Before I forget, I wanted to post my address here. I don’t advise that you use it because anything you mail takes about 10 days to get here, so email is probably the best way to get in touch with me. However, mostly for Mom’s sake (who has been faithfully sending me one letter a week since I left home at 17 – moms are rad), I am going to go ahead and post it. After September 3, I will be at the second address in northern California. You can also reach me at my same phone number again starting on September 3 as well (760) 271-1908:
One Acre Fund
Bungoma 50200 Kenya
201 Manzanita Way
Woodside, CA 94062
This week has been a very eye-opening week for me. I started my first real networking and preparations in the Kakamega District for One Acre Fund’s launch there. It consisted basically of about 1,000 meetings with everyone from District government officials to local farmers. My project is a pretty aggressive one, and one that I fear I’m not doing a very good job on so far. My ineptitude and inexperience in development work have given rise to a good bit of frustration this week as I tried to carry out the best strategy I could create to launch OAF down here in Kakamega. This is good, though, I guess. I mean, that’s why I’m here…to learn and help in whatever way I can. I just hope that in my bumbling around I don’t cause more harm than good. Andrew Youn has proven to be a very patient, experienced, and resourceful teacher for me, and his (at least perceived) confidence in me has allowed me to learn quickly from my mistakes. I think it’s that way most places, though. I guess I usually feel this way every time I go into a new place faced with a new, seemingly overwhelming challenge. Along my path of (at times painful) learning, I have managed to make a very good friend who has been keeping me out of trouble. His name is Daniel Okongo. Daniel is a Kenyan – born and raised in the Kakamega District. We’ve hired him to help out with the Kakamega launch. As you would expect, Daniel has proven to be incredibly invaluable and a great friend for me. He is a really smart, resourceful guy who seems to know everyone around here. Most importantly, though, I think I can trust him with just about anything. He’s got a great heart for the poor, and he offered to work for OAF without a salary because he really believes in the work that Andrew has started. Andrew decide to pay him, though, because he will most likely be a crucial manager for OAF in the next few years.
As Daniel and I have been going around trying to start the program, I have become increasingly aware of a problem that I had only read about before coming here. It is the problem that Easterly writes about in his book, The White Man’s Burden. What I began to realize was that I am working for a nonprofit – an NGO (not technically, but people use NGO for any relief/aid/development organization here) that is one of a whole army of NGOs…an army in a seemingly endless sea of poverty. I have begun to see firsthand that this army is soaking up massive amounts of financial and human capital and producing very little tangible sustainable result for their supposed beneficiaries – the extreme poor. I have read about this phenomenon, of course – most people know that this is a problem now, but seeing it with my own eyes has brought it to a whole new level of reality for me.
The extraordinarily large number of NGOs has created the culture of dependency that Easterly writes about in his book – thus creating the concept of “Band-Aid” – a term used to describe temporary solutions to a very long-lasting, systemic problem. The “solutions” that most NGOs provide – often in the form of hand-outs or large, one-time injections of capital into local markets – only make the problems worse. These solutions have caused the poor to become helplessly dependent on external aid – aid that cannot be sustained forever – no matter how well-intentioned the NGO may be. And, you see, that’s just the thing…MOST of these NGOs are made up of well-meaning people who want to do good. Unfortunately, these good intentions have resulted in deeply entrenched social norms within the cultures in developing nations that have crippled them. The results can be seen every day. In the streets, young children orphaned by HIV/AIDS-stricken parents wander the streets begging for money. The minute a sympathetic traveler gives that child a spare coin, he becomes instantly swarmed with a mob of children expecting the same thing. The mob can often turn violent resulting in a mugging of the individual. This leaves the traveler with only one recourse – to coldly refuse to acknowledge the child’s genuine pleas for money. Another example can be seen in some of the farmers we work with. Many of them when we first start out are often extremely lazy. A farmer may even possess a nice, sizable plot of fertile land that may be just lying fallow. Because of generations of free handouts, the farmers have grown to depend on outside sources for basic sustenance – thus leading to the loss of agricultural knowledge and a hard-work ethic born out of necessity.
Notice above that I said MOST NGOs are well-meaning. One of the most appalling things I have discovered here is that many NGOs are formed to either steal money from wealthy donors in developed countries or – even worse – from the impoverished people that they claim to be serving. This has created an odd mixture of mistrust and blind hope and dependency toward NGOs among the poor in East Africa. If you tell a group you are from an NGO, you are just as likely to have the group beg for you to help them as you are to have them spit in your face.
In this seemingly hopeless and corrupt environment, there is still a lot of truly sustainable good being done. Some of the NGOs here have been doing some incredible work to bring hope and lasting, empowering solutions to help the poor get up on that first rung of the ladder out of extreme poverty. One Acre Fund is just such an organization. It has been widely recognized in the area for the work it has done to improve the lives of the farmers we work with. OAF brings a level of transparency and accountability to its operations that is seldom seen in the nonprofit sector. Daniel is actually a product of one of another one of these fruitful organizations. Daniel was raised by his grandmother in destitute poverty in the Kakamega District. He was able to climb out of this hole he had been born into, though, through the actions of a group called Compassion International, an NGO that sponsors children – enabling them to receive a good education that will give them a fighting chance to life a life free of extreme poverty. Because of his sponsor, Daniel was able to go to primary school, secondary school, and then University near Nairobi to study horticulture. Daniel says that because of the opportunity he was granted through Compassion International’s program, he has committed his life to helping other Kenyans free themselves from the chains of extreme poverty…that’s where we found him – with a burning desire to help those born seemingly without a chance.
The need is great for organizations like this – organizations that offer sustainable, lasting solutions to poverty…organizations that climb down into the pit of poverty with the poor and then empower them to climb out using their own strength and determination…organizations that are transparent – allowing stakeholders to hold them completely accountable for their actions…organizations that can offer social investors a real social return on their investment. I hope that I will be able to join the ranks of those organizations like OAF, Kiva and The Hunger Project and in some humble way become a part of the solution…instead of just another needless NGO forming yet another link in the chain of extreme poverty…
About Jake Harriman
Founder — Jake Harriman is a United States Naval Academy graduate and former Force Recon Marine combat veteran who became convinced that the “War on Terror” can’t be won on the battlefield alone; the contributing causes of violent extremism–specifically extreme poverty–must also be eradicated. After transitioning out of the Marine Corps, Jake enrolled in the Stanford Graduate School of Business to found Nuru International in 2007 with a mission to eradicate extreme poverty in some of the most fragile regions of the world in order to help stop the spread of groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. Over the next twelve years, Jake and his team grew Nuru to become one of the premier organizations at the nexus of security and development - empowering over 130,000 people with lasting meaningful choices to permanently climb out of extreme poverty in some of the toughest places in the world.Read More Stories of Hope