The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.25 USD a day. This strictly financial definition has led to a search for material solutions. Yet after decades of hard work and hundreds of billions of dollars in aid, 1 out of every 6 people on the planet still remains trapped in extreme poverty without hope that their situation can change.
But what if there’s a better definition?
Two economists have led the discussion to redefine the problem entirely. Mahbub al Haq, who served at the World Bank and was the Finance Minister of Pakistan, and Amartya Sen, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics and taught at Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, believe that extreme poverty is better defined as the lack of meaningful choices for basic human rights. With this definition, three necessary attributes must exist if extreme poverty is to end: an individual must be empowered to make choices, they must be equipped to make choices, and they must live in an enabling environment where they can act on those choices.
This new definition is far more accurate than the $1.25 a day threshold, but it begs new questions, and seeks new answers that require new methods.
Nuru has the advantage of learning from the thousands of nonprofit and for profit organizations who have gone before us in the fight against extreme poverty. We are grateful for the organizations and movements that have modeled how to address critical areas of need—specifically hunger, inability to cope with economic shocks, unnecessary disease and death, and lack of quality education for children—in a sustainable way.
After analyzing the successes and failures of the past 50 years of international development, Nuru recognized that giving handouts to address ongoing needs promotes an unwanted culture of dependency. Also, Nuru identified that people living in remote, rural areas have extremely limited access to existing knowledge, markets, and programs offered by other NGOs.
With these insights, Nuru has chosen to partner with smallholder farmers who live in remote, rural areas in order to achieve a unique and meaningful impact in the global fight against extreme poverty. Nuru works in these communities to cultivate local leaders who are able to deliver holistic, proven interventions. These local leaders ensure that their neighbors and communities are able to lift themselves out of extreme poverty—forever.
Many people living in extreme poverty were born into an environment where systematic barriers have prevented them from making decisions and taking action to improve their lives. After generations of living in extreme poverty, they now self-identify as “the poor” and believe that they are powerless to change their current situation.
For any poverty fighting intervention to succeed, there must be capable, fiercely determined, resourceful individuals who own and operate the solutions. They must see themselves as the answer to the their own problems. They must have their agency restored.
Restoring agency involves teaching people to value their own voice, to recognize the importance of their perspective and experience, and the necessity of their own contribution if they are to end poverty in their communities and families. Through training, mentorship, and team building, they see themselves as fiercely determined, resourceful individuals who have managed to survive despite desperate circumstances, and they become the perfect partners required for the poverty fighting work to succeed.
The final step in restoration of agency is for all Western staff and funding to exit, fully entrusting the poverty fighting work to those who are ultimately the most equipped and qualified to complete it: the community members themselves.
Our dedicated, in-house Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) team trains and equips local counterparts to continuously measure the efficacy – or lack thereof – of our work.
If something is not working, we want to work to identify the problem quickly, admit when we are wrong, learn from more effective approaches, and create better solutions to deliver the desired impact.
We publish our metrics, partnerships, financials, innovations and iterations to promote utmost transparency as we work to eradicate extreme poverty.
Nuru isn’t trying to provide temporary relief for those trapped in poverty. We want to end extreme poverty in remote rural areas around the world in our lifetime.
This bold vision will lead us to some of the toughest places in the world – where others cannot or will not go. Our desire to work in failed states and conflict areas – such as Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, DRC, and South Sudan – comes from the awakening our founder, Jake Harriman, had while he was on the frontlines of combat in Iraq. Watch The End (Jake’s Story) to hear his account of how extreme poverty is fueling terrorism and why he believes we can end extreme poverty in our lifetime.
We’re hard at work at our projects in Kenya and Ethiopia, and once we achieve proof of concept (projected in late 2015), we plan to scale rapidly and make our model open source so that any organization, government or entity can join with us in ending extreme poverty in remote, rural areas in our lifetime.