More than 50 years after General Eisenhower spoke those words, Jake Harriman found himself on the frontlines in Iraq.
As a Special Forces Marine, his mission was clear: to risk his own life to take out the enemy. But an incident in 2003 complicated the picture.
That day, he watched helplessly as an Iraqi farmer drove frantically toward him, desperate to bring his wife and two little girls to safety behind American lines. His effort was in vain. Fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein caught up to the little white car and opened fire on his family inside.
“As I stood next to that man holding his blood-soaked little girl, something awoke inside of me. For the first time in the war, I put myself in his shoes. I thought to myself, I live in a world of choices, but what choices did this man have? It wasn’t fair that he had no choices just because of where he was born.”
In that dark moment, Jake saw the light and it compelled him to engage in a new battle after the war. He would fight for the right of every person to make meaningful, lasting choices to improve his or her life.
In 2008 Jake founded Nuru International-Nuru which appropriately means ‘light’ with connotations of hope in Swahili-with a mission to end extreme poverty in remote, rural areas of the world and allow people to make life choices for themselves.
Today there are more than one-and-a-half billion people living in extreme poverty; 85% live in isolated areas; 29% live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Nuru currently has successful programs in Kenya and Ethiopia with plans to replicate their model and launch programs in more volatile and needy areas.
In each target area, Nuru identifies and trains local leaders to design and implement solutions that fit their own community’s needs.
“Our role is to raise up and mentor local leaders so that Africans can lift other Africans out of extreme poverty.”
Jake says giving people the tools they need to lift themselves up is the only sustainable path out of poverty.
“Without restoring agency to those living in poverty from the outset, they would remain passive beneficiaries of aid, not decision-making agents of poverty solutions.”
Nuru involves local leaders in both planning and managing the poverty-fighting solutions for their communities. Over time, they are trained and empowered to fully operate all programs without dependency on any outside staff or on foreign philanthropy.
“I believe that a strong African woman who possesses the same skill set and knowledge that I have is far more capable of sustainably ending extreme poverty in her country than I will ever be.”
And Jake says that is a guiding principle of Nuru philosophy. It’s called “servant leadership,” which is based on the idea that truly effective leaders bring out the best in those they are leading.
“Leadership is not something you take; you earn it,” he says. “Take care of your people, and they will respect you for the man or woman you are — not for the title on your badge. Leaders who gain this kind of respect lead teams that achieve the impossible: teams that change the world.”
Jake couldn’t save the family of that Iraqi farmer but their memory stands as the inspiration for Nuru which has already impacted the lives of 78-thousand people in Kenya alone.
“It was the horrors of combat that shaped and molded me into the man that I am today. I fought for the idea that is America; a nation that stands for the freedom of human rights and lasting meaningful choices for all people everywhere. This idea has kept me in the fight, but now on a new front line: fighting to end extreme poverty.”
Jake graduated with distinction from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis and served more than 7 years in the Marine Corps and was awarded the Bronze Star for actions in combat. He has an MBA from Stanford University.
Get creative with your friends and help lift families in Kenya and Ethiopia out of extreme poverty by participating in ‘30 Days & 30 Ways’ interactive campaign. Find out details and sign on to become a "Catalyst" for change.