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 

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

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

Greatness and Perfection

AJ Dahiya - Greatness and Perfection

“You are not ready for independence. If we were to grant it, you would make so many mistakes.”

This is the response Mahatma Gandhi received from the ruling British as he petitioned and advocated for the freedom of India. 

With deep thought and gravity, Gandhi responded,

“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”

Mahatma Gandhi is a name synonymous with the peaceful, nonviolent fight for justice and freedom. A fight that is waged with love, compassion, and kindness – the values of heartivism. 

To many he was a larger-than-life figure, a saint, and the champion of India’s freedom. Mahatma, the honorific title, itself means ‘great soul.’

However, as great as one can be, no one is free from critics and shortcomings – to err is human after all. 

During his lifetime and long after his death, Gandhi has been mired in controversy. In fact, that has been the case from the beginning of his life of activism in South Africa.

Gandhi has been called a misogynist and a racist. He was accused of collaborating and siding with the foreign-ruling British and he was blamed for the partition of India. Hindus felt that he favored the Muslims; the Muslims along with others called him a Hindu nationalist. 

With all that said, how is he Mahatma – a great soul? 

There’s a more important question that we should ask – to be great, do you have to be perfect?

If Gandhi really was a saint who fell from the heavens, pure in every word, action and deed, a person who made no mistakes and had no shortcomings, I would not find him to be as compelling of a figure. 

In my estimation, real greatness is found when we are imperfect and flawed. Despite the lower aspects of ourselves, the greatness is in the striving; the continual work we do on ourselves to learn, grow and be better. 

Gandhi serves as an inspiration to me precisely because he wasn’t perfect. He was human and it was this humanness that made him not just relatable, but also remarkable. 

If the price to pay for goodness was perfection the world would be a lost cause. Who among us is perfect? Who is clean and unmarked in the journey of life? 

The greatest legacy of the Mahatma is simple and often overlooked – despite our messiness, there is a Mahatma, a great soul, in all of us. 

Our job is to uncover it not by being perfect, but by being great even though we are imperfect. 

My Friend, Death

My Friend, Death - AJ Dahiya

Amidst this extended season of loss and grief, my family experienced another last night. My wife’s beloved cousin left this world from cancer, leaving behind young children and a family that will deeply miss him. These moments in life, when the loss of a loved one causes us to confront our own mortality, are a wake up call. A call we, often, choose not to answer. 

Each of us will die. This is an indisputable truth. We carry the spectre of death with us everywhere we go, like a constant companion we simultaneously fear and willfully ignore. 

What if we stop turning away? What if we turned toward it, looked death directly in the eyes and embraced it, holding it close like an old and wise friend?

Many faith traditions include the idea of keeping death as an advisor. 

When death is there with us, it is actually an opportunity to be more fully alive. Weighed against the brevity and preciousness of life, how small our troubles begin to seem; how much more slow to take or cause offense we might find ourselves. 

Perhaps our friend, death, is the original heartivist. There are few problems we might take to him that he would not advise us to approach with generosity, love, and kindness. He is unimpressed with wealth, fame, or status; as the great equalizer, death cares not for these things at all. 

Under the tutelage of death, we can lighten up and take ourselves less seriously. We can give more fully, knowing service is our only real legacy. Nothing else was ever truly ours anyway. 

Never Waste A Good Crisis

The New York winter was beginning and I had just made a decision that was going to change life as I knew it. After a deep and prolonged time of contemplation, I came to a realisation — I had grown as much as I was going to grow as a monk. The time had come to hang up the robes in search of the next chapter.

I was just about to turn 28. I didn’t have a bank account. No drivers licence. Thousands of miles from home. A handful of friends. A thin support system. No education.

I felt unstable, unsure and untethered. Could I start a career with my background? Where would I live? How would I pay rent? Who would take me seriously — I only had one outfit that wasn’t the saffron garb of a monk. I turned to a mentor who I respected deeply and revealed my heart. I expressed the deep inner turmoil and turbulence I was feeling.

“Never waste a good crisis,” he said with deep gravity.

He further shared that I had a few choices. I could wallow in my insecurity and feelings of hopelessness, or I could use this as an opportunity to propel my life forward.

Even then I felt the ancient truth in this wisdom, echoed through the ages through sages like Marcus Aurelius, who said “The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Now, I am fortunate to serve the global Pollination Project community; a devoted group full of changemakers for whom seemingly intractable obstacles became the catalysts for action.

I think of Poli Sotomayor, this week’s changemaker of the week, for whom the suffering of non-human animals tugged at her heart so strongly that it became a lifelong path, leading her to give up everything she knew to devote her life to helping others broaden their circle of concern.

I think of George Reginald Freeman, persecuted for his sexuality and driven from his home country to a foreign land, where he began work to make sure other refugees were supported in a way he was not.

I think of the nearly 400+ changemakers we were able to support last year through COVID-relief funding, for whom even a global pandemic was an opportunity to grow in community and service.

There are powerful individuals from all walks of life, in all corners of the world who are victimized but don’t allow themselves to be victims, who are overpowered, yet do not yield their power to anyone, who fight the hate they experience with love.

The world is full of waste — wasted time, wasted resources, wasted life.

Next time you face a crisis, make sure you don’t waste it.