Today’s good person, believe it or not, is a real estate developer. I never thought … well, never mind … suffice it to say that there are good and bad people in every walk of life.
The first time the Pollination Project came onto my radar a few months ago, I rejected it after a quick glance, seeing the words “seed grants”, and thinking that what they did was give away money to buy seeds. That in itself is a noble thing, of course, but I did not feel it provided enough material for an entire post. The Pollination Project and its founder, Ariel Nessel, however, are persistent and they once more became a blip on the radar this week, when I decided to give them a bit more than a cursory glance. I am so glad I did! This organization actually has very little to do with plant seeds, and a whole lot to do with humanity and compassion! So without further ado, allow me to introduce to you Mr. Ariel Nessel, co-founder of the Pollination Project.
Mr. Nessel is a successful real estate developer in Dallas, Texas, where he purchases older, dilapidated buildings and brings them back to their original condition, or better. “Through efforts to increase the energy efficiency of our properties and extend their useful lives, we help create housing which is much more environmentally sustainable. By offering yoga classes, after school programs for children, and installing bird feeders, hammocks, water fountains, sculptures, fire pits, and bark parks, Nessel Development endeavors to create a sanctuary of peace for our Residents in an often high-stress world. We endeavor to be generous with the fruits of our labor by making significant donations to charities that promote living that is compassionate, peaceful and environmentally sustainable.” He donates more than 30% of his operating income to charity. However, it is not his business that I want to talk about today.
In 2013, Ariel and his sister-in-law, Stephanie Klempner, came up with the idea for the Pollination Project, an organization that makes daily seed grants to “inspiring social change-makers who are committed to a world that works for all. Our daily grant making began on January 1, 2013 and since then, we have funded a different project every single day. We also make larger impact grants of up to $5000 to projects that have demonstrated impact and success.”
The daily $1,000 grants are available for anyone who sincerely wants to use their resources to improve the world. There are some qualifications: “One is that everything we support is volunteer based, it’s service based. None of the money we provide can be used to pay yourself for your work. It’s an orientation towards service. Some other qualifications are that we look at … This is early seed. We’re trying to water seeds and not to water oak trees. If you’re part of a larger organization, or any organization that has full-time paid staff, any paid staff, then that would not qualify for the Pollination Project.”
Pollination Project does not merely issue a check for $1,000 based on a good idea and then walk away. They have a 3-program process that includes:
- The seed grants – “We make $1000 seed grants to individual changemakers all over the world, helping them launch and expand grassroots social change projects.”
- Philanthropic education – “We provide educational events, writing and presentations on the topic of innovations in philanthropy.”
- Grantee Capacity Building – “We provide an assortment of tools, resources, coaching, training, p/r and more to support our grantees in growing their leadership and building their project, far beyond what our seed grant of $1,000 provides.”
In 2015, the Pollination Project teamed up with Levi Strauss & Co. to make seed grants that give a leg up to young people working on environmental solutions all over the globe. The goal is to develop the next generation of global environmental leaders who will conserve, protect, restore and advocate for the ecosystems upon which our civilization depends.
Let’s take a look at some of the young people who have been given a leg up by this joint effort …
Nine-year-old Kirsten Chavis has been an activist since age five. She explains, “I have been involved in all sorts of outreach and have attended a lot of council meetings, events, fundraisers, and workshops alongside my mother. My experiences range from taking notes in Board Meetings to collecting food for families and running green lessons.” Kirsten runs the Youth Earth Club at her inner city Los Angeles middle school. Her project brings environmental and health education and events to the school’s population of primarily low-income Latino and African American families, including kids with special needs, and kids in foster care. Kirsten’s club teaches kids much more than recycling. “Now kids can tell you about indoor and outdoor composting, e-waste, and different ways of saving water like by turning off the running water while brushing your teeth.”
Building on his experiences with the 4-H Million Trees project, 16-year-old California student Julien Levy founded Seeding Malawi to create an immediate win-win solution to rampant malnourishment among students in Malawi. Julien explained that while he was working in Malawi to establish tree nurseries in schools, the children were so malnourished that “tree planting events had to be in the morning, because they were too hungry and had no energy by the afternoon.” Seeding Malawi is establishing permaculture gardens at schools throughout the country. Participating villages will set aside a football field-sized plot of land on school grounds and students and residents will be given instruction in permaculture techniques. Each garden will provide food for up to 3,000 children, and will also serve as a means of teaching best-practice permaculture and agriculture techniques to youth and the communities they live in.
A number of the Pollination Project’s grantees have received awards or public recognition, for example Doniece Sandoval who was featured on CNN this June. Doniece Sandoval noted a jump in San Francisco homelessness with an economic downturn. The homeless, many of them elderly, lacked basic amenities like bathing facilities. Determined to help, Sandoval bought old buses and turned them into mobile showers. Her nonprofit, Lava Mae, has since provided more than 20,000 showers to more than 4,000 homeless individuals.
I was especially thrilled to find that one of my previous “Good People” from May, young Thomas Ponce received a grant from the Pollination Project! Life is full of little coincidences.
There are so many great, humanitarian projects that have been helped by the Pollination Project that I wish I could share them all. In fact, to date, the project has awarded 2,236 grants in 107 nations around the globe. There is a special East African hub that is led by a team of local change-makers who are also Pollination Project grantees themselves. Their goal is to reach geographically and technologically marginalized grant applicants (with no internet access, no computer skills and limited English).
The types of programs the Pollination Project supports are widely varied:
- Animal Rights & Welfare
- Arts & Culture
- Economic Empowerment
- Environmental Sustainability
- Health & Wellness
- Human Rights & Dignity
- Kindness & Generosity
- Leadership Development
- Schools & Education
Unfortunately, I cannot begin to cover all the great projects that have begun with just a $1,000 grant from the Pollination Project, but their website is a veritable treasure trove of information, including a brief summary of all the projects they have funded and the impact they have had all over the world. $1,000 is not a lot of money, but it is amazing to see what it can do in the right hands. Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of help, and knowing there is somebody who believes in you.
Hats off to Mr. Nessel, the Pollination Project, and all those beneficiaries who are going the extra mile to help make the world just a little bit better place for us all!