Nuru International focuses on developing the key leadership skills and critical thinking capacity of its leaders to build organizational sustainability. The ability of Nuru Kenya to support and reinvent itself is fundamental to adapt and scale operations. The challenge is to remain consistent, true, and focused on the program goal in each area. For agriculture, this has recently meant changing the organizational structure to meet the demands of thousands of farmers, while keeping true to the goal of increasing their maize crop yields in a sustainable and scalable way.
Nuru staffs itself from the ground up to the top leadership with local Kenyan staff. International staff works to support Kenyan staff, with the emphasis on a gradual shift towards independence from international support. The end goal is a financially and organizationally sustainable and scalable NGO – Nuru Kenya. The vehicle driving towards this goal, in today’s example, is the leadership’s program lessons on roles and responsibilities.
The Agriculture Program staff, which I serve as counterpart, have taken full advantage of their recent leadership lessons to together create a plan to better serve farmers. We have worked together to draw out some problems and inefficiencies. We have created new roles within the program to better achieve the goal of increasing crop yields for extremely poor farmers. For example, when faced with an over-burdened upper leadership, the staff has suggested splitting up roles so that certain staff can focus on the field while others perform critical office and support functions. Together, local and international staff created a staff structure, as well as the particulars of roles and responsibilities for the new positions that we set forth.
This approach differs radically from other organizations. Many organizations have complex program models where highly educated, highly paid foreign staffers coordinate all the particulars of operations, leaving local staff to implement small and simple tasks. Other organizations attempt to impose a model upon local staff, which works well until a challenge arises and local staff has no authority or knowledge to adapt to that challenge. Still other programs are very simple and remain quite small with little aspiration to grow, and thus achieve some measure of sustainability without scalability.
Nuru has the aim of achieving both sustainability and scalability, which are often incongruous and seldom achieved in tandem anywhere in the development world. Nuru pursues this challenge through a hybrid model that combines the best of what many other NGOs are doing. Local staff is involved in the grassroots operations, but also in the highest leadership positions. Capable international staffers provide support to local staff, but exit criteria are clear and progress towards those criteria is steady. Local staff and international staff work together intimately, yet international staff work on rotations to avoid dependence on any particular individual. Local staff is paid salaries at Kenyan wage rates, and international fellows support the Kenyans on a volunteer basis. Nuru is full of such contrasts that ultimately define what makes the model different.
Despite all the contrasts, in working methods, models and cultures, the principle of co-creation, or working together, guides our work and builds up our local staff’s ability to scale operations and confront challenges. Co-creating a new organizational structure means that Nuru Agriculture will be able to achieve its goal this year, and has helped build capacity so that years from now local staff can aptly solve the bigger problems independently. Ultimately, the critical thinking and leadership skills of local staff are instrumental for them to achieve their goal of ending extreme poverty in their communities in a sustainable and scalable way.