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Class Notes: Mara Sovey '98

February 2011 | by Susan Flansburg

Consider how you might spend $50. On dinner out? A new sweater? A concert ticket?

How about equipment that would allow you to launch a business to feed your family and send your children to school?

As president of the John Deere Foundation, Mara Sovey '98 has seen $50 make that kind of difference to African families who receive the money as "micro-loans" designed to help them help themselves. The program, funded in part by the foundation, allows family farmers in Malawi and Mozambique to buy everything from seed and fertilizer to the equipment they need to transport their harvest to market.

Sovey says it is both gratifying and humbling to be in a position to help others pull themselves out of poverty.

"The foundation is making a real difference in people's lives," says Sovey, who had the opportunity to travel to Africa last summer to see some of those differences herself. "The kids were so grateful to be able to go to school. They were so happy, mugging for the camera. I came back thinking, ‘What else can we do?'"

While Sovey explores ideas to expand the reach and impact of Deere's global philanthropy, she also lauds an innovative program that has helped change kids' lives here at home.

"We are partnering with local food banks to help feed kids when they're not in school," she explains. "The Backpack Program fills backpacks-actually, Ziplock bags-with food for 5,500 kids in the Quad Cities and five other communities. We're hearing from teachers and administrators that the kids are less anxious and more focused come Monday morning."

Sovey says her work for Deere dovetails with both the skill set acquired in her accounting major and the philosophy of social justice developed during her four years at St. Ambrose.

"My professors helped my work ethic, creativity and skill set blossom," she says. "They formed the foundation and building blocks for this position. And Ambrose's culture of social justice helped lay the building blocks of my personal philosophy. We have a responsibility to give back, whether to a farmer in Africa or here in our local community."

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