Grow Further Founder, Dr. Peter Kelly with Chief of Staff, Jennifer Dine

Why We Are Here: The Grow Further Model

“I, as well as many business executives, receive many solicitations for financial contributions for very worthy causes,” one Grow Further donor member told me in a recent exchange. “Frankly, most of them are easy to ignore until you find one that resonates with you.” And this agribusiness executive did find a cause that resonated: ours.

Often described as a “March of Dimes for food security,” Grow Further stands apart in agricultural research philanthropy. Ag research in lower income countries is mainly funded by major government aid organizations, typically with a top-down model.

We at Grow Further believe that, like the March of Dimes and Rotary International, individual actions and donations can be harnessed to achieve great things, feats just as consequential as the great leaps the major food research institutes are aiming for. Ours is a bottom-up model; this is what resonated with that business executive who is now a proud member of the Grow Further family.

“What makes Grow Further different is the ability to understand where your money goes at a grassroots level,” the donor member said. “The focus on funding at very basic levels where you can watch and monitor impact; this really appealed to me.”


“I would’ve never thought of it”

I was invited to join Grow Further’s mission in late 2020.

Our founder and CEO Peter Kelly said he came up with the concept behind Grow Further after noticing that there was no real way for individuals to get involved in improving global food security. He became determined to change this.

Food security has always been an interest of mine.  My honors thesis at the University of Minnesota critiqued major government-driven aid organizations and how they tended to overlook agriculture and focus too heavily on industrial infrastructure. I devoured the book “Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty” and spoke at length with the two former Wall Street Journal reporters who wrote it. I believe that for too long, world leaders have insisted that developing nations must join the Industrial Revolution by entirely skipping the Agricultural one. I’ve never agreed with this. Joining Grow Further has allowed me to put my principles into practice.

Grow Further’s vision of individually driven change focused on smallholder farmers is a breath of fresh air. “I would’ve never thought of it,” I recall telling Peter when we first spoke.

I’m here because I believe individual actions can combine to achieve great things and the bottom-up approach to improving food security has a real chance of succeeding. And I’m not the only one who feels this way.


The model that inspired the movement

When I asked Grow Further’s staff, consultants, board members, and donor members why they are involved and what they think of the unique Grow Further model, they all gave similar answers.

I’ve long believed that to combat food insecurity a more bottom-up or grassroots approach is needed. The agribusiness executive who’s now a Grow Further member said the same thing. “Food insecurity has always been something that has hit hardest with me, and makes no sense, in terms of how I view the world,” the member said. “I understand that we produce more than enough food in the world, and we have the wherewithal to make people self-sufficient in food production.”

Suvasini Ramaswamy formerly worked for  the Gates Foundation and sits on Grow Further’s Board of Directors. She said she liked the more democratic approach to how Grow Further funds smallholder farming innovation, one reason why she agreed to join.

Suvasini said she joined Grow Further’s Board because she likes how we are bringing agricultural research to the masses.

“Research, development, and innovation in the agricultural sector have otherwise remained isolated from mass engagement outside of the farming community,” she told me. “With its model, Grow Further is trying to change that and is trying to democratize funding for innovation in agriculture.”

Suvasini said this model will raise awareness of the challenges facing smallholder farmers through “grassroots engagement from private citizens on issues of farming and agricultural productivity, all working to help us ensure food security in an environmentally sustainable way.”

Jennifer Dine, our Chief of Staff, says she’s long been worried about global food security but could find no real way to contribute until Grow Further came along. Jennifer said she was particularly attracted to the way Grow Further focuses on funding research in the very countries where food security is a challenge.

Grow Further aims to improve food security “by investing in agricultural R&D projects that include farmer participation and are carried out in universities in the grantee’s home country, essentially a bottom-up approach to international development,” Jennifer pointed out. This, she said, “made a lot of sense to me.”

Jennifer said she’s excited about the opportunity to roll up her sleeves and get involved in improving food security directly. “There are many challenging things in life you can get used to, but hunger is not one of them.”

Grow Further advisor Robert Ziegler led IRRI for over a decade. He knows how it works at the major agricultural research institutions. Though different, he says Grow Further is chasing a model that can work with the right determination.

Bob especially finds strength in the way we seek to involve our donors in making decisions on where our grant dollars will go. “The upside of living off member contributions is that there’s a lot of engagement,” he said. “People are committed. We’re all committed.”


Chasing success

We at Grow Further are all committed to succeeding.

Donald Summers is an expert on philanthropic organizations who’s been advising Peter since he first founded Grow Further. Donald says the bottom-up model we’re attempting is working even though it’s never been done before in agricultural research. He says we’re on the right track.

“Grow Further is doing it,” Donald told me. “You have a very capable executive team and strong advisors, and we know we can be optimistic and confident that success will happen.”


 — Nate Gronewold for Grow Further

Photo credit: Grow Further founder and CEO Peter Kelly and Chief of Staff Jennifer Dine share information about our work at the Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa. Rimple Nahata.


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