By Jake Harriman, Founder and CEO of Nuru International
Many of us veterans are continuing to serve our country and world as civilians. I’ve chosen to continue my service by joining the global fight against extreme poverty — to help families in need, transition communities from poverty to resilience, and promote stability and peace in our world. And it’s because of my military experience, not in spite of it, that I’ve found fulfillment on this path in humanitarian development.
I remember transitioning out of the U.S. Marine Corps in October 2005 to begin this new journey. It was one of the tougher decisions I had made at that point in my life. I was leaving everything I knew — my guys, the mission, and my sense of purpose. I had been on a focused career trajectory with a very clear path and targets to hit along the way. I felt lost and unprepared for what lay ahead.
When I first got out, I didn’t see too many veterans in this space, particular those coming from the Special Operations community. I was committed, but unsure about what value I could add to this sector. Would any of the skills I had learned be even remotely transferrable? I enrolled in Stanford Graduate School of Business because I believed a solid business acumen was what I would need most in this new venture. Over the next few years, though, I began to see that I had drastically underestimated what veterans can bring to the international development community.
The combat-tested skills and lessons we had learned under fire were highly relevant in the ever-changing international development playing field. In my old job, we had learned to mentor and influence by, with, and through local counterparts — empowering them with the ability to manage teams and projects with final decision-making authority to ensure authentic buy-in and ownership. We had been trained to act quickly and decisively within an overall commander’s intent with very little information on hand at times. We mapped out power dynamics among local clan systems and traditional and government leadership. We designed early warning systems and robust security strategies to avoid contact with enemy forces. We conducted rapid-response strategic, operational, and tactical planning to ensure that we could pivot quickly to meet any new challenge in a well-thought-out manner, leveraging all available resources. And then finally, we had countless lessons in raw, tested leadership. I made many, many mistakes as a Platoon Commander, but I learned from these mistakes and worked hard to never repeat them.
When no development agency hired me, I launched a social venture in 2008 that would become known as Nuru International, a new development model creating sustainable alternatives for families in some of the most fragile places around the world.
At Nuru, we have employed numerous veterans who have added tremendous value to our team — not just because of their capacity to learn international development best practices and methodology, but fundamentally because of their experiences and skills obtained during their military service. Together, we have already provided more than 100,000 people in Kenya and Ethiopia with lasting, meaningful choices.
If you are an NGO leader, I encourage you to tap into the incredibly underutilized human resource that is in our veteran community.
If you are a veteran and you are looking for ways to continue to serve — to continue to fight injustice — then I encourage you to join teams like Nuru downrange in the fight against extreme poverty and violent extremism on this new front. It’s the same war, but a new battle on a new flank. This is our fight.