Prepared To Serve: 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

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.

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. 

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. 

Activism, Identity & Service

The scholar Juana Rodriguez defines activism as “an engagement with hauntings of history, a dialogue between memories of the past and the imaginings of the future manifested through the acts of our own present yearning.”

Her work examines the relationship between identity and activism; more specifically, the idea that monolithic collective identities formed in the interest of solidarity can be reductive and even oppressive. Rodriguez and others ask, how can we hold space for our own unique individual identities, full of nuance and complexity, while still building broad-based social movements?

I see the fault lines of this tension reflected in nearly every prominent social issue; as activists are called to unify towards an expansive collective identity, they are concurrently pulled more strongly to smaller circles that organize around shared aspects of their personal stories. In the broader push for women’s equality, for example, many queer or BIPOC activists felt that the larger umbrella narrative did not fully account for the intersectionality of their experience. You can probably think of many more examples from your own work.

As heartivists, we reframe the focus of activism away from the self as center. Being drawn to a specific cause may come from direct personal experiences, but our work as heartivists is not actually about “us” at all.

Service, by definition, is self-less, yet in acting from a service-centered heart, our work actually becomes a truer reflection of ourselves, our humanity, and our shared hopes for the world.

There is no call to squeeze yourself into a collective narrative that, like a too-small garment, poorly fits you. Our personal identity is no longer a barrier to meaningful connection and culture shift; rather, we are finally able to dress ourselves with the intricate and beautiful nuances our lives have stitched for us alone.

Along the heartivist path, what we think of as “activism” shifts too.

Understanding that the world is changed by our example and not our opinions, we may come to observe that listening is a powerful form of activism. Kindness is activism.

And self reflection? Truly revolutionary.

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.