Leaders in Animal Protection: AJ Dahiya

AJ Dahiya
Article published on VeganHacktivists.org

by David David van Beveren | February 9, 2022

AJ Dahiya is a philanthropic leader with nearly a decade of monastic service and the Chief Vision Officer of The Pollination Project, a global community of 4,000+ grassroots volunteer leaders in over 125 countries. 

As the Chief Vision Officer at The Pollination Project, AJ oversees the daily giving of $1,000 microgrants to grassroots community leaders around the world. By equipping individuals with both the initial funding and belief that they can solve society’s most pressing challenges, AJ is expanding the walls of philanthropy and empowering individuals to make a difference.

AJ is committed to challenging the status quo of philanthropy by encouraging grantmaking at the individual level, to ensuring that grantmaking is more equitable and accessible to grassroots leaders, and to creating a kinder, more compassionate world through service.

The Pollination Project has served an impressive number of changemakers across 166 countries! What are the shared qualities or characteristics among these heartivists who have become active in their communities? How can we inspire more?

There are many qualities and characteristics, but the one that stands out to me the most is the desire to be an antidote to apathy. There are many, many issues in the world and most of us can point them out. However, to go beyond pointing out the negative and to become an agent of positive change takes something special. I see that special quality in the heart of our community of changemakers. 

How can we inspire more? We live in a time where society may have made us forget the inherent power each and every individual has. Every individual matters and the innate potential within each and every one of us is the largest untapped resource for creating a better world. We have to believe in ourselves again, we have to support each other in offering our unique gifts to the world, and we have to reignite the power of the individual heart to be a compassionate vehicle driving change. 

It is not uncommon for activists engaged in social justice, whether they’re fighting against human rights violations or animal abuse, to experience burnout. What advice would you give to activists that are nearly burnt out or have already reached this stage? How can they maximize their impact in a more healthy and sustainable way?

Activism, much like life, is a marathon rather than a sprint. While we want to make positive change, it’s important to also be kind to oneself, because how we show up everyday—the mindset, the energy—all determine the level of impact we will have over the long term. 

We live in a world that is dominated by what people stand against and what people hate. A more sustainable stance is to be driven by what we stand for and what we love. Externally it may look the same, but internally when we are moving due to our dislike of the negative, rather than our love for the positive, it takes a toll on one’s well-being—mentally, emotionally and spiritually. 

I feel that it is important that we all have contemplative practices that give us space to look within, while we work without. If we can find time to pause, reflect, take inventory of our motivations and extend kindness and compassion to ourselves as well as others, I feel that we will be working in a sustainable way that brings out our best.

Inner resilience will come from inner reflection and a recalibration.

Your philanthropy addresses both human suffering and animal suffering. Can you speak more to your work in that regard, and the conscious decision to address both by yourself and The Pollination Project?

The world is a complex place, and humans are complex beings. We are committed to supporting a shift in the collective consciousness to create a kinder, more compassionate world for all beings. As individuals with our own particular proclivities, unique callings, and acquired tendencies we recognize that unleashing compassion takes place along a spectrum of human experience and understanding. 

Whichever issue area may call to someone, our efforts are there to fan the spark of compassion in each and every person in order to create a blazing fire of change. My interest is in serving anyone who has a desire to make a difference in the world and I want to support them in offering what they feel is uniquely theirs to give in the greater mission of compassion consciousness. 

Read the full interview here 

Doing Nothing Is Easy

To see something takes little effort. And when we see something, doing nothing is easy.

Part of the problem we have in today’s times is that we have lost view of the inherent agency each and everyone of us have to be agents of change. It’s become far too easy to do nothing and in a world that places high value on an easy life, we are possibly losing one of the most important aspects of being alive – the ability to act. 

We want fast food, next day delivery, and the world at our fingertips. The measure of success becomes the ability to put in little to no effort. 

Yet living a deeply fulfilling life is not an effortless task. It’s one that takes dedication, self- sacrifice and the willingness to push yourself to contribute to a world you want to see. If we want a kinder, more compassionate world, we have to do something.

What can we do to feel motivated to do something, rather than taking the easy route of doing nothing? We have to understand that we are worthwhile, the world is worthwhile and our efforts are worthwhile. We may feel small and helpless, but the impact of unleashing your inner spirit has limitless potential. While the world around you may not change overnight, your efforts will definitely begin to change you. You will realize that you have the ability to make a difference. Rather than feeling victimized by the world, you will begin to feel empowered to stand up and create a difference. 

This is the truth we see every day here at The Pollination Project. Individuals from all over the world, diverse and different, find within themselves a power greater than anything they could have ever imagined. 

The price that we have to pay to uncover the power of compassionate action is the willingness to do something. Doing nothing is easy, doing something is worthwhile. 

Join our community, be a doer and experience the deep fulfillment that can only be found in service to something greater than ourselves

The Heartivist Legacy of Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

Last week, the prolific author and thinker Thich Nhat Hanh died; although in penning that sentence I recognize he would take offense to the very idea. He did not believe in death, once writing: 

This body is not me. I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
And I have never died.

Although our spiritual traditions were different, Thich Nhat Hanh entered monastic life around the same age as I did, albeit around 60 years earlier. His teachings on peace and non-violence were transformational in my own personal understanding of the link between social change and inner transformation. Writing about the Vietnam war, he observed many peace activists who were consumed by anger, reflecting that:

“We often think of peace as the absence of war, that if powerful countries would reduce their weapon arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds- our own prejudices, fears and ignorance. Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of bombs are still there, in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will make new bombs. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women.”

He noted in many of his speeches and articles the discordance he felt at seeing people do the work of a peacemaker while they themselves were not at peace. This understanding of the different qualities of “being” versus “doing” is still something I find deeply resonant. He helped the world understand that we cannot give that which we do not have; that our own lives have to be our message; and that, in activism, our own inner life deserves as much attention and care as those we wish to serve. 

He saw his eternal life in the continuation of compassion across the world; a legacy that I know has vibrance in our own beloved Pollination Project community and the spirit of heartivism present there. 

In his honor, may we all be attentive to the miracles before us, be they in “a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops;” 

May we find a sacred meditation in an everyday action, like drinking a cup of tea or eating an apple;

May we accept ourselves, knowing that this is what it means to be truly beautiful; 

May we walk as if we are kissing the earth with our feet. 


Photo credit © Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism

New Year’s Evolution

AJ Dahiya - New Year's Evolution

I must admit, I am not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. 

I appreciate setting positive intentions, continual improvement, and self-reflective efforts to be a better human. However, I find the idea of rigid timelines and lofty goals counterproductive and in some cases self-defeating. Too often, they are an outgrowth of a misplaced focus on outcome over process, intensity over consistency, and towering achievement over slow and steady daily practice. 

We celebrate astounding weight loss, forgetting that it is the product of thousands of small healthy decisions made repeatedly over time. 

We celebrate awe-inspiring athletic milestones, but not the daily training regimen that makes them possible. 

We marvel at scientific breakthroughs, but ignore the fact that these advances require determination through many failed attempts before ultimate success. 

I believe it was Aristotle who said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” 

The key here is the reference to repetition; even though we may see the new year as a demarcation of change, or sign up for a 21-day challenge, or pledge to walk 1,000 miles in 1,000 days, the truth is that building a daily practice – building a habit – is not a time-limited proposition. 

The answer to the question “How long does it take to build a daily practice?” is simple. It takes a lifetime. 

Rather than resolution, I believe in evolution. 

That’s why our work at The Pollination Project matters to me. It’s a collection of seemingly small grassroots actions that are helping evolve not just the individuals behind them, but our entire planet, into a daily practice of compassion and kindness. It is a community of people who care about outcomes and achievement, sure; but who are also in love with the process of becoming. 

There is nothing special about January 1st except that, like every other day, it is a precious gift shimmering with potential; a new opportunity to build a practice of loving kindness, one small yet beautiful step at a time. 

Prepared To Serve: SHARE

AJ Dahiya - Share

‘Sharing is caring’ is a common phrase, yet it carries a rather uncommon meaning. A meaning that is powerful and extremely important for us to understand.

To truly express the deepest caring, one must express it through the act of sharing. To share means to give something of one’s self to another – it’s an act of sacrifice – an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.

Our community of changemakers share themselves and give wholeheartedly in service to their communities, often at times when they themselves are in need.

Our Resilience and Recovery Fund is an expression of care for changemakers all over the world who are ready to sacrifice for the benefit of others. Please join us in sharing with those who are #preparedtoserve by contributing here

Prepared To Serve: SERVE


The highest expression of humanity is the spirit of serving others.

“Serve” is the third chapter of our “Prepared to Serve” Campaign. When we work to serve one another, we have a positive, powerful and lasting effect on each other, our communities and the world.

That’s why The Pollination Project is working to build a solid, financial base that will be available to grassroots volunteer community leaders instantly in a time of crisis.

You can join us in support of grassroots volunteer community leaders by giving to the Prepared to Serve Resilience and Recovery Campaign. 100% of your gift goes directly to the community leaders and the communities they serve. Donate here  or visit https://thepollinationproject.org

Advanced Disconnection

AJ Dahiya

The advancement of technology has revolutionized the way we live. We have access to untold amounts of information at our fingertips, the ability to get to know people thousands of miles away, and instant shopping with next-day delivery. 

In comparison to the days of yore, many of us will see how much we have advanced as a society. We have come leaps and bounds from the days of primitive living, superstition, and folklore.  

I agree that technological advances have positively impacted society in many ways – but as with all things, there’s always a price tag. Are we clear on the price we are willing to pay?

For many the air has become unbreathable, water undrinkable, food uneatable and the earth unlivable. With the rapid advancement of today, we seem to also be rapidly losing our connection to things that were held sacred. As an example, do we still consider the earth as Mother? If so, perhaps we should reassess the way we treat her. Do we see other living beings as holding inherent value? Do we perhaps need to reevaluate our value system to put people first and things second? Along with modern advancement, we have also advanced a crisis in mental health, fragmented relationships, depression, exploitation, and divide.

We can celebrate the progress that humanity has made and gratefully acknowledge how our lives are better today than they were hundreds of years ago. What I would like to offer is that we consider that true advancement goes beyond gadgets, technology, and modern comforts. For advancement to reach its full potential it must also include advancement of consciousness. 

Without including human consciousness in the equation we are perhaps missing an important and valuable opportunity that has been afforded to us by the modern world. Unless we are innovating ways to create more kindness, compassion, and connection or society is actually devolving as opposed to evolving, even if that devolution is taking place with a phone in one’s hand. In today’s world we have learnt to love things, and use people. 

If we fail to evolve in consciousness, individually and collectively, all of our other advancements simply become instruments of our inner suffering, rather than instruments of our ultimate liberation.  

This is an invitation, rather than a critique. We are all invited to advance society together by becoming heartivists. It’s an invitation to learn to love people and use things. An invitation to live a life of compassionate action.