Q&A with Jennifer Ballinger

Manager, ADM Cares

What distinguishes ADM Cares, our social-investment program, from a typical corporate philanthropy program or corporate-sponsored charitable foundation?

The thinking was that we needed a true investment program — one that would help advance sustainable agriculture and deliver social and economic benefits to our operating communities in ways that connect directly to our business goals and objectives.  That’s why ADM Cares originated the way it did.  This program aligns and supports our business goals as well as broader interests.

As part of the effort, we created three distinct pillars under ADM Cares:  Strong Roots, Strong Communities and Strong Bonds.  The Strong Roots component supports sustainable agricultural practices.  Strong Communities gives managers in different regions the discretion to direct funds to groups and causes that help support their business in local communities.  The third piece is Strong Bonds, which enables us to serve colleagues in need, and to give employees opportunities to provide direct aid in the form of personal contributions, in-kind donations and volunteer efforts to communities hard-hit by natural disasters.

This past year, ADM Cares made its largest single grant ever, in the amount of US$10 million, to establish the ADM Institute for Postharvest Loss at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  How did that come about?

We believe the world can grow enough grains and oilseeds to serve all needs for food, feed, fiber and fuel. But of course, to do so, we have to be sure that we’re efficiently using crops and not letting the global harvest go to waste.  Our grandparents always said, “Waste not, want not,” and there’s a lot of wisdom in that thinking.  The Institute was designed to help define the scope of the problem, and to work with producers on the ground, particularly in global regions where ADM has a significant presence, to help make the most of every seed, kernel and grain grown today.

The year 2011 saw several natural disasters and other major crises.  Following incidents like the earthquake in Japan and the tornadoes that struck the southeast, ADM provided significant support to victims through grants to the American Red Cross. How is ADM Cares mobilizing to address needs on short notice?

We generally look to the American Red Cross as our first touch-point because they have an ability to get on the ground fast and meet people’s immediate needs in all types of disasters.  When incidents occur, we immediately work with our location managers first to determine that our colleagues are safe and accounted for.  Then, we ask, “What can we do to meet people’s basic needs? Can we provide them with financial assistance and create channels for colleague-to-colleague giving and outreach?” We can spring into action pretty quickly, though we’re careful to take some time to make a decision that’ll best help our employees and other individuals in our communities.  We want to react quickly, but also effectively.

How do you rate the effectiveness of ADM Cares overall?  Is the social-investment orientation working well for the company, and for our employees, communities, and the world-at-large?

I think we’ve made great strides in the past year, not just in terms of running an effective program that addresses real needs, but also in educating employees about what this relatively new endeavor is all about.  Not long ago, ADM Cares was a program most of our colleagues didn’t necessarily recognize or relate to.  But as we’ve worked to explain our three-part focus, and as they’ve seen the results of our efforts — from disaster relief, to the postharvest loss institute, to the Doing It Right program, to the Agricultural Innovation Center we’ve established at Purdue University — colleagues understand the programs and the thinking behind them.  We’ll be working even harder in years to come to refine and further improve our social investment processes and protocols for maximum impact.

Jennifer Ballinger joined ADM in 2001 as a commercial compliance specialist in the Office of Compliance and Ethics. She subsequently moved to the company’s corporate communications department, where, in addition to managing events and sponsorships, she oversees the administration of ADM Cares, a social investment program that directs funds to initiatives and organizations that drive meaningful social, economic and environmental progress worldwide. The program comprises three distinct focus areas: supporting the responsible development of agriculture, improving the quality of life in ADM communities and fostering employee giving and volunteer activities. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Ballinger: “We needed a true social-investment program that would connect directly to our business goals and objectives.”

Bio: Jennifer Ballinger
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