,” he says. “I understand where that energy comes from. But we so desperately need the energy, especially from young, just amazing, motivated people, to be in problem-solving mode. 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.”