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 

Listening is Revolutionary

listening is revolutionary - AJ Dahiya

There is a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln that inspires me:

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.“

So much of our social discourse has dissolved into stalemates. Now more than ever, listening may be the most revolutionary heartivist act that any of us can undertake. To offer another person our attention and presence is a gift. 

I have written before about my belief that listening is more than being silent; it is the spaciousness to receive the words of another with the authentic expectation that something new and important will be shared. For most people I know (myself included), this is difficult. More often, we are filtering someone else’s words or actions through the perspective of our own unmet needs, preconceived judgments, or the defensiveness of our ego. 

As heartivists striving for connection, wholeness, and peace, the practice of cultivating discernment over judgment begins with listening and reflection. There is a practice from the study of Non-Violent Communication (NVC) I use to help me grow in this area. I find that intently thinking about my own needs and emotions in a difficult conversation, as well as trying to place myself in the mindset of the “other” helps shift my perspective significantly. (If you try this exercise, I would love to hear about your experience.) 

As I grow in my heartivist practice, I still sometimes feel anger, indignation, or grief at the suffering in the world; but I see those things, and my relationship to them, with clear eyes and less reactivity. 

This isn’t a warm and fuzzy addendum to social change. It is the very foundation of it. 

In the words of my hero, Martin Luther King Jr.,

“You can have no influence over those for whom you have underlying contempt.” 

Leading By Example: Making A Difference At The Pollination Project With Ajay Dahiya

By Mitch Russo


Being a monk and leading a thriving nonprofit organization in the middle of NYC’s bustle can be a conflicting experience. Putting service above his personal serenity, Ajay Dahiya chose to give up his monastic vows to focus on leading The Pollination Project, a nonprofit that works to raise funds to award micro grants to people and organizations advocating for social change around the world. Ajay joins Mitch Russo in this episode to talk about building a tribe as he had done himself. “Why are you building a tribe?” “What is the purpose of that tribe?” “Who is it meant to serve?” “What are the principles by which you want to build that tribe?” – These are the questions that Ajay asked himself first to guide him on his path to leading a thriving community of thousands. Listen in as he shares this incredible knowledge with us.

Listen to the podcast here: