So, the wells are finished, the maize is harvested, the farmers have repaid their loans, and the first phase healthcare construction is complete. I have had a bit of a chance to sit back and breathe for a second this past week…kind of a calm before the storm. We have been driving really hard here of late, so I was thankful that I was able to do some badly needed debriefing and reflection of our methods and model – trying to examine the results that have materialized in the community of Kuria, Kenya this past year.

This past year has produced some very humbling – almost shocking – results of empowerment and success metrics that I honestly did not think would be possible in this first year. On my daily walk to work this week, I was able to do a good bit of thinking about why it is that we have seen such tremendous success. What is the “special sauce” in the Nuru model that has enabled hundreds of farmers to realize very concrete steps forward in lifting themselves and their families out of extreme poverty? This is an extraordinarily important question for me to be able to answer. You see, we are about to start an exciting new phase in the Kuria Pilot project…organic scaling. Over the next year, we will be working with our local team to duplicate the model we implemented in the eighteen villages of Nyametaburo and Nyangiti sub-locations in numerous neighboring sub-locations, divisions, and eventually districts – in a sustainable, effective manner. So whatever the special sauce was that we used here in the first villages and sub-locations must be identified and replicated as we scale the project.

I shook my head and laughed on my way to the field Monday as I thought to myself, “Well, I know I can rule one cause of success out – myself.” Success has come to the Nuru pilot project in spite of a series of fumbles and foibles that I have managed to commit this year…in spite of ignorant (at times arrogant) assumptions I made…in spite of thinking that “I know best” when in fact I had no idea what I was doing. Yes…one thing is for certain – Nuru’s early success had very little to do with the helmet leading the charge. Success had come to our project in spite of my many weaknesses and shortcomings.

So what was it? How did this miraculous progress come about? I started sifting through the various parts of the Nuru model trying to pinpoint the answer to my question. Was it our holistic approach to community solutions? Was it our design thinking approach to need finding and solution building? Our focus on rigorous, unforgiving measurement of our results and impact? Perhaps it was our aggressive partnership strategy – taking the best orgs out there and collaborating with them to prevent wasteful duplication of effort. Or maybe it was the fact that we worked so hard to recruit the best of the best out there to be part of the Nuru team? Certainly all of these things did play a part in the early success we have seen, but none of them seemed to hit the nail on the head.

As I neared the end of my walk, I looked up to see Philip Mohochi, the Chairman of our Community Development Committee (CDC), walking toward me to greet me before our morning meeting. Then it hit me all at once. The success of our model did not depend on the latest and greatest poverty reduction theory or specific application of our business model that had been researched and developed at the “hallowed halls of Stanford.” The special sauce directly enabling the success of the Nuru model was embodied in this man walking toward me…humble servant leadership.

Few things in this world can inspire people to overcome tremendous odds like a good leader can. There are many, many different types of leaders and even more theories on successful philosophies of leadership. I have had the good fortune in my life of serving under numerous leaders of all shapes and sizes, and I have been thrust into several positions of leadership myself as well. After learning my lesson the hard way (a seemingly common theme on my life), I have come to believe that the most effective leadership model out there is the servant leader model. What is a servant leader? Servant…leader…seemingly a bad fit in the same sentence. The word “servant” connotes weakness, vulnerability, humility, and lowliness of position. The word “leader,” on the other hand, conjures images of power, authority, strength, and greatness. “Servant leader”…seems like a bit of an oxymoron, but I propose that it is the most powerful model of leadership in the world today, and it represents the special sauce that the Nuru model hinges upon.

In order to inspire people toward a common goal against insurmountable odds, one must build a solid foundation of mutual respect and trust. This cannot be done where the leader assumes the entitlement philosophy of “with rank comes privilege.” This cannot be done by a leader who removes himself from those he leads to maintain a “healthy separation.” People are inspired by leaders they trust…leaders who are willing to “get dirty” with them. They are inspired by a leader who puts his people first ahead of himself every single time – especially when there is a sacrifice to be made. They begin to trust and respect a leader whom they know genuinely cares for them and does not think too highly of himself to do menial tasks that the team is assigned to do. It is a leader’s willingness to humbly assume a lowly position – to become weak – to be vulnerable – to sacrifice all for his people and mission – that inspires a team to accomplish the impossible.

Philip Mohochi is a model servant leader. He embodies the type of leader that we work very hard to train and equip as part of the Nuru model. Servant leadership is teachable. It is replicable. It is scalable. We are working with Philip and his team to teach it, to replicate it, and to scale it. Servant leadership is the special sauce that I believe will empower an army of determined individuals equipped with the Nuru model to move the world and accomplish the impossible.