In September 2011, Sam Allen, Deere & Company’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, led a team from John Deere in a week-long corporate service experience in Rajasthan, India. Rolling up their sleeves in the high summer heat, the John Deere team spent seven days working alongside smallholder farmers in three rural villages. Despite the challenges created by garbled translations, cultural diversity, and a world of other possible differences or obstacles, the John Deere team used the universal language of hard work to connect with those most closely linked to the land.
According to Mara Sovey, Director, Corporate Citizenship Center of Excellence, John Deere, and President, John Deere Foundation, that week was a transformative experience. “During that week, we did more than simply harvest black beans, cut fodder, and build livestock feeding bins with these farmers. We began to create a strong connection to the local farmers, their families, and their communities. We began to see—and feel—the challenges they face.”
Commitment in Action
Despite representing many different corporate functions and originating from many of John Deere’s global operations, members of the John Deere team had two things in common. First, they represented some of the most senior leaders at John Deere. Second, and more importantly, each and every one of these leaders believed in creating a corporate culture of citizenship at John Deere and proving through their actions a commitment to it.
The commitment shown by these John Deere leaders in only one week of work has had far-reaching implications. For John Deere as a whole, it served to launch a formal volunteerism initiative. Since its launch in 2012, thousands of John Deere employees have recorded more than 117,000 hours of community service—the equivalent of almost 700 weeks of 24/7 work—as part of the John Deere volunteerism program.
This leadership commitment also revealed how meaningful volunteer experiences can serve as the foundation for building a framework for longer-term community development programs. Upon returning from the three villages in Rajasthan, the John Deere team recognized that more should be done to help improve the lives of these farmers, their families, and their communities. The result was a new corporate philanthropic model that used short-term employee engagement to inspire long-term sustainable development.
Partnerships & Participation
To build on the volunteer experience, the John Deere Foundation hired PYXERA Global in 2012 to conduct an in-depth needs assessment of the three villages. PYXERA Global, as the lead implementing partner for John Deere’s Inspiring Leadership program, had placed diverse corporate volunteers on month-long pro bono assignments around the world. The needs assessment incorporated a similar employee volunteer model.
Deb Wirth, Manager, Global Employee Volunteerism at John Deere, recommended this approach. “PYXERA Global was a natural partner. The PYXERA Global team has a great deal of experience in leveraging the expertise of corporate employees for the benefit of development projects. Even more than this, it has shown the ability and adaptability required to bring out the best in corporate employees and the beneficiaries of development work, regardless of the diversity of geography or projects.”
After months of pre-work and design, a joint team from John Deere and PYXERA Global spent three weeks conducting intensive focus group discussions and individual interviews in the three villages to better understand the villages’ most pressing needs. Taking a participatory approach to program design is commonly agreed to be good development practice and a way to facilitate local ownership of programs.
Consistent with the philosophy underlying such a participatory approach, the John Deere Foundation aspires to be more than simply a monetary donor; it intends to be an active partner and catalyst for meaningful development work. The needs assessment, supported by John Deere and PYXERA Global employees, was instrumental in garnering village support and interest in a long-term initiative from the onset. It also paved the way for a collaborative relationship between stakeholders, including a wide array of talented local organizations, such as the Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology (MPUAT) and Jatan Sansthan. From this spirit of participation and collaboration, the Joint Initiative for Village Advancement was born.
“JIVA” – Joint Initiative for Village Advancement
In January 2013, the Joint Initiative for Village Advancement or “JIVA” officially opened its office doors in Rajasthan. “Jiva,” which means “life” or “livelihoods” in the local Mewari dialect, aims to improve the quality of life of those in the three villages by enhancing agriculture productivity and income security, empowering youth—and particularly young women—through quality education, and developing critical community infrastructure.
Arun Pandey, who manages John Deere India’s support for the project, believes deeply in JIVA’s ability to transform the villages in Rajasthan, one village at a time. “Poverty in rural India means living on less than US$2.00 per day. The large majority of these people—especially women—are engaged in agriculture. By helping improve their productivity, we can improve their lives, their communities, and help meet the needs of a growing world.”
Apart from its roots in volunteerism, JIVA’s holistic and long-term approach makes it unique for the John Deere Foundation. Improving the quality of life of an individual or the sustainability of a community requires addressing complex, overlapping challenges in a strategic way. Tackling different sectors simultaneously also requires an array of expertise and resources. JIVA leverages the strengths and resources of its partners to operate across sectors harmoniously.
In its first year of operations, the project has shown remarkable progress. Following its first season of demonstration plot trainings, JIVA reported a 34% early adoption rate of various organic pesticide and fertilizer practices. Demonstration plots showed a 35% increase in maize yields and a 48% increase in sorghum yields.
In education, JIVA’s after-school tutoring program focuses on improving child attendance and performance in school, with targeted outreach and support for drop-out children. Within its first seven months, the program reported 94% enrollment of all village children, and 74% reintegration of drop-outs back into formal schooling.
In the area of infrastructure, JIVA engaged in various school repairs and construction over the first year to improve the overall quality of school facilities. Of notable importance was the construction of new toilet blocks and wash basins in three schools. At a village pre-school, attendance jumped 200 percent in one month after JIVA’s infrastructure repairs. Improving access to quality facilities and education has had a direct effect on the willingness of families to bring their children to school.
Plowing Toward the Future
The humble volunteerism roots of JIVA have not been forgotten. In September 2013, many of the senior leaders who participated in the first experience in Rajasthan returned to the villages to evaluate the progress made and once again lend a hand. While they found the familiar faces of those with whom they met and worked two years before, they found the communities to be different and stronger than they remembered. This affirmed for them the value of JIVA as it has developed, and confirmed for them the importance of their continued commitment to similar activities.
As the program moves into its second year, the early impact echoes JIVA’s critical success factors. John Deere is fortunate to work with a community of dynamic and dedicated stakeholders who are with us for the long haul. PYXERA Global, an international non-profit organization and lead implementer, has proven an invaluable partner in developing the strategic foundation for the project and overseeing its effective implementation on the ground. Local partners, MPUAT, and Jatan continue to provide important local insight and guidance to ensure JIVA’s long-term sustainability.
Sovey is enthusiastic about what lies ahead. “While we have a great deal of work ahead of us, our goal is to improve the quality of life for these farmers. Listening is a key part of that; understanding their challenges and finding solutions that have long-term sustainable value. That’s part of our commitment to help people who are linked to the land.”