On New Year’s Eve this year, I found myself on the beach in San Clemente watching yet another beautiful sunset in SoCal – man I love this place!  While I sat there, I tracked the final hours of the 2011 Holiday Campaign with my phone.  As donations continued to trickle in and it became evident that we would indeed hit our goal, I breathed a sigh of relief and settled back against the nice “chair” rock I had found down at the beach out from Linda Lane.  And I began thinking about just how far Nuru had come in 2011…wow!  What a year!

2011 completed a critical phase of growth for the organization – our R&D phase.  In 2011, we conducted R&D with almost every part of the organization: Leadership Program, all five program areas, M&E system, HR strategy, our fundraising model, and even our decision-making process.  We made great strides in each area of the organization as we researched best practices and tested various prototypes to tighten our model up and build a more efficient organization.  Here’s a summary of exciting outcomes of this year’s R&D:

Leadership Program: The Leadership Program has become the foundation that will enable true sustainability of the Nuru model.  Our Leadership Program went from research in theory and best practices in leadership capacity building to practical process and curriculum prototypes that we were able to begin testing in Kenya. The Leadership Program will enable local community leaders to scale Nuru’s work long after the Western staff exit the project. It has been inspiring to watch the growth of Frances , John  and Paul, for a closer look at the project read Paul’s latest blog.

IGA Group: We created the Income Generating Activities group  to push the model more quickly toward financial sustainability.  Business models now include agribusiness, dairy project, and commodity sales.

Agriculture Program: The Staffing model was revised to improve the role of Field Officers and reduce staffing cost.  The agriculture loan product was revised, to provide a better return and thus increase the financial self-sustainability of the Agriculture Program. This improvement of the agriculture loan has also seen an increase in repayment rates.

Community Economic Development: The focus shifted from financial training for small business owners to financial training and services for farmers with the creation of the Msingi wa KAPESA (Mwak) savings club prototype.  Mwak has already dramatically increased household savings rates among Nuru members.

Healthcare Program: 8 targeted behavior changes were defined, curriculum drafted, and new staffing model implemented where Community Health Workers are replaced by Nuru Health Field Officers to increase efficacy of Nuru home visit intervention.  Best practices incorporated from externship with partner, Living Goods.

Water and Sanitation: The Watsan (WASH) model moved from focusing on water supply at the community level (wells) to focusing on sanitation and hygiene at the household level to drive down diarrheal rates.  The program now creates demand for, markets, and sells WASH products such as latrines, handwashing stations, and clean water storage units that are manufactured by Nuru Watsan staff to the community.

Education: A completely new Education model was designed and prototyped this year.  A District Learning/Drop-in Center acts as a hub for outreach programs to the local public schools in the catchment area for the Center.  These programs focus on implementing alternative education programs within the existing public schools to increase child literacy to Standard 2 level.  Out-of-school children in the community can receive the same education services at the Center itself.

Monitoring and Evaluation: The M&E team created a defined metric system to measure both enabling environment that exists within the community (poverty metrics – MPAT) and to measure the efficacy of the five program areas themselves (program metrics).  A baseline MPAT was conducted by The International Fund for Agriculture Development  (IFAD) Specialized Agency to the UN and Nuru staff, and baseline data was collected for the program metrics in all five areas as well.  Extensive progress was also made in defining clear exit criteria for the project in impact, leadership, and financial self-sufficiency.

HR Strategy: New Fellows program was designed, tested, and revised.  The international rotation model was changed to 13 month rotations to make the model more cost-effective and to give teams more time to move the project forward and hit strategic milestones – pushing the model toward Western exit.  This change was made possible by the selfless offer by FT7 to extend their rotation by three months.

Development (Fundraising, Communications, Media, and PR): A first draft for Nuru’s branding strategy was created and disseminated to all Nuru staff and Board members.  Innovation in social media and donor relationship building increased the efficacy of constituent care practices.  The Development team onboarded a new, seasoned leader with a vision for a more diversified funding strategy for Nuru. Thanks to an extremely successful Holiday Campaign, the effective execution of several funding events, and effective donor management, the Development team has had a strong start for fundraising for 2012

Strategic Decision-Making: We created a new strategic decision-making body of six members with 50% representation from Operations and 50% corporate functions representation.  The new body (Strategic Leadership Team or SLT) now uses a new decision-making process to make large-scale decisions that impact the whole organization.  The process was tested with the Ethiopia expansion decision which resulted in an approval for expansion with a 5-1 vote.

As you can see, Nuru is growing up.  We are now entering an exciting new phase in our development – proof of concept.  Over the next three years, we will be pushing aggressively forward to achieve final proof of concept of the Nuru model.  This monumental milestone will enable us to begin scaling the Nuru model globally to some of the toughest living conditions around the world.  Successful completion of proof of concept for the Nuru model includes three key pillars:

  1. We need to replicate the model in a new district. The new district seed project needs to be funded by expansion capital generated by Nuru Kenya, and the project needs to be staffed by Nuru Kenya scaling teams – not westerners.
  2. We need to facilitate a successful exit of western staff and western funding from the Kenya project – leaving behind a completely self-sustaining model (financially and in leadership capacity) that is continuing to scale on its own.  This exit can only happen after we successfully hit our exit criteria in impact, leadership, and financial metrics.
  3. We need to start a seed project in another country. This country project will serve as a point of comparison to the Kenya project. The Nuru model is designed to be a global model. We need to ensure that the success we are experiencing in Kenya is not just a Kenya phenomenon.

Because of the last pillar listed here for proof of concept, we are expanding to launch a Nuru seed project in Ethiopia.  The site survey has been conducted, the SLT has approved expansion, the Board has approved the expansion pending us hitting our fundraising miles stones by January 31st, and a detailed insert strategy has been created. If we meet our fundraising milestones, in August I will head to Ethiopia to launch the Nuru seed project in the Gamo Gofa Zone of the SNNPR Region.

As with any growth, there are certainly growing pains that we have experienced along the way, but the Nuru team has been incredibly determined and adaptable as they defeated challenge after challenge in this last year.  My team inspires me daily, and their tenacity and drive give me so much hope now as I look ahead into 2012.  I look forward to keeping you all posted as we enter this new stage of growing up.