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Deere CEO Shares Vision for Volunteering

Deere CEO Sam Allen shares the company's efforts to raise up smallholder farming villages in India.

The road out of poverty starts by helping one person at a time.

That reflection from Sam Allen, the chairman and CEO of John Deere, came after his personal journey in 2011 to help smallholder farmers in three villages in India. Allen took a team of Deere employees on a mission to explore how to launch a corporate volunteer program, and it turned into a mission by Deere to help the world’s 2 billion smallholder farmers.

 “The experience was transformational,” Allen said in a speech to several hundred attendees of the Global Youth Symposium during World Food Prize week in Des Moines, Iowa.

Allen’s one-week visit to India included helping farmers work the land. The farmers were barely able to eke out an existence, raising meager crops by hand. Out of this transformative experience, Deere started a program called the Joint Initiative for Village Advancement, or JIVA. The multimillion dollar partnership between PYXERA Global and the John Deere Foundation aims to combat the devastating poverty there.

The 2017 World Food Prize recipient, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina.

JIVA helps farmers learn how to build a livelihood from the arid land through training and investments. It helped invest in irrigation systems that allow farmers to raise more high-value crops, such as vegetables and pomegranates. That turns into more income for farmers there.

With more prosperous agriculture, the initiative helps these villages invest in their own infrastructure and in the education of the children there.

JIVA, which means “life” in the language of the Rajasthan district, has already marked significant changes in the three villages. It’s making a difference. “When families lift themselves out of subsistence, one of the first things they invest in is their children’s education,” Allen said. Enrollment has increased from 30 students in 2013 to 500 today. And academic results are increasing, as well. “They are inspired to go to school,” he said.

It all started with Allen’s quest to build a corporate volunteer program. Today, it’s a reason for Deere employees to visit India once or twice a year to continue the work – and expand it. The Deere Foundation has approved a grant to help 10 villages, and hopes to get to 50 villages someday.

Allen said the entire initiative started as a way to help those in need. It only needed a spark. Today, he believes it has become a model for volunteerism, a spark that has ignited more than 1 million hours of volunteer time by Deere employees.

One spark at a time.

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