Board and Staff of The Pollination Project
Meet the people who make The Pollination Project possible.
Ajay Dahiya, Executive Director
Ajay was born in Surrey, England, to a working-class immigrant family. Growing up in a diverse and disparate environment he enjoyed a childhood which immersed him in a variety of cultures. From early on in his life Ajay felt a great need for inner transformation. While in pursuit of this deep spiritual calling Ajay became ordained as a monastic in his late teens.
As a monk for eight years, Ajay had the honor of serving diverse teams across the globe and after transitioning out of monastic life would go on to hold executive leadership positions in a variety of mission driven organizations including Insight LA, Hope Not Hate, and The Bhakti Center. An entrepreneur in all that he does, Ajay strives to realize a healthy, equal and just society for all by bringing out the goodness and compassion in everyone he meets.
Ajay was privileged to have gained invaluable experience in non-profits that question the status quo. His personal success has been a product of engaging and inspiring others to grow. He relishes solving puzzles involving the relationship between human growth and a compassionate society. He thrives in helping individuals to recognize their true selves as part of an integral whole and in applying transcendent principles to organizational and strategic contexts.
Aph Ko, Grantmaking
Aph Ko is the founder of Black Vegans Rock, a website that celebrates black vegans and the incredible work that they’re doing. She is also the co-author of the book Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters, which was published through Lantern Books. She has a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Humanities and an M.A. in Communication and Cultural Studies.
She served as the Associate Producer for the documentary film Always in Season, which centers on the legacy of lynching in the United States, and she served as a Consultant for the documentary film The Invisible Vegan.
She has a passion for decolonial theory, activism, music, and art.
Desire Johnson-Forte is an Oakland native and community stakeholder for the interest of young adults. She attained her B.A in English from Mills College (Creative Writing) and minor in Ethnic Studies. Between her full-time work and passion oriented consulting: she uses shared narrative to transform the possibilities society & culture have outlined for black youth; a budding innovator of participatory pilot-program implementation & monitoring. In between time she’s building three very small business social enterprises: the BIZ Stoop (educational consulting, lifestyle curation, and youth development); Damn Good Teas (naturally refreshing herbal beverages); and Luv Euphor (crafts & artisan goods). She received her first grant from the Pollination Project in 2015 to launch BIZ Stoop, and has since served as a volunteer grants reviewer; grantee hub participant; and in 2019 she serves as the Grantee Liaison for the California Youth Rising Hub.
Gerardo Omar Marín (Nican-Tlaca/Coahuilteco/Chicano), Program
Rising from the Chihuahua deserts’ El Paso, TX border; Gera is generator of connection, love, and motivation whose being is rooted in traditional Mexican healing art, agriculture, and music. For ten years based in Oakland, CA; he has dedicated his service to boost the power and inter-cultural unity in youth, social justice, and Mother Earth rights networks across Abya Yala (Guna name for “the Americas”). Through a popular education approach, he facilitates interactive learning, play, and exploration that inspires people’s inherent creative wisdom. Gera mentors youth, community organizers, and educators in indigenous mindfulness practices, ritual, and inner-resilience practices to recharge their souls and bodies. He has served and organized in a variety of spaces from schools, in the outdoors, churches, youth detention centers, prison, homes, and in the streets. Gera is in his element when he gets to facilitate Power Up Circles that include physical training, dance, stress-relief breathing techniques, and relaxing meditation. He carries a music altar, often with extra percussion and indigenous wind instruments for community to cultivate rhythm and joy with. Gera is also a trainer and (Ollín-Teotl) movement building mentor for Rooted in Community National Youth Food Sovereignty and Justice Network that for 18 years has offered programs that activate transformative youth leadership for building a just, sustainable, and nourishing food system for all.
James West, Grantmaking
James comes to The Pollination Project from a background in social anthropology. Through his work with TPP grantees, James has seen the power of empowering people to effect change in their own communities, and believes that these grassroots efforts are vital when working towards a more just world.
He is a transplant from England, and currently lives in California.
Joshua Baer, Technical Operations
Joshua is our in house Systems Administrator. He uses his background in Business Analysis and Technical Support to improve our daily processes here at The Pollination Project, and to maintain our website, business software as well as providing support for our employees and grantees. He has a strong passion for technology as a way to help those trying to better the world, and he believes The Pollination Project is the perfect foundation for him to reach this goal.
Joshua has set up his command center in Houston Texas where in his off time loves to take advantage the outdoors and bike, plus sharpen his photography skills. Some of his other hobbies include collecting tropical plants, cooking, penny stocks, painting and donating his time toward small non profits technical needs.
Milena Fraccari, Marketing
Milena is a communication consultant and activist from Italy. She majored in Communication and Advertising at the Turin University. She’s been working for over 15 years in Sustainable Communication and in the non-profit sector, helping green companies and associations to promote their eco-friendly products and practices. In 2000, she met the American activist Julia Butterfly Hill, and since then has worked as her Italian spokesperson and event organizer. She has also served as the International Coordinator of What’s Your Tree, a programme created by The Circle of Life Foundation inspired by the story of Julia Butterfly, and has collaborated with the Nobel Peace Laureate Betty Williams and her Center for Peace and Compassion in the south of Italy.
Her deep passion for Environment, People and Communication always leads her to put her skills and her heart in service of projects and initiatives to make a positive difference in the world, and TPP is one of them.
Selene Gonzalez-Carrillo, Special Programs
Selene Gonzalez Carrillo has worked in the NGO world of social & environmental justice, before her current position as The Pollination Project as the 2017 Hub Coordinator.
She currently lives in Guadalajara, Mexico where she is part of a collective called Ecotapatio, that works on creating spaces for community sustainability in the city and is pursuing a Master Degree in Environmental Education from the University of Guadalajara CUCBA campus.
Shabnaz Yousefia, Grantmaking
Shabnaz has worked in international development and education for 13 years in countries around the globe – including India, Nepal, Nicaragua, Haiti, Malawi and Senegal. Her passion for social justice has led her to document the oral narratives of women in Nepal as a means for documenting sexual exploitation and violence against women; secure emergency visas for those needing life-saving emergency care in the United States; and lead underserved students from the Bay Area on international service trips to build schools in developing countries. She is actively involved with fundraising and advocacy for Raksha Nepal, an organization in Nepal that supports survivors of human trafficking with shelter, psychosocial counseling and skill-building to help them sustain a dignified livelihood.
Shabnaz received her Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and International Relations from University of California, Santa Barbara in 2004, and her Master’s in Peace and Justice Studies from University of San Diego in 2011. She is deeply passionate about creating a world where everyone lives with dignity and equal access to opportunities.
Tara Matthews, Grantmaking
Tara is a Bay Area, California native who has spent her life rooted in service and mission driven work. This brought her to the Peace Corps where she spent 31 months in Uganda as a NGO Program Specialist. During her time in The Pearl of Africa she directed a national youth leadership camp for young women, worked with community leaders and students on reusable menstrual pads, and received a seed grant from The Pollination Project for a project called Kids Who Click, where youth were afforded the opportunity to positively express their emotions through photography. She has seen firsthand the impact that empowering those around the world has in igniting compassionate, positive, social change.
The Board of Directors
After an epiphany in 1997 changed the way Ari related to food, his heart opened up to the impact every person’s life has on countless beings and the world at large. Soon after this insight, Ari had a vision of himself attaining his worldly goals & dreams, yet left feeling empty inside. This led him to ground his life into practices such as mindfulness, compassionate eating, philanthropy, servant leadership, and transformational entrepreneurship.
Ari hosts and leads meditation workshops/retreats, volunteers his time to spread small acts of kindness, and seeks to create the causes and conditions for a major reduction in global industrialized meat production. On the side Ari invests in start-ups that seek to disrupt factory farming and founded a business that redevelops apartments to be as carbon-neutral, water-efficient, and community oriented as possible. Ari actively experiences the challenges of being a modern-day yogi, and the delusion that life can be compartmentalized into separate boxes such as family, work, service, health and spirit. He remains constantly challenged to live his life in alignment with his values, and to utilize the numerous privileges he has been given to turn seeds into blossom and blossom into fruit. Ari shares with his wife Becky, a doctor who cares for underserved populations, the desire to serve others and act as a role model for their two young boys.
Birju Pandya, Board Observer
Birju Pandya focuses on the nexus of finance, systems evolution and inner transformation. He has been involved in the Mobius ecosystem since 2014.
Birju has years of experience working in the investment world, towards creative uses of capital and designing for emergence. He also has spent years developing mindfulness-related approaches to support individual/collective human development within business.
Birju has worked with organizations including Armonia (Regenerative Investing), RSF Social Finance (Integrated Capital), ServiceSpace (Gift Ecology), and McKinsey & Company. He has a Bachelor’s from Arizona State and an MBA from Columbia Business School.
Birju’s roles in life include volunteer, husband, father, friend, colleague. He is the son of first-generation Indian immigrants, and lives with his family in Berkeley, CA. A few values that Birju holds dear – authenticity, vulnerability, gratefulness, compassion, equanimity.
Peggy has been passionate about animal protection and environmental issues since participating in the first Earth DayEvent in 1970. This passion was fueled by growing up in a family that believed in giving back to their community and opening their door to others (of all species) in need.
She has been involved with numerous nonprofit organizations for more than 30 years – as staff, consultant, board member and volunteer. She currently works for a large healthcare organization providing grants out to the community that support efforts to increase educational opportunities and career pathways to economically challenged youth and adults.
Peggy is blessed with a terrific son and partner both of whom share her belief that each of us can make a huge difference in the world. She currently (when you do rescues the number always changes) has two sweet feline family members, Harley and Beatrice. The most recent addition to the family is a little rescued horse named Chester, who represents the beginning of a dream to have a Sanctuary where humans and animals come together for healing through connections of the heart and in nature. Daily meditation, hiking, kayaking, camping, spiritual exploration and amazing connections with family, friends, animals and nature make her heart sing.
Stephanie has always had a great love for animals, participating as a foster parent for stray dogs and volunteering with various programs aimed to help the welfare of pets. After connecting her love for animals with her food choices, she began to open her heart to both suffering and compassion in the world and connecting the choices we make in life to a more blessed and blissed life. She realized the power that one person truly has to impact the world, and thus teamed up with Ari (her brother-in-law) to create The Pollination Project. Stephanie is also extremely committed and dedicated to her career as Vice President of a literacy curriculum company and children’s book distributor and feels a deep connection with empowering youth to be readers and writers in the world, while also empowering them to change the world. Stephanie lives in NYC with her with her partner Josh, and their son Odin, and spends her time both enjoying the city she loves, as well as traveling the country to be with her family and dear friends.