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

Prepared to Serve: CARE

“Care isn’t just a feeling. Care is an active principle. Our changemakers step up in the spirit of compassionate action to make an impact in their communities.”

The first chapter of The Pollination Project’s “Prepared to Serve” Campaign is dedicate to CARE.

Instead of beginning our fundraising efforts the moment disaster strikes, we are building a financial resource that will be available to our volunteer community leaders immediately in a time of crisis. Will you join us?

You can support grassroots volunteer community leaders by giving to the Prepared to Serve Resilience and Recovery Campaign at The Pollination Project. 100% of your gift goes directly to the community leaders and the communities they serve.

Planting Seeds or Stones?

AJ Dahiya - Planting seeds or stones

Lately I have found inspiration in the writings of the Polish-born American Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel’s own life was a testament to the power of the human spirit. His father died when he was just a child, and many more of his family members were murdered in the Holocaust. He escaped to New York in 1940, where he continued his lifelong exploration of Jewish mysticism. 

What I love about Heschel is that although he was a prolific author, scholar, and professor, he was not an armchair philosopher. His faith deeply informed his thoughts on social responsibility. Heschel was a passionate activist for civil rights, joining his friend Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis in the Selma to Montgomery march for equality. Of that experience he said “I felt my legs were praying,” and called on other religious leaders to show “spiritual audacity” in the face of oppression. 

Heschel was a man who thought deeply about the relative value of questions versus answers.

His work has particular resonance at this moment in history because, in my humble opinion, we seem to have far more answers than we do questions. Even in our most prescient social challenges – things like racial equity, climate change, animal rights, and more – we see that individuals tend to attach themselves to answers, catchy slogans, and foregone conclusions. The overarching values system has overpromoted the defense of answers far more than it has the passionate inquiry that should lead to them. 

This imbalance might be why we struggle to move forward meaningfully on even those issues that dominate public discourse. According to Heschel, adopting answers without questioning can never lead to meaningful forward motion. He once wrote:

“There are dead thoughts and there are living thoughts. A dead thought has been compared to a stone which one may plant in the soil. Nothing will come out. A living thought is like a seed. In the process of thinking, an answer without a question is devoid of life. It may enter the mind; it will not penetrate the soul. It may become a part of one’s knowledge; it will not come forth as a creative force.”

Heschel, like our community of changemakers at The Pollination Project, was a doer. He was a thinker who manifested action through a process of deep inquiry, just like those our community uplifts each day. I daresay he was a heartivist. 

No stones have been planted in our global garden; only living thoughts that grow and blossom into a kinder, more compassionate world. Thank you to each of our changemakers who make up this vibrant ecosystem of kindness, whose prayers are extended hands to their communities. I am eternally inspired by you.

What Philanthropy Can Learn From Afghanistan

AJ Dahiya - Lessons from Afghanistan

Recently, I read the report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction titled “What We Need to learn: Lessons from 20 Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction.” 

I wanted to understand how the investment of two decades and $145 billion in reconstruction dollars could be so decisively and spectacularly undone in a mere ten days. 

The report is damning. The section that stood out the most for me was titled “The US Government did not understand the Afghan context and therefore failed to tailor its efforts accordingly.” 

The report found that the Americans “clumsily forced Western technocratic models onto Afghan economic institutions; trained security forces in advanced weapon systems they could not understand, much less maintain; imposed formal rule of law on a country that addressed 80 to 90 percent of its disputes through informal means; and often struggled to understand or mitigate the cultural and social barriers to supporting women and girls. Without this background knowledge, U.S. officials often empowered power brokers who preyed on the population or diverted U.S. assistance away from its intended recipients to enrich and empower themselves and their allies. Lack of knowledge at the local level meant projects intended to mitigate conflict often exacerbated it, and even inadvertently funded insurgents.”

This lack of cultural context extended to all they did. For example, the new schools being constructed were designed to American standards, with a heavy roof that required a crane to install, yet cranes could not be used in the mountainous terrain that characterizes much of the country. The schools also required entrance ramps and extra-wide doors to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, even though in many cases the rugged terrain itself was totally inaccessible to wheelchairs. 

Reflecting on these tragic lessons in hubris, money, and power, I see so many important lessons for our own work. 

In truth, philanthropy can be just as imperialistic as governments. How often do we assume that because we hold resources, we also hold solutions? Do top-down attempts at movement-building make any more sense than attempts at nation-building? How do we shift our ways of thinking and doing to move from saving those in need to a focus on serving them? As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Lasting change is not a top-down equation; no amount of money or might can supplant the long-term importance of thinking from the bottom-up. Even if it is well-intentioned and well-funded, any social change work that is an imposition rather than an invitation is predestined to fail. Any attempt at change – political, social, or otherwise – must begin with humility, inclusivity, and the solutionary voices of those who are most impacted. This is true on all scales; from a seed grant of $1,000, to a nation-building project of billions.

This is why you will always find me at the bottom, as close to the grassroots as possible, repeating one simple mantra we have heard from our community time and time again: 

Nothing for me without me. 

Real Friends

AJ Dahiya - Real Friends

There are over 7 billion people on the planet, each born with a drive to connect. The explosion of technology means we can digitally meet new people from all over the world. Social media “friends” lists can number in the thousands, a testament to our innate interest in the lives of others. 

But what is a “friend,” really?

When things are going well, we may find ourselves surrounded by friends. But when things are more challenging, many of those same people may well disappear. When adversity comes knocking, those who turn toward us rather than away from us are our real friends. When life becomes messy and the party’s over, real friends step forward and lend a hand to help us clean it all up. 

Early in The Pollination Project’s history, we supported a project led by Kelsey Crowe, an empathy expert who went on to co-write a book called “There is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love.” The book deals with how to support the people we love through illness or adversity. One aspect of the book that I won’t soon forget involved moving from thinking about being helpful to actually acting on that intention. This means replacing the ubiquitous “let me know if there is anything I can do to help,” with statements “I will bring you dinner on Friday,” or “I am coming over tomorrow to tidy up for you.” 

There is so much in this simple notion that underlies who we are at The Pollination Project. Our community is full of compassionate doers. Rather than waiting to be asked, they show up and fill the need before them. 

During the unfolding of COVID-19 across the world, I was so uplifted by the ways our community turned towards the most vulnerable in their own backyards. In recent weeks during the second surge in India, I felt this same inspiration. In moments of crisis, we are here for each other, bonded in our shared hope of a kind, compassionate world. 

Our highest aspiration is not to be a foundation that only gives away money. Our aim is simple: to show up and be a friend – a real friend. 

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. 

A Truer Picture

Perspective - AJ Dahiya

Suppose two people are on opposite ends of a vast and lush forest that stretches for many thousands of acres. One stands beside a rushing stream, watching the light play on the water. The other is in a heavily wooded thicket, so dense that very little light filters through at all.

If they were to describe the forest to each other, their accounts would be drastically different. They aren’t standing in the same place or having the same experience.

Perhaps they might argue about what the forest looks like.

Or, they could choose to listen to each other and grasp a bigger conception of the forest; one that accounts for the fullness beyond their own immediate horizon.

The moral of this little story: Our own lived experience matters. It is important, yet a worldview centered on this alone will necessarily result in a very limited understanding. You may be sitting beside the stream, but that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t standing in the thicket. The forest of humanity is limitless, the map of which is a tapestry of all of our collective unique experiences. The truth of another’s story in no way invalidates your own. In fact, the more perspectives we can hear with an open heart, the larger and truer our picture becomes.

AJ Dahiya of The Pollination Project: “Compassion has many different faces”

AJ Dahiya on Thrive Global

by Ben Ari

Compassion has many different faces: Through our focus on individuals working at grassroots levels, we gain the chance to uplift the voices of diverse and marginalized leaders whose work is often overlooked by larger institutional funders. When you make the opportunity to serve accessibly, you get so much more diversity; not only racial or socioeconomic diversity of the players, but also a diversity of ideas and solutions.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing AJ Dahiya.

AJ Dahiya is a former monk who is now a writer, speaker, and Chief Vision Officer of The Pollination Project, a global community of 4,000+ grassroots volunteer leaders in over 125 countries. At The Pollination Project, AJ pioneers disruptive philanthropic approaches that serve as an antidote to apathy, funding individuals directly for social projects in their own communities. A leader of the #heartivist movement, AJ advocates for the amplifying effects of non-financial resources and self-reflective practices as foundational factors in building a kinder, more compassionate world.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I would say my path is untraditional, but my past connects to my present role through the principle of service. The role I’ve held for most of my life was that of a monk. At 18, I renounced all my worldly possessions and joined a monastery. I spent the better part of a decade traveling to monastic communities around the world, consulting with the leaders of those communities about how they could be more connected and compassionate. But at a certain point, I began to feel I had grown as much as I could in that life, and decided to stake out a new path. Still desiring to be in service, I was fortunate to lead several organizations before coming to The Pollination Project; notably The Bhakti Center in New York, and Hope Not Hate USA. I still feel, even today, that the center of my work is to be in deep service to others, although doing that through the lens of philanthropy looks very different than it did when I was a monk.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

At The Pollination Project, our model is centered around funding individuals directly through seed grants, so that they are able to act on the inspiration to serve that they feel within their own communities. I always thought that this model could have real value in the case of natural disasters or other emergency relief, but that was truly put to the test during this last year. At the start of the pandemic, we mobilized our entire global community within two weeks to serve COVID-related needs like support of vulnerable communities, deploying supplies to hard-hit areas, and support for food insecure communities particularly in the global south. It was inspiring to see what could happen, and how quickly it could unfold, when you are mobilizing the capacity of people to act out of great love and concern for their friends and neighbors.

Read the full interview here 

How trust-based values can transform philanthropy

Article published on PhilanTopic (PND)

Winston Churchill is credited with being the first to say, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” While the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in immeasurable pain and suffering, it has also inspired action around how philanthropy can better address global crises in the future.

At the start of the pandemic, more than eight hundred philanthropic organizations agreed to provide greater flexibility to and eliminate administrative barriers for their grantees. With a pandemic raging, funders who signed the pledge recognized they needed to act swiftly and to lean into the expertise of their nonprofit partners. By committing to the values of trust-based philanthropy, an approach to giving that seeks to address the inherent power imbalances between funders, nonprofits, and the communities they serve, the signatories to the pledge agreed to put faith in and share power with those hardest hit by the crisis.

As the world begins to emerge from the pandemic, the philanthropic community must resist the urge to return to the status quo. The need for such a pledge underscored the reality that funders need to do more to make their grantmaking accessible, equitable, and empowering for grassroots leaders. And they can do that by moving to a trust-based philanthropy model.

I know firsthand the power of trust and service. Before taking the helm at The Pollination Project, a micro-granting organization that provides funds to community leaders in support of early-stage projects, I spent a decade as a monk. Four values guided my daily life during that time: faith, humility, relationship, and service. All four show up in the trust-based philanthropy model and offer a framework for how funders — and our grantee partners — can better solve the global challenges of today, and tomorrow.

Here’s how those values can reshape philanthropy:


Monks believe that everything in life is a dynamic proposition of faith. A trust-based funding approach is similar, in that it calls on funders to reevaluate their grant application process to allow more opportunities for smaller organizations. Automatically rejecting volunteer-led organizations or early-stage projects, for instance, closes the door to many deserving recipients.

Over half of the grant dollars awarded by U.S. foundations are directed to just 1 percent of recipient organizations. Black, Indigenous, and people of color leaders historically have been overlooked by philanthropy and often receive fewer grants, less money, and are given less freedom to decide how to use that money than their white counterparts. We are at risk of perpetuating these inequities unless we lead with faith and understand that those most directly impacted by an issue almost always are in the best position to solve it.

Directly investing in communities isn’t just a moral issue; it works. For years, The Pollination Project has supported projects that mainstream philanthropy would likely deem risky, including providing seed funding to grassroots volunteers without a traditional educational background or nonprofit experience. But we go a step further than the current trust-based model by committing to an open application process through which anyone can share their vision for a project and seek funding.

By providing grants directly to individuals, we allow those without access to other sources of institutional funding — especially underrepresented groups such as Indigenous people, women in the Global South, and religious and ethnic minorities — to launch impactful, meaningful projects. Take, for instance, a volunteer in Kolkata, India, who mobilized marginalized youth to manufacture hand sanitizer and distribute it to families living in urban slums at the start of the pandemic. Community leaders have the passion, skill, and trust to drive local efforts, and philanthropy should grant them the resources to do so.


Trust-based philanthropy recognizes that because philanthropic leaders don’t have all the answers, they must redistribute and share decision-making power. Too often, those making funding decisions at nonprofits are disconnected from the communities they serve. Paternalism and elitism are deeply rooted in philanthropy, and it takes humility to give back some of that power.

A peer-to-peer giving model is one way to redistribute power. In such a  model, a network of grant advisors — none of whom is paid staff and most of whom are previous grant recipients — decide which projects receive our funding. By democratizing funding decisions, philanthropic organizations can address the inherent power imbalance between funders and grant recipients.


The ability to forge meaningful relationships is critical to driving social change; in 2020, however, fewer than a third of foundations provided any assistance to their grantees beyond the grant itself. To make the greatest impact, funders must move from solely providing financial resources to viewing ourselves as a partner to our grantees and ensuring their long-term success by offering non-monetary support such as introductions to other funders, capacity-building training, and promoting their work to our networks.

Monks recognize the power of relationships. We lean into the vulnerability required to develop authentic relationships and find strength in connection. I’ve used these teachings to foster a global community of four thousand changemakers who share learnings, work to build capacity, and form community with one another. Smaller and people of color-led organizations typically don’t have the same resources as larger nonprofits, which in turn drives inequities in the field. Philanthropic leaders can support the long-term success of such organizations by ensuring that their relationships with grant recipients don’t end with a check.


The trust-based philanthropy model recognizes that nonprofits currently spend a lot of time completing funder-required application forms and reports, which takes precious time away from their mission.

As philanthropists, we must remind ourselves to whom nonprofits are accountable and consider how we can be of more service to the ones we support. We must ask ourselves how we can minimize bureaucracy and free would-be change agents to do what they are called to do. Putting more value in conversations instead of written reports or applications allows small organizations with limited bandwidth to focus more on their work and on creating a kinder, more compassionate world.

One thing COVID-19 has taught us is that philanthropy works better when power is distributed equitably and those closest to the issues have the opportunity to lead. By embracing trust-based and monastic principles, philanthropic leaders can make a more direct and immediate impact in communities. Crises can be an opportunity to change things that no longer work; let’s not waste this one.