Our Team2020-01-06T07:37:09-08:00

Our Team

Meet the people who make The Pollination Project possible.

Ajay Dahiya, Executive Director

Ajay Dahiya headshotAjay 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.

Carolyn Ashworth – Director of Philanthropy

Carolyn AshworthGrowing up in the Appalachian mountains, Carolyn found inspiration in the forests, rivers, and wildlife around her home. In her third year as an Ecology student at the University of North Carolina- Asheville, a mentor gave Carolyn the opportunity to work on grant projects for The Environmental Quality Institute. Those early projects included contracts with Greenpeace, the Centers for Disease Control, and other diverse stakeholders who sought scientific solutions to environmental problems. These projects brought her to understand that challenges in the environment could not be viewed in a silo, and that all social issues were deeply connected.

Since that time, she has focused on fund and program development across the non-profit sector. This has included work in such varied fields as wetlands restoration, strengthening the foster care system, supporting high-quality palliative care and hospice services in rural communities, and expanding available public health interventions for families in crisis. Carolyn earned her MBA in 2015 with a focus on international development. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina with her husband, four boys under the age of 10, and a puppy named Sister.

James West, Director of Programs

James West Profile Head ShotJames joined TPP because he believed deeply in the power that committed, connected community members have to change the world and wanted to play a role in supporting that work. James has worked with TPP for over 5 years yet remains amazed every day by the imaginative and innovative visions for a better world that grassroots changemakers share with TPP.

Matt Shanor, Technology Manager

Matt Shanor is our Technology Manager and oversees the organizational software, digital workflow and marketing support for our organization. He has a long history of working with businesses and non-profits to develop strategic marketing efforts and operational systems design and is proud to have joined the TPP team in 2020. In addition to his role at TPP, he owns a small marketing company based in North Carolina and has worked with clients in a wide variety of industries for the past 15 years. His duties at The Pollination Project include managing our website and business software as well as providing daily support for our employees and grantees.

Matt lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with his wife, 3 children and a crazy coonhound. In his spare time when he is able to break away from a screen for a bit, he enjoys fly fishing, golf and tennis.

Milena Fraccari, Website Administrator

Milena FraccariMilena is a communications 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 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 program 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 those projects. At TPP, Milena serves as the Website Administrator and manages grantee promotion and online communication.

Shabnaz Yousefia, Applicant Advocate

Shabnaz YousefiaShabnaz 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, Grants Manager

Tara MatthewsTara 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.

Tessa Graham – Animal Advocacy Coordinator

Tessa GrahamTessa’s personal mission to work toward the eradication of factory farming has shaped her choices over the last decade. Tessa’s dedication to this mission began when she adopted a vegan lifestyle. This lifestyle introduced her to an expanded perspective of health and interconnectivity.

Tessa found her way into the synergistic field of public health and nutrition where she was able to support people in improving their health through encouraging awareness of our food system and making choices not only good for personal health, but good for our environment and animal welfare. The research and community experience she gained from this work has strengthened Tessa’s ability to support her mission and the mission of others. Tessa has joined TPP with this background in tow as a stronger advocate for animals and with tools to support communities around the world as they work toward positive social change.

The Board of Directors

Ariel Nessel

Ariel NesselAfter 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

Birju PandyaBirju 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.

Michelle Long

Michelle LongMichelle Long is co-founder of Jubilee Gift LLC, a learning and investment platform for supporting investors and entrepreneurs in remembering the way of flow, trust, and belonging to Earth and each other — and in bringing that spirit into all financial transactions. Jubilee Gift hosts both a network of wealth holders and wisdom keepers in transformative learning, and integrated capital funds that are focused on inviting back compassion, wisdom, and Earth’s receding life forces.

Previously she was the founding Executive Director of BALLE: Be a Localist, a North American movement of more than 125,000 local entrepreneurs, investors and philanthropists. Under her 17-year tenure, she wrote the book on “Local First” campaigns, which were then enacted in every State and resulted in a major shift in public awareness for, and positive association with the “local” people and places with whom we do business. She led local networks of businesses to learn about, implement, make purchasing shifts, and change local laws that led to wide-scale changes in everything from green building to regenerative agriculture to renewable energy to initiatives for closing the racial wealth gap and democratic ownership structures. BALLE also launched a unique North American Fellowship program dedicated to cultivating the emergence of local, equitable economies. With RSF Social Finance, BALLE created the first community capital conference in North America, created a four-year cohort of wealth holders committed to moving their investments and philanthropy from Wall Street to relationships with life in their own bio-regions, and a Community Foundation Circle with combined assets nearing $8B, with that same goal.

After an epiphany one year speaking at the SoCap conference where she realized many of the shifts she had led in this country had become so trendy that leaders were now competing over the results but not “creating” based on love – she started to focus on shifting the mindset from which this system has arisen. In recent years Michelle has sought out “wisdom keepers” of various traditions to explore the practices that bring us closer to our fundamental nature. She joined the boards of the Pollination Project and at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. She was selected by the MIT Presencing Institute, along with Eileen Fisher and then Governor Kitzhaber, for Otto Scharmer’s first global cohort on transforming capitalism from the inside-out. She also conceived of, and invited a team to create The Well-Being in Business Lab, guiding prominent business owners, and other leaders to a deeper level of intention within themselves and their businesses.

Her work has been featured in dozens of books, local media, and national media including the NYT, the WSJ, CNN, NPR, PBS, and the Guardian. A regular keynote speaker who has been on the main-stage of all the major “new economy” events, and named one of The Purpose Economy 100 for North America.

Stephanie Klempner

stephanie KlemnerStephanie 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.