The Story of JIVA
On a trip to India last September together with Sam Allen, John Deere’s Chairman and CEO and many members of his leadership team, I had a chance to reflect on the power of multi-sector partnerships to solve problems. This was a return visit to three villages in Rajasthan where Mr. Allen and his team had carried out volunteer work in 2011. The initial volunteer project saw the team from John Deere working together with local farmers, participating in school activities, and generally working to understand the daily lives of people in the villages of Morra, Madara, and Sakrawas.
Five years later, I returned with the team of volunteers to assess changes in the communities. We laced up our boots, donned gloves, and got to work in the fields. I was particularly struck by the human connection that was evident between these corporate leaders and the families with whom they had worked in 2011.
JIVA, which means “livelihood” or “life” in the local dialect, focuses on improving agricultural productivity, bolstering educational opportunities, and building basic infrastructure to improve the quality of life for the villagers in this area. Initially inspired by the 2011 visit, JIVA is implemented by PYXERA Global and funded by the John Deere Foundation.
The follow-on visit, conducted over two days in late September 2016, demonstrated many fundamental enhancements in the communities over the past five years. Many of these improvements are reported as numbers in monthly program reports, and to be sure, the results on paper are impressive. However, once on the ground, the participants walked away from this check-in visit most impacted by changes felt well beyond the page, the graph, or the spreadsheet.
The results on paper are impressive. However, once on the ground, the participants walked away from this check-in visit most impacted by changes felt well beyond the page, the graph, or the spreadsheet.
What has been so special about the changes in the villages over these five years has been the depth of transformation. Nothing about this program aims to deliver breadth of impact—fewer than 1,000 households are touched directly by the three areas of intervention. Yet many of the most impressive changes are of the trickiest variety, namely behavioral.
Farmers and their communities are at the mercy of climate, pests, and soil health. With so many unknowns, they seek certainty at all turns. Because farmer behavior is deeply rooted to the land, trust in extension agents bringing new inputs and suggested methods is hard to generate. Adoption tends to be slow, and done only grudgingly.
Possibly due to this need for certainty, subsistence farming communities like the villages in which JIVA operates are often noteworthy for their respect and commitment to tradition and customs in social interaction. In the JIVA villages, members of certain castes engage in seasonal migration. This practice, essential to survival for many, places strict limitations on children’s ability to attend school or to establish continuity and predictability in their home lives. Marriage of young girls is not uncommon—and most girls, whether married at an early age or not, are not expected to attend school beyond the age of 10 or 11.
During the most recent visit, the team of John Deere volunteers worked in pomegranate orchards—a crop that is completely new to the villages. Though still a few years from yielding a marketable harvest, pomegranates stand to significantly enhance incomes for JIVA farmers. The switch to cultivation of a non-traditional crop showcases one of many behavior changes exhibited by farmers. This change is leading to enhanced income and, together with higher quality education, has encouraged some families to forego seasonal migration.
In another striking example of local changes, we saw child parliaments active at each of the village schools. In some of the parliaments, 13 and 14-year-old girls were serving as Prime Minister and overseeing various aspects of school administration. One of the key functions of the child parliaments is maintenance of the school toilets that have enabled girls to remain in school through the arrival of puberty. Child parliamentarians charged with upkeep of school infrastructure, coupled with the $62,000 that community members have contributed to construction and maintenance, measured in purchasing power parity terms, demonstrates the strength of JIVA’s community ownership.
The final session of the visit provided perhaps the best opportunity to soak in the profound progress. Booths at a school fair held in Morra showcased achievements of the JIVA program. Farmers proudly displayed and discussed the fruits of their efforts in training and adoption of new practices and processes. Child Parliamentarians were present to detail the work they are doing at their schools. Students had created three 3-dimensional models of Morra village – Morra pre-JIVA, the village now, and the “model” village of the future.
PYXERA Global CEO Deirdre White, who participated in the initial needs assessment, was also on the return visit. She noted that the children’s concept of the model village of the future was as clear a demonstration of JIVA’s impact as any of the changes the teams from PYXERA Global and John Deere had seen. “Seeing how the children conceptualize the future possibilities now was very moving,” White noted. “On my earlier visits to the communities, this concept of revolutionary change was just not possible for the children. JIVA’s after-school programming and integrated approach to community development has fundamentally shifted children’s perception of the possible.”
These changes are consequential. Interestingly though, on this program, which is the product of a close partnership between a Fortune 100 corporation, its corporate foundation, an international NGO, and several local organizations, the pace and depth of behavior change is just as noteworthy in the interactions among partners.
The pace of change in the JIVA communities has everything to do with the depth of engagement between funder, implementer, local team, and those who live in the villages. Born of a volunteer engagement and crafted by an in-depth and inclusive community needs assessment, JIVA is special in its total coordination and collaboration between all stakeholders to the program. This coordination has not come easily nor without hiccups. PYXERA Global and the John Deere Foundation had to learn how to work together, building a foundation of trust through periods of growing pains. In the end, the patience of both organizations with one another has made so much possible.
PYXERA Global and the John Deere Foundation had to learn how to work together, building a foundation of trust through periods of growing pains. In the end, the patience of both organizations with one another has made so much possible.
The evolutions were at turns frustrating and educational. PYXERA Global had to improve its ability to monitor and evaluate program results, while streamlining internal processes to meet monthly reporting deadlines. The Foundation had to embrace the uncertainties of work in Rajasthan where a record-breaking drought in 2015 was followed by a year’s worth of rain in a 3-day period in 2016. These weather-related uncertainties have played havoc with the annual work plans, altering the schedule for delivery of agricultural trainings and infrastructure improvements.
These challenges in learning to work together as partners are partly due to organizational culture—a foundation closely aligned with a Fortune 100 company brings with it well-honed private sector values and skills. An international NGO brings its own distinct social sector culture to the table, one that is the product of working in some very challenging environments. The drivers are just different. PYXERA Global operates on the belief that despite our distinct drivers, marrying the two cultures can bring tremendous value to efforts to solve complex problems.
PYXERA Global operates on the belief that despite our distinct drivers, marrying the two cultures can bring tremendous value to efforts to solve complex problems.
Signs of Trust
I come to my role at PYXERA Global with 15 years of experience working first for the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation, and then as Sustainable Development Manager for Bechtel Mining and Metals. I remember, in these corporate finance and private sector construction settings, how our NGO partners expressed frustration with us when we sought to participate in program implementation. I also recall being frustrated by NGOs’ perceived lack of accountability or seemingly blind commitment to unachievable principles of development.
From the outset, the John Deere Foundation expressed a desire to be involved in JIVA’s design and implementation. Through a process of trial and error and the application of lessons learned, the teams from John Deere and PYXERA Global have learned how to bridge the gap between sectors to deliver impact through JIVA.
As this was the first time the John Deere Foundation had executed a program of long-term development in this sort of environment, it applied tried and true methods of implementation monitoring from its business background. These practices, like exercising centralized control over field procurement, for instance, were not always fit-for-purpose to drive program success in the unique environment presented by the JIVA program. Equally, this was the first long-term development program implemented by PYXERA Global in India and the level of ongoing interaction demanded by the funder was an adjustment. All of this combined to create pressures on the program, requiring consistent management and adjustment on both sides.
As we progressed to year two of the program, one thing remained constant—the focus on community-driven programming. What began to evolve was the degree to which the Foundation and PYXERA Global worked together to craft the specifics of the annual work plan. A team traveled from Washington, D.C. to Moline, IL, so that the two organizations could sit together and assess the year’s work and lessons learned and co-create the plan for year two. During this second year, some of the headaches and need for cross-sector translation persisted, while staffing changes in the field and at HQ required new trust building.
Year three saw joint visits to the field to check on progress from the HQ level, and the beginnings of real trust started to emerge. Both organizations began to look on JIVA as a laboratory in which the dynamics of the partnership, together with approaches to implementation and impact measurement, could be tested and enhanced. Trust among the partners has been the most essential success factor for the program.
Mr. Allen’s return to the JIVA villages after five years saw, among many transformations, the seamless integration of two very different partners. The result of all this patience and trust—the school fair at which we all got a glimpse into the school children’s hopeful vision of the future—was truly a rich and worthwhile reward.