Jake Harriman was serving in Iraq in 2003 as a platoon commander of a Marine Corps Special Operations group called Force Recon. He and his men were guarding an overpass on a road called Highway 67. While guarding the overpass a vehicle appeared, driving toward their defensive position, and stopped about 50 yards from where his men were stationed.
A man jumped out of the car and began running toward them waving his arms. Harriman took two of his guys and began running toward the car, telling the man to get down out of fear that he could be wearing a bomb.
Suddenly, a black SUV pulled up to the man’s car, four armed men hopped out and began to shoot up the man’s car. The man immediately began running back, Harriman and his men fired at the armed men, and they drove off.
When the soldiers approached the man’s car, what Harriman saw changed him. It was the man’s wife, shot through the chest, and his little daughter dead in the backseat.
This led Harriman to a revelation about the nature of terrorism and poverty. When that man woke up that fateful morning he had few choices, and the ones he had were impossible for anyone to make. Fight the Americans and leave his family, or resist and risk seeing his family killed.
He made it his mission to give people like this a choice.
Upon returning to the U.S. and completing his commitment to the military, Harriman decided to continue the fight against terrorism with a different approach -- by attacking extreme poverty head on. In 2008 he founded Nuru, an organization with the goal of eradicating extreme poverty. The name comes from a Swahili word meaning “light.”
Harriman’s journey started in rural West Virginia. He came from a modest background and credits his parents with raising him to have the values he holds today -- that you can accomplish incredible things through hard work and perseverance.
“Jake could have used his gifts for the money, but Jake decided to use his talents to help others, and I couldn’t be more proud,” said Mike Harriman, Jake’s father.
Harriman grew up in rural West Virginia and his time in the military had a large influence on his life, teaching him about camaraderie, problem solving and, above all, leadership.
“I know it can be cliché but when you’re in the military you're fighting for the guys next to you, and the guys I fought beside taught me the value of camaraderie and leadership” Harriman says.
Harriman was accepted into the Stanford School of Business and got to work. In his time at Stanford, Harriman, with the help of classmates and professors, created the Nuru model, a way for the company to help those in extreme poverty while making profit. The business is designed in such a way that all the profit the business makes goes back to funding the nonprofit portions of the business.
Nuru isn’t about just giving aid, which Harriman believes can be an ineffective and unsustainable solution. It’s about helping people in poverty build a self-relying and sustainable solution. By promoting self-reliance it allows local leaders to continue the positive impact Nuru has, even after the organization has left.
The business is funded mainly through investors, but a business with the goal of eradicating extreme poverty does not exactly jump out as profitable for investors. But another branch of the business, Nuru Social Enterprises (NSE) invests in entrepreneurs in the developing world to acquire a diverse portfolio of assets. Using the profits from these businesses they repay their shareholders and reinvest the rest in the nonprofit side of the organization.
When Nuru comes into an impoverished area there are four areas it targets: Agriculture, to help the area be able to feed itself. Financial inclusion, to keep the area financially sustainable. Healthcare, when Nuru visits homes in order to promote healthy lifestyles and refer those who are sick to health services. And education, to help the youth of the area become literate. By focusing on these four areas, Nuru hopes to rebuild an area not just temporarily, but for the foreseeable future.
Nuru is currently operating in Ethiopia.While a team in Kenya has moved out, the infrastructure they put in place has proved successful and sustainable.
Alex Martin, the former head of Nuru Kenya, said that since his team has moved out “The project is 100 percent locally led.”
Harriman has done TEDx talks, made appearances on CNN, and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” and even delivered a speech at the Presidential Leadership Conference, and introduced former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
“Meeting President Bush and President Clinton was a huge honor, because even if you don’t agree with them or like them, you have to respect them,” Harriman said. “They lead the free world, and to be speaking in front of them and the other recipients of the Presidential Leadership Conference was a remarkable experience.”
The media exposure is also opening up more people to Nuru, and Harriman spent most of 2015 attracting attention to the Nuru cause after spending six years in Africa. Harriman plans to split his time between the U.S. and Nuru work in Africa this year.
“I've learned so much from him,” Martin said about Harriman. “Mostly he's taught me about the true essence of leadership and about the necessity of personal sacrifice to create impact. He's a tireless operator and leader, and I'm constantly in awe of his resilience, faith and creativity.”
Eradicating extreme poverty sounds like a daunting task, one that can’t possibly be achieved. Harriman and the Nuru team disagree.
“With our current work, and with the help of world leaders, I believe we could eradicate extreme poverty by 2030,” Harriman said.
This story was written as a part of the Charlotte Observer’s high school journalism Explorer Post. Questions? Email Corey Inscoe at firstname.lastname@example.org.