When I first joined Nuru’s Research Team, what I was most excited about was the chance to be part of transforming the future for the extremely poor through “little things” called metrics, data, evaluation, and informed decision-making.

Not sexy, not as much fun as getting your hands dirty in the field, but vital.

Transformation?  Of the entire international poverty industry?  Really?  Through a Metric System?  Can this really happen?  Many people have said it can’t.  Well, it needs to happen.

Trillions of dollars have been spent in the international development industry.  Literally trillions.  But guess what?  There are still 1.4 billion poor people.  Something is not working.  Simple as that.  And we can talk all we want about the market inefficiency of the international poverty industry, but the true travesty lies in the family who does not have enough to eat or the 2 year old who dies of diarrhea.

As I walked through the Berkeley campus last week, I was reminded of my time as a public policy graduate student there.  And then, somehow, as I walked through the lush quad with the hustle and bustle of student life, I was very quickly reminded of Evans, an incredibly bright young Kenyan who would likely give his right arm for a chance to study at University.  He remains hopeful, yet the light is dimming.

This is the story today.  This cannot be the story tomorrow.

“Speaking truth to power.”  These simple words are the unofficial slogan of the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley (GSPP).   This – speaking truth to power –  is also the ultimate purpose of the Nuru Metric System.

So, what exactly do Nuru, poverty, GSPP, and the Metric System have to do with one another?

Nuru is hoping to develop a metric system that will, in the end, save lives and help end extreme poverty. It will become a universal social metric system and transform the international poverty sector.  How?  Well, if all the development organizations on the ground are using the same yardstick to measure progress then donors, communities, investors, governments, and other NGOs will be able to tell what’s working to end poverty and what is not.  And then they can act on it. Speaking truth to power. There it is again.

The goals of this metric system aim high.  I know that.  And many people have told us that they don’t think it’s possible. I agree that it hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. That makes us work harder, but it doesn’t make us stop working. When we figure this out, it could transform the entire international development industry.  This could direct all the billions of donor dollars into programs that actually work at ending poverty.  This could keep Nuru on track for exiting our projects within 5 years leading to community power.  Is that not something worth fighting for?

Nuru has been using Metrics System 1.0 since Sept 2008, and we know it needs a lot of improvement.  Nuru’s commitment to third party evaluations and measurement and monitoring is quite is uncommon for such a young organization.  But, the actual metric system needs to be better, much better.  I can give you lots of reasons why, but let’s look forward rather than back.

The new and improved Nuru Metric System (version 2.0 as we like to call it) needs to measure extreme poverty and measure it holistically.  It needs to become a universal standard in the development field.  It needs to be flexible enough to be useful across nations, cultures, languages, and organizations.  It needs to easily communicate the results to various stakeholders.  It needs to measure outcomes to inform decision-making and resource allocation decisions by Nuru field staff.  After all that, it also needs to be research-based and low cost / easy to implement.

And the more brains behind this gargantuan task, the better it will serve the extremely poor in rural villages.

To help us embark on this M&E (measurement and evaluation) adventure, Nuru is working with 4 GSPP graduate students as a part of their Advanced Policy Analysis project.  We have asked each of them to answer the question “What is the best Metric System possible for holistically measuring the level of extreme poverty in rural villages?”

Their mission is to take that question and integrate the eight-fold path of policy analysis, basically the GSPP religion.  For any non-policy folk, the eight-fold path includes defining the problem, assembling evidence, constructing alternatives, selecting criteria, projecting outcomes, confronting the trade-offs, and recommending a solution.

These four individuals are tackling this question (with a focus on different Nuru target areas) by applying rigor and analysis and research and their own unique perspective on the problem.  That is what I am most excited about – the sheer diversity of thought that may come from these 4 unique individuals.   Two are Fulbright scholars.  Two grew up in developing countries.  One is an MD.  They have field experience in India, Ecuador, and Pakistan.  We are glad their hearts and their brains are focused on this problem…

The Nuru Metric System.  Speaking truth to power.  To use real data and accurate information to help empower communities out of extreme poverty.