On 24 February 2013, a new chapter in Nuru’s mission began: Nuru started a second country project in Ethiopia. This expansion is the culmination of years of work and is a crucial step in the Nuru model reaching proof of concept—which is our precursor to scaling the organization to more and more countries. The importance of this step is not to be underestimated. It is the first step, which will influence all future steps that follow it along our path toward providing people in extreme poverty access to meaningful choices.

As Nuru’s Director of International Operations, I first visited Ethiopia with Jake Harriman in October 2011. We conducted the first site evaluation to determine whether Ethiopia would be a good fit for Nuru’s second project. Prior to the visit, Jake and I had been discussing Nuru’s first expansion for nearly two years. In the past, we had researched other sites and conducted site visits to other countries (such as Malawi and Nicaragua), but had yet to find the right fit for Nuru in this first expansion.

Our ability to short-list and select countries for expansion is determined largely by our end goal of going where need is most urgent—which according to our belief is in post-conflict zones and states along a failed state spectrum. This urgency is checked by our ability to operate effectively in these areas and make impact.

Building a successful Nuru Project as we have in Kenya is very different than building a successful project in any one of our goal sites (e.g., Somalia, DRC, Mali, Yemen, Afghanistan, etc.). In addition to all of the ordinary challenges that come with expansion to a new country, there are additional factors that we must consider as we go to areas where the need is increasingly more urgent: security, infrastructure, climate, and poverty level—to name a few. Nuru Projects are not designed to be “cookie cutter” projects. Each project is adapted to the local environment as local staff develops each of the program models. Each community has different needs, which require different interventions. Some of these needs we are already prepared to address, while others will require us to develop solutions along the way. This gap is where we as an organization will continue to learn and adapt.

The final decision to expand to Ethiopia was made by Nuru’s Strategic Leadership Team in December 2011. Ethiopia is clearly not a failed state. It is also not a post-conflict country, as the war with Eritrea ended nearly 13 years ago. The country was not chosen for its lack of security, volatility, or lack of effective governance, but rather by three other major factors: the level of need; our ability to make impact with our existing model; and potential to be a building block for future projects.

The 2011 United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (HDI) ranked Ethiopia 174th out of 187 countries. Kenya ranked 143rd. Ethiopia has a long, publicized history of severe issues with food insecurity and hunger. According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index, 39% of the population in Ethiopia lives extreme poverty. It is important that we continue to test and refine the Nuru Model in regions with greater and greater poverty. Ethiopia has need in all four core areas that we address: 1. Hunger; 2. Inability to cope with economic shocks; 3. Unnecessary disease and death; and 4. Lack of quality education for children. By adapting our programs to a new environment, we will continue distill the core of our model and work toward wider and wider application.

Nuru works in agrarian communities in remote, rural areas, and we were cautious to not expand to sites that would require complete changes to our model. The site for the Nuru Ethiopia project site, Boreda, was chosen for its similarities to our project in Kuria, Kenya. Boreda has a similar climate with similar rainy seasons. Maize is also one of the staple food and cash crops. Also, because Boreda has need in all four areas that we address (listed above), we can test our model in a new location using lessons learned from Kuria while addressing the challenges of a new environment with an increased poverty level.

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There is a strategic importance in this country choice as well. For our first expansion, it made sense to start regionally. The proximity to Kenya allows for easier international management that can be handled with less time and expense. Also, it means that we can more readily foster cross-project cooperation among our teams in Nuru Kenya and Nuru Ethiopia. By building regional presence in both countries, we can begin to plan and develop strategies to address some of the failed states and post-conflict areas in the region once we have the capabilities.

Ultimately, our expansion into areas where the need is most urgent will be slowed only by our ability to learn and adapt. Our existing skill set will need to continue to grow in new environments with more urgent needs. Even with the climate and crop similarities between Kenya and Ethiopia, there are great opportunities to gain new skill sets as we work with different populations and governments.

We have already built a solid core group of local staff who have started building Nuru Ethiopia. They will be partnering with Nuru International’s Scout Team to co-create the Nuru programs in Boreda. This is an exciting next phase. I look forward to continuing to learn from our teams in Nuru Kenya and Nuru Ethiopia so that we can continue to serve more and more people in need.