If you live in a North American urban centre, chances are there has been a “yoga mala” in your hood. Typically an afternoon of 108 sun salutations lead by a rotation of local teachers, the yoga mala model has become the leading fundraiser model in the yoga world. Participants get family and friends to pledge their efforts and proceeds raised go to charity.
Yoga teacher Dawn Mauricio has been organizing annual yoga malas in Montreal for several years. At first, she focused on raising funds for global organizations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International, and then the focus turned to local non-profits serving the community. She started to see that the model was unsustainable. The yoga community would come together for an afternoon, raise $8,000 – $10,000, and the money would vanish, with no accountability or sustainability.
Taking the foundation that she’d built with the annual yoga mala event, Dawn joined forces with Jason Sharp and Elizabeth Emberly, founders of Naada Yoga, and created the Yoga Mala Foundation. The annual 108 sun salutations event became one component in fundraising efforts, along with donation-based classes in studios around the city – all funds raised are funneled back into the foundation to support yoga teachers and their projects.
Less than a year after the creation of YMF, the foundation has five $1,000-grants for Montreal-based applicants developing yoga programs that address an identifiable need (for example, yoga for at-risk youth, low income families, or women who have experienced domestic violence).
Dawn and Jason told me more about the program and their vision.
How did you make the transition from an annual fundraiser event to a full-on foundation?
Dawn: We wanted the yoga mala to be a community event but it wasn’t really true. We got together for three hours one Sunday of the year, and that was it. Now we have participating studios who organize their own mini-events, and we advertise and promote them. These proceeds get reinvested back in YMF and other community projects. Set it up on community on all levels: for students, for teachers/studio owners, for teachers who go out with grants and start programs
What is your vision?
Jason: We wanted to create a resource for yoga teachers and provide funding for projects. Dawn had already established yoga mala as a community-based event, a neutral place that studios were already involved with, so the foundation had been set. We saw where it could go from here.
I’ve been running a yoga school which emphasizes education, and we came to an idea of building a resource for graduating students. Yoga teacher training is a saturated concept at this point, so we wanted a way that graduates could invest in their education while they’re looking for work in studios.
So right now the YMF only has grants to yoga teachers in Montreal? Do you have any plans for expansion?
Jason: We see Montreal as a pilot project. We’ve set this up as a first chapter, a way for this community to contribute to its own pot, support things in the community itself, fitting and sustainable idea. But it can quickly be set up in a way that it can be relevant for many different communities. Montreal is a sort of Petri dish. The infrastructure of the foundation is very easy thing to export to other cities, keeping the resources – the website, network and application process – that support other cities under one hub.
What is the application process? Jason, as a professional musician, I understand that you’ve modeled the process on artistic grant applications.
Jason: Yes. It’s important to have a detailed application for the people to give thought to what they can offer. The application itself showcases one’s ability to organize and pay attention to details, as well. There are three parts: a CV, background, and a project description. We’re asking for letters of acceptance from the institutions teachers plan on working with, so they can start to build the relationship. Applicants will provide a detailed financial budget, tally of planned expenses (props, etc), marketing support and teachers’ salary. At the end of the project, they’ll give us an impact report so we can measure accountability.
It’s interesting that you’re including salary expectations on the application. Teachers will be paid for their work, rather than doing it on a volunteer basis?
Dawn: Part of the purpose here is to create a meaningful job for teachers, so they should expect to be paid for their teaching. We’re working on building partnerships with suppliers of props, to make sure that more of the grant money can go to the teachers.
Why is the local element important to you?
Jason: We need to take care of our own backyard. The yoga mala event was truly a local initiative that people came together for. It seemed fitting that the rewards from that collaboration go back to the community itself. Those people working on a local level can see the fruits of their labour, creating healthy nucleus of community. This is integral to creating sustainable growth.
Rather than doing a bunch of sun salutations in a park one afternoon, raising money, and sending it off…
Dawn: Exactly. That model loses the passion behind it. We’re trying to create a new model, where people are involved in an event that raises $5,000 and the next time they’re involved, they see the projects that money went to and the teachers involved. They see the growth. That’s going to create longevity.