Since the mid-twentieth-century, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governmental organizations have been active in development projects throughout the underdeveloped world. Most of these interventions have been high-budget, top-down approaches devised in office buildings in major world cities with very little collaboration – and typically only symbolic collaboration – with nationals in the countries in which they wish to intervene. The strengths and needs of communities that are being worked with have often been unacknowledged or dismissed; the understandings and approaches to poverty and underdevelopment have often been assumed or devised without contextual information or relevant data. Here, I will discuss how Nuru International is reversing this trend by merging innovative approaches to monitoring and evaluation, the co-creative process with local staff, and specific areas of intervention – in this case, agriculture – into a process that ultimately identifies the needs of communities and provides Nuru International and Nuru Ethiopia with the information needed to design appropriate interventions to communities living in extreme poverty.

Nuru International and Nuru Ethiopia’s Agriculture and Monitoring and Evaluation teams have been working together closely over the past four months to assemble valuable information (quantitative and qualitative) about the lives of poor farmers in Boreda Woreda, Ethiopia to create an informed, aware, and collaborative agricultural intervention. This work – carried out through a strengths and needs assessment – has already produced the information necessary to arrive at a problem statement and a goal for Nuru Ethiopia’s Agriculture Program.

The goal of Nuru Ethiopia’s Agriculture Program is: “to end hunger, increase crop production, and improve the ability to cope with environmental fluctuations for farmers who are living in extreme poverty in our targeted areas.” This goal was not plucked out of thin air, or hurriedly assembled through a rapid rural appraisal. Rather, the Agriculture and Monitoring and Evaluation teams for Nuru International and Nuru Ethiopia sat down and carefully compiled a list of relevant, pointed, and locally-informed set of questions for Key Informant Interviews and Agricultural Livelihood Surveys. These questions ranged from asking what the strengths of farmers in each respective community are, to what the five most important subsistence and income-generating crops are, to which members of the community people look to during times of crisis, to which problems most impacted the agricultural productivity of farmers in these communities.

In other words, the Nuru Ethiopia Agriculture Program is not only being co-created from a programmatic perspective (the creation of the Agriculture Program itself), but also from the perspective of identifying the strengths and needs of communities through co-created questions. Nuru Ethiopia’s Agriculture Team created a list of questions that Nuru Ethiopia’s Monitoring and Evaluation Team needed to be able to address with their data set, and the result is a firm foundation upon which to understand the range of possibilities for agricultural interventions in Boreda Woreda. The result is rich data on what farmers from different socio-economic classes (poor, median, and lead farmers) are growing, what their cropping strategies are, what crops are important for their income, and what farmers depend on during times of crisis.

As we move from the needs assessment to the program design phase of Nuru International’s project in Ethiopia, we have learned important lessons about the necessity for Impact Programs (Agriculture, Education, Health, and Community Economic Development) to collaborate closely with Monitoring and Evaluation on the content of questionnaires. This collaboration is valuable at every level – among Nuru Ethiopia staff, Nuru Kenya staff, and Nuru International staff.