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Tragedy Inspires Choices for Change

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, October 02, 2014

During his service in the U.S. Marines, Jake Harriman saw war and conflict in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. A horrifying experience in Iraq changed his view of the world and the course of his own life.

He was a Special Operations platoon commander waiting for supplies on a highway to Baghdad in 2003 when Americans fired warning shots at an approaching car they feared might be full of explosives with a driver on a suicide mission. An Iraqi man leapt from the car and ran toward the Americans, waving his arms frantically. An Iraqi military vehicle suddenly roared to the scene, sprayed his vehicle with bullets, and sped away. The man, accompanied by Harriman, ran back to the car to find his wife and two children fatally shot. The Americans didn't know it at the time, but the Iraqi was trying to escape the effort of Saddam Hussein, then still in power, to coerce poor farmers to sabotage coalition forces in exchange for food.

Describing those events to The Christian Science Monitor, Harriman said,

"Something awoke inside of me-an anger that burned and grew. That day I vowed to devote my life to giving people choices and hope where none previously existed."

Five years later he founded Nuru International, an organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty. To prepare for this task, Harriman applied and got into Stanford University's graduate school of business, where he studied economics, computer modeling, and how to "design for extreme affordability" to get goods and services to the poorest of the poor. The World Bank defines poverty as living on $1.25 a day. Harriman looked deeper. Incorporating ideas of economists Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen, Nuru views extreme poverty as lacking choices necessary to attain basic human rights. That's more than avoiding starvation. That means addressing health, education and seeking conditions that foster resilience in the face of catastrophe.

Stanford Professor James Patell, who taught Harriman, told The Monitor Nuru differs from many anti-poverty efforts in the developing world in that its goal is sustainable projects that will be operated by local communities, and in its commitment to bringing its model into war-torn areas. Harriman explains in his blog that the work began in Kenya because he and colleagues wanted to build and test their prototype in a relatively stable country before trying to introduce it into a chaotic failed state or conflict zone. "We are attempting to build a high impact integrated development model that is completely self-contained-that is it can scale on its own-funded by capital produced in-country and led by nationals equipped to innovate and effectively manage large scale projects."

Harriman said that Nuru seeks local community participants who are true "servant leaders" who work to distribute power rather than consolidate it. Nuru is a Kiswahili word that means light. Harriman was recently honored as a veteran entrepreneur in the White House Champions for Change program.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  leadership 

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