It began with a conversation about empowerment and engagement, and discovering how a corporation could provide a path for people in the St. Louis metro area to help their favorite charities. And when team members at Monsanto finished creating their initiative, they presented it to the community with one great question: What could your favorite St. Louis nonprofit do with up to $15,000? And the answers are already pouring in. The Grow St. Louis initiative lets individuals nominate eligible projects at local schools and nonprofit organizations, and the winner will be chosen by public vote. “It means the people of St. Louis will decide which projects are the best ones to grow the city,” explains Monsanto spokeswoman Jessica Simmons. “We’re really excited about it!” The firstplace winner will receive a grant of $15,000 from Monsanto; second and third place receive $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. Grow St. Louis is accepting nominations until Sept. 15, and voting begins Sept. 26. Organizations nominated for the grant money must be classified as either 501(c)(3) or 170(c)1. The idea developed as the Monsanto team searched for a way to let people have a say in how corporate donation funds are distributed. “Perhaps you could compare it to the concept behind American Idol,” Simmons suggests. “We live in a culture where people are used to being empowered and having a voice.” Monsanto has a long history of providing generous support to the St. Louis region, donating approximately $9 million dollars last year and more than $97 million since 2000. “And so many of our employees are involved in community projects,” Simmons notes. “Last year, they contributed more than 10,000 volunteer hours to their favorite organizations. People who live in St. Louis have such pride in their city, and Monsanto employees share that pride.” The company’s volunteer program encourages employees to donate their time to whatever causes they choose, she adds. “They are absolutely 100 percent committed to employee volunteer efforts. After a certain amount of hours, Monsanto will match their contribution with a small grant to that organization It’s a way of allowing employees to determine where they want some of our foundation money to go.” Simmons says response to the Grow St. Louis contest has been positive. “This project has been so satisfying, so rewarding! We were expecting a rush of nominations as the deadline approached, but just two weeks after it was launched, we already had 75. It’s great and way beyond what we were expecting.” Feedback from the community also has been positive, she adds. “It’s so nice to be out talking to people and hear the terrific things they have to say about Grow St. Louis. Everyone seems to embrace the idea.” When the winners are announced in the fall, three St. Louis nonprofits will win generous grants to continue their good work, but the runners-up need not despair. Monsanto has announced that the contest will be repeated quarterly, and 90 days is not that long to wait for another chance at $15,000.