We are off to a great start for Nuru Ethiopia here in Gamo Highlands. The team has been on the ground with me now for three weeks, and I can already tell that this is going to be a really cohesive and effective team. During this first phase of the project, we will focus on laying the groundwork for three programs: The Leadership Program, the Agriculture Program, and the Monitoring and Evaluation Program. Barry Mattson is heading up the Leadership Program. Barry has an MBA from Wharton and a MA in International Relations from Tufts. His professional experience lies in program management, agribusiness, global trading, international security, and sustainable development. Douglas La Rose is leading our Agriculture Program. Douglas is an anthropologist and agriculturalist who has been working in rural Africa since 2005. He received his MA in Applied Anthropology from San Diego State University. He served as an agroforestry Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana from 2005-2007. Kristin Lindell manages the M&E Program for Nuru Ethiopia. Kristin holds a Masters in International Development and a Masters in Economics. She worked in rural Panama, where she headed up a non-profit’s research and evaluation department.

Over the last three weeks, the team has been settling into a good work and life routine as we become a part of the community here in Zefine, the village we live in. It has been interesting integrating into the community. Ferenjis (foreigners) are very rare here in this part of the Gamo Highlands. When there is a random sighting of a ferenji, they are usually driving by quickly in a Land Rover using the alternative route to Soddo because the rain has washed out the main road in the lowlands. So you can imagine the surprise of the community members here (particularly the kids) when four ferenjis roll up, build a house, and start living in the community with them. I can assure you that it has caused quite a stir. Most of the kids have never actually seen a ferenji. This causes all kinds of interesting complications in logistics. Take the market for example. Zefine has a large, open-air market in the middle of the village every Tuesday and Saturday. The kids are very curious to get to know us. The first time Barry, Kristin, and Douglas went to the market, they had to leave only ten minutes after they arrived because literally hundreds of children began mobbing them trying to see who the new visitors were. The poor vendors almost got crushed as the human wave of children ebbed and flowed around the market as the three ferenjis tried to buy tomatoes, onions, and garlic to make dinner that night. Thankfully, the kids are starting to get more used to us now, and going to the market has become much less of a regional incident.

We try to get out and walk around the community and the surrounding area as much as we can. The landscape here is absolutely stunning – sharp mountain peaks, wide expansive valleys, and green rolling foothills make for exhilarating hikes on the weekends. The people here are so friendly and welcoming. The depth of poverty is heart-breaking, but the gracious thoughtfulness and generosity of the farmers as we move in the field is so inspiring. They are eager to make us feel at home here.

Our first big task as a team was to work with Bereket Akele (Nuru Ethiopia Country Program Director) to select the first cadre of leaders that we will train to lead Nuru Ethiopia. Bereket and I cast a wide net to try and identify the best possible leaders to begin the project with. Our goal was to begin training with 15 servant leaders on March 18th. Bereket screened over 200 applications and shortlisted 38 candidates. The rest of the team and I then helped Bereket conduct a final interview process to narrow the candidates to the final 15. The process included a panel interview, a written exam, and a basic computer skills test. The interviews lasted two days, and then we deliberated as a team on the third day to select the final 15 candidates to begin the training. The training began with these leaders on Monday, March 18th, and I can tell you that participating in that training with them has already been a very inspiring, motivational experience for me that has given me so much hope and confidence for the future of Nuru Ethiopia.

So, let me talk a little bit about this training. What are we trying to accomplish in the early days with these 15 leaders? This first phase of Nuru Ethiopia is a critical test of the Nuru Model. We are testing a new design approach to producing poverty-fighting solutions that we call the Program Planning Process (PPP). The PPP is a process of co-creation where we first work with leaders from the community to develop a common understanding of the needs of the community focusing in four key areas: hunger, inability to cope with economic shocks, unnecessary disease and death, and lack of quality education for children. We then work with them to design high impact solutions that are sustainable and scalable to address those needs. We do this by presenting a series of innovative solutions from around the world that are already being used to address that particular area of need in other places. The local leaders evaluate these idea based on a given set of criteria and they decide which solution (or composite solution) is most relevant for their environment and people.

This process will take approximately six months to complete the design of each of our four impact programs. Here in Ethiopia, we are starting with hunger. The process consists of a series of training modules and practical application exercises. Topics and activities covered in the training include defining extreme poverty and key needs that affect poverty, Strengths and Needs Assessment, developing a common understanding of Quality Solutions Criteria (impact, sustainability and scalability), analyzing and evaluating other models via site visits and examining best practices using tools that we call Research Packets, and building a strategic plan and proposal for a model to address the need of hunger in this area. In October, the 15 leaders will present a completed Agriculture model proposal to Bereket that will include a one-year strategic plan and budget and a detailed analysis of how the model will be sustainable and scalable as the program grows in the coming years.

I am already seeing seeds of ownership and nuanced understanding of the concepts we are training on to prepare these 15 leaders to build this first program. It is so inspiring for me to watch them become excited about the possibility that they can design a lasting solution to solve these complex problems in their communities themselves – a solution that will be far better than one imposed on them by outsiders who don’t truly understand the needs or potential of their communities.

Stay tuned…I’ll keep you posted as the model develops.