Skip to main content

Mailchimp’s Forward Project Invests $750,000 in Atlanta Social Entrepreneurs

We’re investing in the unrestricted growth of 15 Atlanta‑based for‑profit and not‑for‑profit organizations over the next three years

Today, Mailchimp announces the winners of the Forward Project––a $750,000 grant program that helps a cohort of traditionally overlooked social enterprises accelerate their community impact work in metro-Atlanta over the next three years.

The three awardee organizations, College AIM, The Counter Narrative Project, and the Hand Heart and Soul Project / Little Ones Learning Center, will each receive $200,000 in unrestricted grants to be paid out over the next three years as well as $25,000 in customized consulting services from Purpose Possible. Twelve additional finalist organizations will also receive grants ranging from $5,000-$11,000. Learn more about the awardees and finalists below.

“We launched the Forward Project to get at the heart of some big challenges for social entrepreneurs in Atlanta,” says Josh Penny, Director of Corporate Citizenship at Mailchimp. “It’s often hard for smaller organizations to get access to big grants, there’s a conservative funding landscape in Atlanta, and these groups need resources to pursue ambitious ideas. We’re proud to partner with College AIM, The Counter Narrative Project, and the Hand Heart and Soul Project to deepen their impact and amplify their messages.”

The impact that the three awardees have had is due in large part to their deep ties to the Atlanta area. “I decided to pursue social entrepreneurship because this work has always felt the most critical and been the most meaningful for me,” says Counter Narrative Project founder Charles Stephens. “I was born and raised in Atlanta, and grew up in the Adamsville community. Both of my parents came of age during the Jim Crow era South, and instilled in me, as far back as I can remember, a consciousness around racial and economic justice.”

For College AIM founder Sam Aleinikoff, social entrepreneurship provided a way to take action. “I was working as a high school teacher and one of my students told me she wanted to go to college. It shouldn't have been a revolutionary statement, but for her it was—she was going to be the first in her family to go to college and fewer than 10% of students at her high school went on to earn postsecondary credentials.” College AIM has helped over 700 DeKalb County students explore opportunities after high school and earn over $64 million in scholarships.

Often philanthropic grants come with constraints on how the money can be used, but Forward Project funds are unrestricted. “Social enterprises cannot exist without operating capital, plain and simple,” says Susannah Darrow Co-Founder of Purpose Possible. “That's why it was so important that the awardees are empowered to spend as they choose to best support the current needs and growth of their organizations.” Darrow’s firm will work with each awardee to build capacity in fundraising, business development, hiring, communications and more.

“Our organization is contributing to a movement, not just operating a business,” says Wande Okunoren-Meadows, Executive Director of Hand, Heart and Soul Project. “I want our mark on the community to be measurable and impact multiple areas- families, team members, community, health, environment, and more.”

Mailchimp believes that Big Change Starts Small. That’s why our Corporate Citizenship program has led more than $12 million of investments in the Atlanta community, and partnered with 220+ organizations, spanning the arts, education, entrepreneurship, and more.


Awardee organizations to receive $200,000 each (to be distributed over 3 years)

College AIM

College AIM envisions a day when every student in Greater Atlanta can equally access and achieve postsecondary success. Founded in 2013 by Sam Aleinikoff, College AIM’s programming has helped more than 700 DeKalb County students explore post-secondary options through workshops, college visits, and 1-to-1 counseling. 83% of those students have continued on to four-year, two-year, and technical colleges.

College AIM will use the new investment to place more high-quality college access professionals in their partner schools and advocate for a more equitable postsecondary landscape.

Counter Narrative Project

Founded by Charles Stephens in 2014, the Counter Narrative Project works to realize an Atlanta where Black gay men and the broader Black LGBTQ community, have greater acceptance in their communities. They advocate for policy change to reduce the prevalence and stigma of HIV. CNP also works to shift the cultural narrative by pushing for more visible and responsible media coverage of Black LGBTQ people. In 2021, they were nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for their digital magazine, The Reckoning, which focuses on Atlanta’s Black LGBTQ+ community.

CNP will invest the Forward Project grant in their digital mobilization strategy and develop content that fights stigma, while strengthening their capacity for fundraising.

Hand, Heart and Soul Project & Little Ones Learning Center

Hand, Heart and Soul Project & Little Ones Learning Center have forged an innovative partnership between a for-profit and non-profit to help strengthen food security by bringing fresh, nutrient-dense to families also seeking childcare. Together, they’ll build a community-based corner market, with fresh produce and e-commerce equipped for SNAP benefits. They’re also creating a mobile farm stand to bring fresh food directly to families.

The partnership, led by HHSP co-creator Wande Okunoren-Meadows, will leverage the Forward Project grant to open a new learning center in Clayton County that provides holistic programs focused on health, education, wellness, and nutrition.


Finalist organizations to receive grants ranging from $5,000-$11,000 (awarded immediately)


The Forward Project welcomed applications from early- and growth-stage ventures as well as more established organizations making a significant pivot in their work. An investment committee comprised of 14 metro-Atlanta artists, small business owners, and non-profit leaders collaborated over the last year to develop the scope of the program and select awardees. Mailchimp partnered with Indwell Collaborative to design and facilitate a democratic selection process.

Published December 8, 2021

Share This Article