Heart and Head = Change.

I’m immersed in raising two teen sons = equal parts exhilaration and exhaustion. A myriad of practical questions cross my mind minute-by-minute; how to teach them life skills “in time” and make sure they get enough sleep and on. And of late, I’ve wondered more about how to show or cajole or convince or teach my sons the equal importance of the head and the heart; how to turn to each in good time, as their lives unfold.

Recently I have also been researching grant opportunities for our agriculture pilot project. To do so, I’ve looked at other nonprofits’ websites (mammoth and tiny) filled with hopeful words and promising programs.

After awhile, I confess some discouragement crept in. First, it is sobering the problems our world (not only Africa) faces today; there is hunger, disease, poverty, a warming climate, drought, war and on.

Second, there is an almost mind-numbing variety of ways that organizations are “proving” their “impact” – there are lists and videos and presentations delineating goals with measurable outcomes, evaluation techniques, innovative scalability and on. While I have deep respect for and experience with data, it is striking all the theories of “success measurement”; they seem to pose more questions than answers in some cases, such as how we define “success” – a huge question.

So as I read with interest of quantitative strategies, I am simultaneously pulled back into those little shambas in Kenya, where mothers and fathers yearn for food for their children. Their tears and smiles come to me, beckoning for us to do something together.

After several days of this research, I received a friendly email last week from Shelley Olds of Syngenta, telling me that their company would contribute funds for farmers to purchase seeds in Kenya this coming growing season.

Now, Syngenta is a massive agribusiness corporation with millions of employees globally; and to be sure, we are an itty bitty nonprofit with a village of volunteers, mostly in the United States and Kenya. I want to tell you more of our partnership with Syngenta and how it began.

Our partnership goes back to a “thank our lucky stars” meeting that Jim Cook and myself had in 2012 with some people from Syngenta. David Morgan and Shelley Olds were among those at the meeting (my sons went to school with David’s son, which is how he had come to hear of our organization).

To be blunt, there had been a cacophony of “no’s” from many when I’d asked for donations for seeds, which had literally kept me up at night (even though there had been many generous donations too). Yet it was these “no’s” that echoed in my head and weighed on my heart that day, as Jim and I walked into our first meeting at this massive company.

We sat together in a beautiful conference room at Syngenta. I had spoken to several people adept in smart strategy about the best approach to take in this meeting; yet when I got into the room, it was mostly big tears that sprang to my eyes. Jim and I relayed that our friends in Kenya would need seeds to plant in their small fields soon; we desperately pleaded that our friends wouldn’t have food to eat if they couldn’t plant a crop, that was all and that was so much. The weeks were ticking away and we were nearly out of time to raise funds for seeds.

That day David and Shelley and the others listened with respect and kindness to Jim and myself - then they said a simple yes - their company would give funds for our organization to provide seeds to our farm friends: our friends needed to eat and they would help, that simple. Jim and I almost skipped out, filled with this Big Happiness.

As you might know, David would come to serve on our board and now Ponsi Trivisvavet sits on our board; David would later speak at our annual fundraising gala about a farmer named Esther who had deeply touched his own heart. In addition, Syngenta provided funding for our organization to design a team of independent ag experts to visit our farm friends in Kenya last summer.

But beyond these more formal shows of support, I have personally and quietly been cheered many days by Syngenta friends’ emails and calls, encouraging us on at The Mama Ada Foundation; some of these friends have even taught me the art of quilting, which challenges my head (believe me, they know) and soothes my heart (through sweet laughter). Some days, it is indescribably daunting to start a nonprofit organization – we rely on a whole cadre of big hearted and smart people – our Syngenta friends surely among them.

So that is the story of our friendship with people of Syngenta, spinning forward to Shelley’s email last week. As I sat in Starbuck’s and read her simple greeting of good will my heart warmed and my eyes filled with tears, as has happened each of the past four years of their company’s support. Our friends at Syngenta will stand by us for another growing season, as we provide a simple gift of seeds for farmers to grow a crop.

Our pilot project design does not yet contain enough numbers or outcomes or measurements, but it will, through the development of an agriculture think tank of volunteers called Ada’s Roundtable and through the commitment of Steve Clarke and Lewis Kamiri (who led the ag team to Kenya this past summer).

Together with our partners in Kenya, we will implement an agriculture project that speaks to objectivity and strategy and alliances and knowledge…..both of the head and of the heart…..for both must exist, must they not? And when there is just the right mix of both, miraculous change happens that brings good to our world - I try to show my growing sons.

And so, if you ask me of our partnership with Syngenta, I would tell you that we have brilliant friends there who care about farmers who are halfway around the world from their desks, but who are oh-so-close to our friends’ hearts and their desire to work for our world with its sometimes confusing and always complex problems.

I would tell you that our friends at Syngenta simply said “yes” and that has made all the difference.

- Julie Keller