Four Steps to Successful Corporate Citizenship

How Volunteerism and Nonprofit Partnership Power John Deere’s Cycle of Citizenship

By Nate Clark and Tia Watson

After nearly five years, a team of John Deere managers recently returned to three villages in rural Rajasthan, India, with great anticipation and a simple purpose: to see whether the Joint Initiative for Village Advancement (JIVA) was living up to its name.

JIVA, which means “life” and “livelihood” in the local Mewari dialect, is a joint project of the John Deere Foundation and PYXERA Global that is designed to empower smallholder farming communities to improve their lives through agricultural training, educational enrichment, and capacity-building. The John Deere team, which included Chairman and CEO Sam Allen, first recognized the project’s potential while volunteering in the same villages in 2011. Five years after that initial visit and three years since JIVA’s launch, the John Deere team returned to Rajasthan to see what JIVA had brought to life. What they saw was amazing.

JIVA, which means “life” and “livelihood” in the local Mewari dialect, is a joint project of the John Deere Foundation and PYXERA Global that is designed to empower smallholder farming communities to improve their lives through agricultural training, educational enrichment, and capacity-building.

Motivated by innovative agricultural practices introduced by JIVA agricultural experts, the farmers today have transformed their fields by adopting high value, diverse, and resilient crops. Inspired by rewarding educational opportunities from dedicated JIVA teachers, all local youth now regularly attend school, earning steadily increasing academic marks. Encouraged by the success they see in the farms and schools around them, villagers are not only committed to sustain what they have achieved through JIVA to date, but they envision a future with even bigger goals.

In looking back on this five-year journey, these impressive results are not the only thing that JIVA has helped bring to life. For John Deere and the John Deere Foundation, the partnership with
PYXERA Global has generated a robust and replicable cycle on which we now build and grow our future global citizenship activities. The cycle begins with utilizing employee volunteerism to drive purposeful investments in nonprofit projects. Building on the passion of volunteers and the impact of projects, we create a commitment to sustain and strengthen our nonprofit partners. This commitment, in turn, helps establish a culture where corporate citizenship can flourish.

1. Inspire Volunteerism

That initial trip to Rajasthan, where Deere employees worked alongside farmers harvesting corn, picking beans, and cutting fodder, was more than an act of corporate responsibility. The week-long project also launched Deere’s global employee volunteerism program.

“By encouraging and empowering our employees to be volunteers, we felt we could unleash their talents to enrich the quality of life in our home communities and throughout the world,” says Deb Wirth, John Deere’s manager of global employee volunteerism. “We wanted to use this CEO-led trip as powerful proof that volunteerism was encouraged at the very highest levels of our company. Our employees have responded very positively, having recorded almost 160,000 volunteer hours last year alone,” she adds.

The JIVA experience has shown us that volunteerism can create a rich environment for corporate citizenship activities to grow and prosper. Team members made personal connections with the women, men, and children they met, and they began thinking of ways John Deere could do more after the trip ended. Our work at John Deere helps farmers and their families build stronger businesses and better lives. These volunteers were primed to make the same commitment to the villagers. That’s how JIVA was born.

Since that time, we’ve learned some other important keys to success regarding volunteerism:

  • Corporate leadership should not only endorse, but participate in volunteerism activities, becoming role models for our company’s values and behaviors.
  • Volunteer activities must be properly tailored to promote employee engagement and a connection to John Deere’s higher purpose of improving the quality of life for others.
  • Volunteer activities should be managed by a nonprofit organization experienced at engaging and inspiring volunteer teams.
  • Volunteer opportunities should be made available to every employee, regardless of rank.

John Deere volunteers like Sam Allen helped bring JIVA to life.

2. Invest Purposefully

After the 2011 volunteer trip to India, the John Deere Foundation reached out to PYXERA Global to design and conduct a community needs assessment with support from a team of subject matter experts from John Deere. Over two weeks, PYXERA Global staff guided the John Deere team through intensive participatory interactions within the villages to better understand both the challenges they face and the villagers’ ideas for overcoming those challenges. At the same time, PYXERA Global staff leveraged the John Deere employees’ skills to identify the types of interventions that would eventually form the JIVA model.

“The volunteer trip and subsequent community needs assessment produced something very powerful for us,” says Mara Downing, director of global brand management for John Deere and president of the John Deere Foundation. “For the first time in our history, we used volunteers to help design a multi-year citizenship project with a nonprofit partner. This was transformational for us.”

“The timing for our work with PYXERA Global couldn’t have been better,” Downing remembers. “John Deere and the John Deere Foundation had been working to focus our citizenship strategy on empowering smallholder farmers, inspiring youth through education, and bolstering economic opportunities and resiliency. Our JIVA volunteers contributed to this strategic work by co-creating a program with PYXERA Global that not only reflected these priorities but, more importantly, refined them based on the needs and desires of those living in the three villages. As a result, by integrating volunteerism into project design, we saw that we could more effectively direct our almost $30 million in annual citizenship investments to activities important to us and the communities we proudly support,” Downing says.

Because of JIVA, volunteerism has now become a key element of what John Deere and the John Deere Foundation refer to as their “new generation” of grant development. The new generation of grants inspired by JIVA have several things in common:

  • Volunteers play a vital role supporting John Deere and the John Deere Foundation in determining through their own volunteerism experiences whether potential projects can effectively address an existing community need.
  • Volunteers also determine whether John Deere and the John Deere Foundation’s strategic priorities align with and create opportunities to address a community need.
  • By engaging volunteers in project evaluation and design, they begin to establish mutually beneficial relationships with nonprofit partners that are critical to setting expectations for performance and measured success once the project begins.
  • By engaging volunteers in project design, they help ensure the project includes opportunities for diverse volunteerism.
  • Volunteers serve as dedicated citizenship leads to help monitor and report project outcomes, once approved.

Many JIVA farmers have transformed their fields by adopting high value, diverse, and resilient crops, like pomegranate.

3. Strengthen Partners

Early on in their partnership, the John Deere Foundation and PYXERA Global team began to recognize that JIVA’s success would not be measured by the program alone. Instead, success would be defined by the two groups’ ability to continue working together to design and implement projects beyond JIVA.

Early on in their partnership, the John Deere Foundation and PYXERA Global team began to recognize that JIVA’s success would not be measured by the program alone. Instead, success would be defined by the two groups’ ability to continue working together to design and implement projects beyond JIVA.

“Through JIVA’s history, PYXERA Global and the John Deere Foundation have hoped JIVA would exceed our expectations,” says Harry Pastuszek, PYXERA Global’s vice president of client relations. “While JIVA yielded good results in its first year or two, it was not until PYXERA Global and the John Deere Foundation invested almost as much attention to our mutual capacity as we did on the field work in India that we saw our results truly take off.”

“The power of ‘tri-sector partnerships’ between non-governmental organizations, businesses, and governments to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems is undeniable,” Pastuszek emphasizes. “Sometimes, however, we are so focused on the magnitude and immediacy of the world’s problems, we don’t focus enough on making our partnerships work and our partners stronger. It took us almost two years of working together before actually reflecting on our work together. When we did, we saw something very special—we saw that PYXERA Global and the John Deere Foundation brought a unique set of talents, resources, and passions that, if put together the right way, could help solve the problems experienced by the world’s smallholder farmers,” Pastuszek says.

This realization gave us a new appreciation for ways we can strengthen the capacity of our nonprofit partners.

  • We place increasing emphasis on working with nonprofits whose missions and high-level, strategic outcomes are closely aligned with those of John Deere and the John Deere Foundation.
  • We’ve begun funding and otherwise supporting nonprofit capacity-building and administrative grants to help nonprofits become more effective in delivering on their missions.
  • Building on the foundation of volunteerism that initiates the cycle of citizenship, we’ve started promoting ways for John Deere employees to strengthen a nonprofit organization’s capacity, particularly by serving on boards or advisory groups.

Bolstered by education from JIVA, farmers now invest more of their hard-earned profits to expand their individual farm operations. Farmers are installing technologies like irrigation and solar powered irrigation pumps.

4. Cultivate Culture

JIVA did more than reveal the power of volunteerism, purposeful investment, and capacity building for nonprofit organizations. JIVA demonstrated how all of these elements together can help establish a formal culture of citizenship. As proof, John Deere recently named “civic and environmental stewardship” as one of the foundational success factors at the heart of John Deere’s business strategy.

“Foundational success factors are core strengths that have helped guide John Deere’s business over our 180-year history,” Downing explains. “These include exceptional operating performance, manufacturing and supply excellence, distinctive product quality, and extraordinary global talent. By incorporating civic and environmental stewardship into our company’s strategy, John Deere recognizes its importance to our future success.”

“To drive our performance and accountability, we have adopted two metrics for citizenship activities,” Downing states. “First, from 2017 through 2022, John Deere employees will record a total of one million volunteer hours. This volunteerism metric confirms how volunteerism is essential to our citizenship culture. Second, every year John Deere and the John Deere Foundation will invest one percent of the company’s average net income from the previous three fiscal years in civic initiatives. This financial metric reinforces how business success—our first priority—provides a powerful means for fulfilling our higher purpose by investing in projects like JIVA,” Downing says.

Based on the JIVA experience and other citizenship activities, John Deere and the John Deere Foundation have identified several hallmarks of a formal corporate citizenship culture:

  • Company-wide citizenship policies, tools, and goals—At John Deere, these include a global volunteerism policy, online volunteer and employee giving tools, and incentives that promote volunteerism and charitable giving.
  • Connecting business goals to citizenship goals—When companies and their employees explicitly connect the value created by citizenship activities to their own work, from improving living standards in communities in which they operate, to driving socio-economic conditions that directly improve a company’s long-term competitive success, they see citizenship as both personally and professionally rewarding.
  • Year-round promotion of citizenship activities—Regardless of a company’s commitment, a rich citizenship culture takes time to establish. The company must communicate regularly to employees, shareholders, community stakeholders, and others about its citizenship activities and why they are valuable.

Inspired by rewarding educational opportunities provided by JIVA, all local youth now regularly attend school, earning steadily increasing academic marks.

The Cycle Begins Again

The recent return trip by the John Deere team to the three villages in Rajasthan, India, revealed how a cycle of citizenship connecting volunteerism, purposeful investment, capacity-building, and a culture of citizenship is “virtuous.” It positively reinforces the results of each element as it progresses. For example, once a company has established a citizenship culture, it should see more volunteerism, better investments, and stronger nonprofit relationships, which will in turn create an even stronger citizenship culture.

JIVA is now on the verge of such virtuous growth. Based on our success together, the John Deere Foundation has challenged PYXERA Global to consider expanding JIVA from three to 50 villages. In addition, the foundation has asked PYXERA Global to design a volunteer-led community needs assessment in Ghana to explore how JIVA could be replicated in an entirely different setting. In this way, JIVA has more than lived up to its name, bringing life to John Deere and the John Deere Foundation’s work.


 

Tia Watson is a communications manager at John Deere, supporting the Corporate Citizenship function. Prior to that assignment, she worked as an executive speechwriter and manager of translation services at the company. She joined John Deere in 1999, following a career in broadcast journalism, and nonprofit public relations. Tia is a graduate of Iowa State University, with a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications.


Learn more about John Deere and the John Deere Foundation’s citizenship work through the John Deere Journal, a collection of interesting stories that show how we are all linked to the land and to each other.  Go to JohnDeereJournal.com.

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