If Nuru’s Community Economic Development (CED) Program isn’t an MFI, doesn’t expect everyone to be an entrepreneur, and has a relatively low cap for its maximum loan amount…what exactly is the program’s “big idea”?

We recently held an International Summit at Nuru International so that all teams could collaborate and work through the DIF (Design Iteration Format). This tool helped us simplify each of Nuru’s five program models into scalable, sustainable units using common language. The mission of the CED program has been the same since the beginning, but it was time to “take out our ruler” and see if our program’s mission measured up to the organization’s goal of scalability and sustainability. Through this process we were able to better define our big idea and mission and prune away some of the questions hanging at the edges of our model, such as “Would we be willing to raise the cap? Was it necessary to put so much emphasis on training?” etc.

So what is the “big idea” of CED that we are so passionate about? We want to help “the rural extreme poor access Nuru CED training and basic financial services as a pathway to semi-formal and formal financial markets.” By doing this we will “enable rural households in extreme poverty to cope with economic shock and build on income opportunities.” But how does that translate into actions?

We are reaching a gap population. According to the NGO community, there are a lot of “gap” populations. The CED program’s definition of the gap population we reach is “rural extreme poor who are without access to any financial services or the knowledge and resources to use them to their benefit; individuals who live off of sustenance farming and are disastrously affected by economic shocks.” Reaching the extreme poor means we are not targeting business men or microenterprise; we are targeting the one acre farmer who hasn’t learned how to save or prepare for the future against unstable weather conditions that affect crops, “stupid” illnesses like diarrhea and malaria that are a common cause of death here and even against illiteracy in the next generation by preparing ahead of time to pay for school fees.  We are willing to spend time developing programs that make an impact instead of focusing on portfolio development because our mission is our top priority; because we see people, not profits.

This also means we value having a skill set in order to make the most of an opportunity. We’ve designed our programs to focus heavily on training, and then the programs advance from habit forming practices to initial use of basic financial services. Our programs work in tiers that slowly transition members to more intensive savings and loan services as they apply money management skills in their daily lives. We start with Msingi wa KAPESA which is six months of savings training and minimal savings requirements focused on forming the habit of regular saving. Members can continue on and are offered small capital loans that provide a chance to learn how to pay back a loan without stretching income too far. If they choose to advance further, they can access our KAPESA Core program which increases both the amount and frequency members save and offers three month of more intensive savings and loans training. After the three months, they are able to access slightly larger loans focused on stimulating income generating activities; these include small businesses, as well as activities like renting a plough ox in order to diversify and further stabilize income. Finally, members can participate in our JDF program which expects members to continue saving outside of a group while accessing the highest capital loans Nuru offers. After further learning how to diversify income opportunities and use loans effectively, we hope that the JDF program will be able to transition members to semi-formal and formal financial markets where they can continue raising their families out of poverty with the money management skills to help prevent them from slipping back into extreme poverty.

We can’t do everything, nor do we want to. Our mission is to help the extreme poor raise themselves from a place where economic shocks put them at risk of death. We go deeply with what we do, rather than going than wide and losing our focus. We prefer to utilize the services and projects already being offered around the world, rather than offer the same programs and neglect the gap population that many have deemed too risky and unable to save. We aren’t just claiming to do something different: we are. Other missions are also necessary; for us, we have chosen to extend opportunities and resources to reach those in extreme rural poverty.