Serving in war-torn regions convinced Jake Harriman that one of the leading contributors to terrorism and instability is extreme poverty. “Those in desperate situations do desperate things to protect those they love,” he says. In 2008, at age 33, Jake founded Nuru International to end extreme poverty in remote rural areas around the world and give others the kind of choices he has had in life and a chance for peace. Nuru, Swahili for “light,” works with community leaders to provide the tools and skills their people need to pull themselves out of poverty. Jake has started projects in Kenya and Ethiopia, but hopes to expand the Nuru model globally.
Beyond Nuru’s encouraging numbers—123% increases in crop yields, 96% of small loans repaid—are personal success stories like that of Margaret, who was taught strategies for saving money by Nuru and given a small loan to start a restaurant. On the organization’s website, Margaret writes, “Before Nuru, I couldn’t afford to send my children to school. Now I am able to pay school fees.” Similarly, local farmers’ improved growing practices yield extra maize, which they are able to sell to finance their children’s education and to buy necessary items like mosquito nets to ward off malaria. Nuru has also helped communities build wells to supply clean drinking water.
Jake is quick to point out that Nuru’s successes have been hard-won. “I expected to encounter many rough days, but did not expect the reality that awaited me. I didn’t expect a big investor…to pull out at the last minute, or a Nuru farmer to be murdered by thieves…the challenges are endless. I have found myself in bed asking ‘Is this really worth it?’ That’s when I go to my ‘Getting Out of Bed’ answer.” For Jake, that answer comes from one moment in Iraq in 2003.
A 1998 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he joined the Marine Corps and became a Special Operations Platoon Commander. He tells of his deployment in Iraq:
“We were on Highway 7 awaiting resupply. I heard a vehicle rapidly approaching. We fired warning shots. The driver, a gaunt Iraqi, jumped out and ran towards us, waving his arms. As I raised my weapon a military vehicle stopped behind the man’s car. Six men jumped out and began spraying his car with bullets. The Iraqi man stopped, screamed, and began sprinting back toward his car. It was then I realized what was happening.”
“Southern Iraq was a desperately poor region. Iraqi Special Forces had been coercing poor farmers to fight Americans, promising they would feed and educate their children if the farmer picked up a weapon. I had no doubt this man was one of those poor farmers. Yet instead of fighting, he was trying to escape across our lines to safety. By the time we got to the car it was too late. His wife lay slumped over dead on the passenger seat, his baby girl had been shot, and he was cradling his six- year-old daughter who was choking on her own blood. I put myself in his shoes. I thought, ‘I live in a world of choices. But what choices did this man have?’ Something awoke inside of me—an anger that burned and grew. That day, I vowed to devote my life to giving people choices and hope where none previously existed.”
Drawing on the work ethic he learned from his parents on a small farm in West Virginia, and his deep Christian faith, Jake left the Marines, enrolled in the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and enlisted professors, students, and investors to launch Nuru International. Five years into the experi- ment, Jake is still happy to get out of bed. “I see that Iraqi farmer on Highway 7 who lost everything in two seconds because he had no choices,” he says. “I see his eyes and I feel the burning again, and then I get out of bed—ready to take on the next challenge.”