Since the inception of our seed project in 2008, Nuru has sought to partner with local leaders who share Nuru’s vision and possess an intimate understanding of the communities we want to impact. This meaningful collaboration with local counterparts in each of our five program areas has proven to be essential for our success. Nuru’s Kenyan staff provides insight that enables us to recognize how our initiatives translate into real impact on the ground. Through this partnership, Nuru is able to continuously engage with and adapt to the challenges we face in implementing meaningful solutions to extreme poverty.
However, there are challenges to this approach. Most of the local leaders with whom we work have never been given the opportunity to develop the skills needed to effectively lead and manage a rapidly growing organization. Many are local farmers with work experience and training limited to the management of family farms. This poses a serious challenge as Nuru prepares to transition the responsibility of sustaining and scaling the seed project to local leaders.
It is vital that Nuru develops a way to equip its leaders with the skills, knowledge and perspective they need to take on this increased responsibility. Our approach to doing this has evolved as our project has grown. Initially Western program managers worked one-on-one with the head Kenyan counterpart in each program to share the details of Nuru’s development approach and train important skills such as budgeting and planning. After some time, we began to host more organized group trainings. As the seed project continued to grow and mature, certain limitations to this approach became apparent:
- The growth of our staff outpaced our capacity to train. As we began to scale to new communities, the size of our staff also grew. One-on-one mentorship and training was no longer an efficient or effective way to develop management skills and leadership understanding within our program teams. Also, because much of our training was focused on senior managers, we weren’t able to spend significant time developing new high-potential leaders who joined the staff. We need an efficient process of training all staff as we grow.
- Trainings were reactive. Without a comprehensive, long-term vision for leadership development and milestones for our staff, we were not able to identify and address many of our training needs until we encountered real struggles in the field. We need a more proactive method of equipping leaders with what they need to succeed in their work.
- Training was not scalable. The development of local staff was too dependent on the knowledge and training capacity of our American foundation teams. Once Western staff leaves the project, there needs to be a system in place to continue the work of developing new leaders in the organization. We need to devote time and resources to equipping local staff with the skills and understanding of how to train their own teams.
As we begin to understand these challenges more clearly, Nuru is re-evaluating the best way to develop the capacity of our local staff so they can manage and scale the seed project. Over the last year we have devoted significant time to learn how other organizations have succeeded in doing this. Through that research, it has become increasingly clear what a complex and important role capacity building and leadership development play in achieving long-term sustainable impact. As a result, Nuru has developed a new program designed to address the challenges outlined above. We have now launched the Leadership Program.
The Leadership Program comprises a series of trainings that are designed to build on the knowledge and skills of local staff as they rise up in the organization. Currently, each training sequence is anticipated to run 6-months to one year long. The program’s primary focus is on equipping leaders with the skills and knowledge they need to achieve individual and group goals identified by the organization at each level of management.
As we continue to develop and research the details of this model, perhaps the key realization I’ve come to understand is how we develop leaders is as important, if not more essential than, determining what we teach. No training curriculum, regardless of the quality of the content, can be successful if the methods employed to teach it are not thoughtfully and deliberately designed to meet the needs of the learner.
With this understanding in mind, we have spent the last few months developing a prototype of the content and training methods we believe will best facilitate the successful transition of the seed project from Western to local leadership. Over the next seven months Tanner Searles and I will be piloting this prototype in our seed project.
Joining us are the members of the newly formed Training Team; comprised of four Kenyan staff who have transferred from other Nuru programs to begin work in the Leadership Program. John, Paul, Francis and Lucas bring a rich and diverse set of perspectives on training, education and leadership development in Kuria. Together we will be working to improve the content and methodology of our program based on the observations and preliminary assessments we use to pilot the program in the field. More details about this research and development to come in future blogs.