A more appropriate name for this post would be something like: “11 Lessons from Living in Rural Southern Ethiopia for 2 years and Working with the Leadership Team to Build Local Leadership Capacity, Design our 4 Impact Programs (Agriculture, Financial Inclusion, Healthcare and Education) and Launch a Burgeoning Development Organization in a New Country.” However, that wouldn’t fit on one line…

It’s been quite the experience working in Boreda with the local Nuru Ethiopia team as a Leadership Program Specialist for two years. I’d like to share insight for those of you out there who are thinking, “I’d really like move to rural Ethiopia and start designing innovative programs in remote rural areas that have never experienced sustainable development impact at a grassroots level before and begin implementing systems for a new and quickly growing organization.” If that thought often crosses your mind – or if that thought does not cross your mind but you’d like to understand more of what happens from a ground-level perspective in launching new programs and scaling a budding organization – please read on.

  1. Plan. And be prepared for all those well-made plans to change on the turn of a dime.
  2. Become well acquainted with mud. (There’s plenty of it in this farming community.) You must make it your friend or it will become your enemy. And that wouldn’t be a fruitful long-term relationship.
  3. Time has different meanings in different cultures. Create a flexible and fluid schedule that allows for those different understandings. But, have a limit.
  4. Wake up with specific goals. Complete those goals each day. Encourage teammates to do the same and feel good about their accomplishments.
  5. Appreciate the small things in life. Electricity, working (even slow) internet, tasty food, food at all. Smile with your good health.
  6. Don’t do tomorrow what can be done today.
  7. When working with and coordinating between all other programs at your organization, communicate frequently and in detail. Constant and clear communication is key to project success.
  8. Create time for reflection. Operations move quickly each day. Reflection will help you and your team to improve and maintain focus on the end goal.
  9. Become comfortable with uncertainty. However, do what you can to make things as certain as they can be.
  10. Learn to micromanage. Until team members have consistently demonstrated their proficiency in specific project and task execution, keep a very close touch.
  11. Remember that you, as an expat, are just a temporary visitor to this community. The people who will really make a long-term difference are the team members who grew up here in Ethiopia. This project has an entirely different and incredibly deep meaning for them.

To extrapolate a little bit on the last point: working on a grassroots level project in rural Ethiopia gives you an incredible appreciation for the small victories in daily life that eventually develop into huge accomplishments. I can only imagine the empowerment of designing a project to eradicate extreme poverty from your own community and seeing it through from its start-up implementation in your community through to scaling throughout your entire country. The emotionality, level of commitment and ownership, and tremendous sense of satisfaction that such an ambitious endeavor demands must be overwhelming for our local leaders. I can only imagine.

For more information about working with Nuru International, visit our Careers page.