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Thursday Complexity Post
October 2, 2014

Tragedy Inspires Choices for Change


During his service in the U.S. Marines, Jake Harriman saw war and conflict in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. A horrifying experience in Iraq changed his view of the world and the course of his own life.


He was a Special Operations platoon commander waiting for supplies on a highway to Baghdad in 2003 when Americans fired warning shots at an approaching car they feared might be full of explosives with a driver on a suicide mission. An Iraqi man leapt from the car and ran toward the Americans, waving his arms frantically. An Iraqi military vehicle suddenly roared to the scene, sprayed his vehicle with bullets, and sped away. The man, accompanied by Harriman, ran back to the car to find his wife and two children fatally shot. The Americans didn't know it at the time, but the Iraqi was trying to escape the effort of Saddam Hussein, then still in power, to coerce poor farmers to sabotage coalition forces in exchange for food.


Describing those events to The Christian Science Monitor, Harriman said,  

"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."


Five years later he founded Nuru International, an organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty. To prepare for this task, Harriman applied and got into Stanford University's graduate school of business, where he studied economics, computer modeling, and how to "design for extreme affordability" to get goods and services to the poorest of the poor. The World Bank defines poverty as living on $1.25 a day. Harriman looked deeper. Incorporating ideas of economists Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen, Nuru views extreme poverty as lacking choices necessary to attain basic human rights. That's more than avoiding starvation. That means addressing health, education and seeking conditions that foster resilience in the face of catastrophe.


Stanford Professor James Patell, who taught Harriman, told The Monitor that Nuru differs from many anti-poverty efforts in the developing world in that its goal is sustainable projects that will be operated by local communities, and in its commitment to bringing its model into war-torn areas. Harriman explains in his blog that the work began in Kenya because he and colleagues wanted to build and test their prototype in a relatively stable country before trying to introduce it into a chaotic failed state or conflict zone. "We are attempting to build a high impact integrated development model that is completely self-contained--that is it can scale on its own--funded by capital produced in-country and led by nationals equipped to innovate and effectively manage large scale projects."


Harriman said that Nuru seeks local community participants who are true "servant leaders" who work to distribute power rather than consolidate it. Nuru is a Kiswahili word that means light. Harriman was recently honored as a veteran entrepreneur in the White House Champions for Change program.




Remember PlexusCalls!




Friday, October 10, 2014- 1-2 PM ET
Commonplace Books and the Art of Synthesis
Guests: Laura Gardner, Victoria Ward and Sharon Benjamin             


For hundreds of years scholars, philosophers, scientists, artists and ordinary people have assembled commonplace books to record and preserve the bits of information, quotes, ideas and small treasures they found compelling and significant. Laura Gardner has studied these fascinating collections and the evolution such syntheses from the Medieval age through the digital age. Different from diaries, which tend to record events from a personal perspective, commonplace books, did reflect the inner life, choices and values of the people who collected the things they meant to remember for a lifetime. Today we find the human urge to collect and record in websites, blogs and Twitter.

Laura Gardner has been teaching art education at Winthrop University for ten years. She is an Associate Professor of Fine Arts, directs the Master of Arts in Arts Administration, and is the faculty advisor for the Master of Arts in Art Education. She completed her doctoral work in reflective Art Education at the Union Institute and University, Cincinnati Ohio, and her Masters degree from Bank Street College of Education/Parsons School of Design in New York City. Dr. Gardner began her career teaching art to young children in the Hudson Valley of New York. She is a letterpress printer and book artist and has worked as an illustrator and specialty painter in New York and the Carolinas. Her interests include reflective practice, holistic education, book arts, and letterpress. She has received numerous grants and awards in the areas of pedagogy, service learning, and arts education. She was selected for a Winter Residency in Letterpress at Penland in 2010 and has exhibited her artist's books regionally.

Victoria Ward founded Sparknow in 1997 out of a knowledge management programme at an investment bank and 16 years in exchanges, clearing, trading and operational risk. She has worked both in management roles and as a senior consultant, facilitator and advisor. She enjoys designing change, engagement and research programmes with others and applying narrative methods to complex cultural challenges to find sustainable solutions. From 1981, when she started work (on the day Sadat was shot - a nicely memorable Reuters newsflash on day one) to 1997 her experience is in hands-on business and risk management, research and product development and knowledge management. She was the first member of the LIFFE executive to be voted onto the Board, and did a term on the board of the FOA as well as being an early member of the FTSE Steering Committee and serving a term on the Financial Services Tribunal. She has a degree in languages and art from Selwyn College Cambridge, a certificate in working groups from the Tavistock Institute, an old open-holed oboe that I play with enthusiasm, rickety hands and nervous sight reading, in Bloomsbury Woodwind Ensemble, and Nordic walking sticks which I exercise quite regularly on the Heath.

Sharon Benjamin, PhD, is principal of Alchemy, a Washington D.C. based management consulting practice. She consults with multi-lateral, NGO and healthcare organizations. An adjunct at NYU, she teaches the leadership capstone course for MPA students. Her work supports leaders seeking to effect profound transformation -- within themselves and their organizations, pioneering innovative methods such as Positive Deviance. Her previous positions have included Vice President for Marketing for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C. and Director for Major Gifts for the Union of Concerned Scientists. She earned her doctorate in organizational behavior from the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati where she has co-taught three leadership seminars. She has been active in the non-profit community, serving as Treasurer of the Board Earthworks, Chair of the Board of Directors of, and a member of Oceana's Board of Governors. 


Healthcare PlexusCalls

Wednesday, October 15, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

Living Emergence: Life of a Change Agent 
Guests: Tony Suchman and Diane Rawlins                 


Being a leader in healthcare-or any complex organization today-requires resilience, agility, and maybe a few new skills. Leaders may find themselves dealing with outbreaks of new viruses or resistant bacteria, new patients with neglected health issues, or injuries and facility damage caused by extreme weather or warfare. Those whose education focused on the technical aspects of medicine or business may be discovering their need for relational skills--how to support collaboration, work in teams, and the engagement of all stakeholders.

Tony and Diane will join the call to share what they have learned while developing and teaching Leading Organizations to Health, a 10-month program that prepares organizational leaders and consultants for the challenging work of leading change. Please bring your own experience and add your voice to this important conversation.  



See all upcoming PlexusCalls on the Plexus Calendar.  

Audio from all PlexusCall series is available by searching the iTunes store for Plexus Institute. Or, visit under Resources/Call Series. 


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