On this Queer Money, we talk with philanthropist, Steve Bolinger, about how he created Development in Gardening (DIG), which is helping to fight AIDS in Africa. To learn how Steve traveled the world for nine months and then created such an impactful organization, listen to or watch this Queer Money.
Steve grew up in Kansas and moved to Denver after college where he eventually found his people and came out of the closet. Steve graduated with BA in Finance. His first job, inspired by the movie Wall Street, was as an active trader for a private firm buying 1,000-block shares. He moved to San Diego in 2001 and shortly after joined The Peace Corp. He eventually started DIG to fight AIDS in Africa to find more meaning in life.
After we reminisce about the Denver club and gay scene in the late 90s and early 2000s, we discuss Steve’s evolution from being a day trader to seeking more altruistic meaning and fighting AIDS in Africa.
From Asia to Africa
Steve illustrates how he experienced a mental shift during his world travels that drew him to his higher purpose. When he saw how the majority of the world lives, he was changed forever and said he could never go back to “working for a stock price”.
In particular, Steve tells the story about when he gave a new friend in Cambodia a new coat. This coat was the first new thing Steve’s friend ever had and the impact this coat had on his friend opened Steve’s eyes to the way we can each affect the world. This experience is the catalyst that’s informed the rest of Steve’s life.
For anyone considering similar paths, Steve shares how he planned for and saved for his 9-month world trip on a bartender’s wage. He shares why he spent most of his time in Asia and what he experienced on his journey.
DIG to Africa
Upon Steve’s return from Asia, he started to look for jobs in international development. He shares how this led him to the Peace Corp as an urban agriculturalist in Dakar where he unintentionally started his fight against AIDS in Africa.
Steve built a garden for a hospital in Dakar and that inspired DIG. Most hospitals in Africa can’t provide patients food and, therefore, patients are dependent on family for food. With the stigma of AIDS in Africa, AIDS patients often don’t get the food, especially nutrient-dense food, they need.
Steven noticed that while there are many projects throughout Africa to build gardens, none focused on building gardens to feed AIDS patients in the hospital. DIG doesn’t just build gardens for AIDS patients, but teaches AIDS patients how to build, maintain and profit from their gardens. This has created an economy that’s helped turn those who were once shunned by their communities into community leaders.
AIDS in Africa Meets DIG
Steve says, “I felt that if I left the Peace Corp to return to the states and get a job, I’d be doing humanity a disservice.” While DIG didn’t come to Steve as an “ah ha” moment, when it did come to him over the course of a few days it was the first time he ever felt so at peace with a decision.
Steve shares the process for filing his 501(c)3 documents and completing the numerous other requirements. Steve say, however, that “DIG would not exist without the [queer] community” because it was the queer community that initially and consistently since funded DIG’s endeavors.
Steve shares that while creating DIG was hard, it wasn’t as hard as he expected. Steve says, “That’s the beauty of it. When you start doing what you’re supposed to do it kinda just falls into place.”
To learn more about and help DIG with your time or money, please visit their website.