ChangeX, supported by a Community Empowerment Fund award from Microsoft, has launched a $50,000 fund for local community groups, schools and organizations that want to create thriving communities across Southern Virginia.

This marks the third Southern Virginia Community Challenge supported by Microsoft, and builds on the $70,000 of funding provided to date. The previous Challenges have supported 23 local groups to start community projects related to digital skills and sustainability, impacting more than 1,150 local people.

The 2022 Challenge aims to support up to 20 teams to start new community projects. Groups can choose from a carefully-curated portfolio of 16 proven ideas that have already had a positive social or environmental impact in communities across the US and Europe.

The ideas on offer include some favorites from the 2021 Challenge, such as Pollinator Partnership, an initiative to support pollinator-friendly habitats.

Also this year sees new ideas, like PlantPure Communities Pod, added to the portfolio of available options. People join pods to support one another and work together to spread the message of plant-based nutrition in their communities, as well as have fun and build friendship. Also added to the portfolio this year is Better Block Parklet, an initiative to expand public or private space with digitally fabricated parklets.

Local groups that apply for funding to start one of the projects on offer will have 30 days to build a small team and design an action plan. On completing these steps, they will be eligible for seed funding of up to $5,500.

ChangeX, supported by Microsoft, has funded almost 300 teams in communities across the US and Europe to start impactful community projects through a series of Community Challenges.

Denise Barksdale, who works for the town of Halifax, received $3,500 from the Southern Virginia Community Challenge to start an Urban Thinkscape project in her hometown. Urban Thinkscape, an initiative of Playful Learning Landscapes Action Network, enables people to transform a public space in their community into a joyful learning opportunity.

Barksdale and her team identified an alley way in downtown Halifax that they wanted to transform into an inviting space for local residents.

“People didn’t really use this space. It wasn’t attractive. It was dark and dull,” she said. “Now it’s well lit, and already we see more people using the space. We wanted to create a space that people could use, and transform a dull alley way into an area where kids could learn.”

Microsoft aims to establish a positive presence in the communities where it operates datacenters, by contributing to long-term social, economic, and environmental health in those areas.

The Microsoft Community Empowerment Fund, which provides funding for the Challenge, is an initiative of the Microsoft Datacenter Community Development team. The partnership with ChangeX, through the Southern Virginia Community Challenge, empowers the local community to address social and environmental issues in an innovative way.

“It’s really exciting to be building on the success of the previous two Community Challenges in Southern Virginia,” said Jeremy Satterfield, Microsoft TechSpark Virginia manager and community lead for datacenter community cevelopment. “Already hundreds of people across our region have benefited from the 23 impactful projects started in the past two years. As we enter our third year of this initiative, I can’t wait to see a new group of people empowered to drive positive community change through the 2022 Challenge.”

The Challenge is open to people living in Mecklenburg, Halifax, Charlotte, Lunenberg and Brunswick Counties in Southern Virginia. Funding will be allocated to qualifying applicants on a first come, first served basis.