The world is wrestling with some very difficult challenges after this year.
ISIS, Al Qaeda and their affiliates are daily growing in strength and number by preying on the desperation of impoverished nations and disenfranchisement of restless youth who are fed up with the world that has been handed down to them.
In Paris, global leaders met to try to stave off the terrible effects of climate change that are seriously impacting the poorest of the poor around the world, including Nuru’s own farmers in Ethiopia.
Here at home in the US, our country is blindly divided across deep-seated party lines that paralyze our government and prevent us from leading or even functioning. Blind hatred based on our differences is tearing us apart instead of bringing us together as the glue that would make us unstoppable in ending the terrible injustices so many in our world face today.
As I sit here writing this end of year reflection, I am driven by this burning question:
How can we at Nuru International be a positive force to help address some of the most daunting challenges that we as a global community face?
At Nuru, we have always been driven by the bold idea that Margaret Mead first voiced: that a small, committed band of individuals can change the world. For the world to really change, we must shrug off the mantle of agnosticism and apathy resulting from the common cry, “What can one person really do?” and boldly step forward into the scary unknown and DO something.
When the fear that comes with these daunting challenges casts a dark shadow, I remind myself that this is a fight. It’s a struggle. Every fight has winners and losers.
As global citizens, we cannot resign ourselves to simply stand by and watch. That’s how the Holocaust happens. That’s how the Rwandan Genocide happens.
In times like this, brave individuals must step forward and lead. At Nuru, we’re in this fight and we’re not afraid. We believe we are onto something important – something we believe we can contribute to the larger story that is being played out currently on the global stage…and we’re excited about it.
2015 certainly had its challenges, but it was also a big year for fundamental breakthroughs for us. Nuru gained more evidence that our philosophy and approach are working:
- Local leaders are capable of leading their communities out of extreme poverty. We achieved a major milestone for the Nuru model with the full exit of expat staff from Nuru Kenya. Pauline Wambeti, Nuru Kenya Country Director, and her bold team of 240 Kenyans are now leading the fight against extreme poverty in Migori County as they scale the Nuru model on their own to new areas outside Kuria West for the first time in seven years.
- Building resilience at the household level is the way to sustainably end extreme poverty. Severe drought hit Ethiopia this year, but the Nuru team stepped up and used this challenge as another example of the age-old saying that “innovation is born of necessity.” We have used the drought to test new ideas for the model to add much greater resiliency to impoverished rural farming communities exposed to the terrifying risk that comes with climate shocks. Farmer cooperatives, risk reserves, microsavings and crop diversification are all techniques our team is piloting in Ethiopia to build more sustainable, resilient solutions for smallholder farmer families living on the edge of survival in the highlands of Gammo Gofa.
- Increased visibility, recognition and public support confirmed that Nuru’s contribution to the fight against extreme poverty is needed and valued. Nuru received national visibility and increasing international recognition for our unique approach to this fight. This momentum directly enabled us to rally more people and capital around us to support Nuru’s next phase of growth. Nuru is grateful for the public support and recognition we received in 2015:
- Announcing our Commitment to Action at the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting
- Selected to be a Presidential Leadership Scholar
- Honored among 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs presented by Goldman Sachs
- Named one of the “Most Inspiring Companies to Work For in East Africa”
- Selected to be first ever associate member of Locus Initiative
- Invited to attend Skoll Forum for Social Entrepreneurship
- Cited with West Virginia Senate Resolution No. 10
- Honored by the Travis Manion Foundation with the “If Not Me, Then Who…” Award
2015 was a significant year in the international development community, particularly with the ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this past September. We are consistently seeing increased collaboration across the international development community and growing adoption of an approach Nuru has used since day one: locally-led, sustainable, integrated development.
Nuru was humbled to be featured by the BBC as an example organization that will help bring the SDGs to fruition in the coming years. The Nuru team and our partners are excited to contribute to the fight to accomplish the SDGs in the next 15 years by taking on some of the toughest, most persistent pockets that are threatening to be remaining bastions of extreme poverty in 2030 – specifically highly fragile states that have stubbornly resisted sustainable development efforts to date.
2016 is a promising year with many exciting possibilities on the horizon. It will be a year of firmly centering ourselves, getting our house in order and grounding the organization as we prepare to step into this next stage of growth with our first highly fragile state project in 2017:
- We will continue to rally around and support Pauline and her team as she scales Nuru Kenya’s programs to her first cadre of new farmers outside Kuria West.
- We will work to build more resiliency into our farmer cooperatives in Ethiopia to be able to absorb unanticipated shocks as they hit Nuru communities in the future.
- We will secure the financial health of the organization by raising risk reserves and building out a much more stable, multi-year funding platform that includes current investors as well as some exciting new mezzanine-type funders.
- We will consolidate our stateside staff into a coworking space in Costa Mesa, CA to facilitate greater collaboration and innovation, efficient communication and decision-making processes and a much more consistent culture across the organization.
- We will conduct scouting trips to complete the selection process for our third country project and finalize the scaling strategy and coalition of support for our first move into a highly fragile state.
We and our partners believe in the power of freedom and lasting meaningful choices. We believe that every man, woman and child on this planet has a right to the freedom of basic human rights and these lasting meaningful choices. That’s why I first joined this fight.
We envision a world where this freedom exists for everyone, everywhere. Ending extreme poverty creates a better world for all of us.
This vision has burned fiercely in the hearts and minds of my team and our partners over the last seven years to get us to this point.
2015 was tough. The worst drought in 10 years hit our farmers in Ethiopia, our Kenyan team received numerous death threats and hit political obstacles as they took the reigns to fully own Nuru Kenya, unanticipated immigration issues jeopardized years of work in our projects and financial resources were not as available to support the organization’s exciting new progress. We took these challenges head on. We fought alongside our farmers. And we’re still standing – now taking the next steps forward into 2016 as a wiser, more resilient team than ever before.
As a global community, we face a future full of seemingly impossible problems that raise serious questions demanding our full attention. This generation has been watching history play out before us as bystanders too long. The time has come for us to step forward to lead.
Together we can answer some of the most formidable questions we face…but we must take that first step. At Nuru, we are taking those steps, and we want you to join us. I’ll wrap up this letter to you with a quote from one of my favorite US Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Step into the arena and join us in 2016 in the fight for farmers and their families. The fight for lasting meaningful choices. The fight for freedom and peace. Together, in the coming years, we will accomplish the impossible.
Stay in the fight,