Jake Harriman’s story reads like a screenplay: Decorated military officer has epiphany during combat and devotes life to humanitarian work. It’s all true, except that there’s no script for Harriman to follow as he fights a war on extreme poverty.

After serving seven years in the United States Marine Corps, Harriman became “hell-bent on the mission” of eradicating the roots of poverty. In Iraq and elsewhere, he saw poor people driven to desperate measures— including terrorism—because they were...

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