Fall 2008 Vol. VII, No. 1
Rapid Results, Lasting Impact
The people at the Rapid Results Institute believe they have found the “better mouse trap” for carrying out development work, and they’ll tackle 15,000 Rwandan hills to prove it.
“I first realized what a small group of committed individuals could accomplish in a short period of time during the height of the Lebanese civil war. It was 1987. I was working for Save the Children Fund (SCF) to set up a multi-year food distribution program targeting 100,000 displaced and war affected families. Three days before the first shipment of food was scheduled to arrive at the Beirut port, we learned that about half of the shipment would have to stay at the port after it was off-loaded. The port was officially closed at the time: its once formidable hangars in ruins, damaged by shelling, and taken over by rats. But over a weekend, we restored the largest hangar to its former glory. We even managed to bring back the warehouse supervisor who had been relegated to home duty for about ten years! We ended up using the hangar for two years to store the food that overflowed the off-loading capacity of the shipments we received,” recalls Nadim Matta (MPH ’83). Matta has traveled a long and circuitous route since those days more than 25 years ago, from Lebanon, where he attended AUB, back to the United States (where he had earned an engineering degree from MIT) to Yale University for an MBA, and to a career that has spanned the world and both the business and nonprofit worlds.
The thread that connects all these experiences is the hunger to make a difference on the ground. It is this that prompted Matta to take a year off during his MBA program in the mid-1980s to volunteer for SCF. It is also what attracted him to work for almost 20 years for Robert H. Schaffer & Associates, a management consulting firm that has pioneered results-focused approaches to organizational change. After seeing what these approaches were accomplishing for corporate clients, he turned his attention to development work. “I had seen among our clients,” Matta says, “how focusing on short term results, if done with attention to local ownership and discipline, could help unleash capacity for performance. I knew that this same approach was sorely needed in development work.”
Susan Stout, who recently retired after more than 20 years with the World Bank, most recently as manager of the Bank’s Results Secretariat, says that although the focus on results is not new, by “linking the achievement of short term results with human motivation, confidence, and capacity, Matta and his colleagues are cracking the code on client ownership, empowerment, and accountability.” During the last ten years, Matta and some of his colleagues working first on an ad hoc basis and more recently under the umbrella of the Rapid Results Institute (RRI), have demonstrated the power of the Rapid Results Approach in a dozen countries in Africa, Latin America, and South Asia.
Almost four years ago, Matta and his team traveled to Madagascar at the invitation of the World Bank and the Malagasy Office of the President. They trained and developed local consultants who in turn worked with ministries and the country’s 22 governors to introduce the Rapid Results Approach in several sectors ranging from agriculture to tourism to health. One of the areas in which they had the most dramatic impact was family planning. The Minister of Health in Madagascar at the time, Dr. Jean Louis Robinson, describes how this work unfolded: “Rapid Results teams initially increased new users of family planning services five fold in a few districts, in just 50
days. Within nine months, dozens of teams were able to increase the percentage of regular users of family planning services in the biggest region of the country from 12 percent to 17 percent of women of child-bearing age. What was most amazing is that this was done with the same people and the same resources at our disposal. The results were due to the motivation and the innovation that was unleashed in Community Health Centers and villages.”
Matta argues that the path to sustainability is one in which local leaders responsible for service delivery embrace this way of managing and working as they are doing in Madagascar, where donors, led by the World Bank and now joined by a host of others, including the Millenium Challenge Corporation, have recently shifted some of their resources to support “learn as you achieve” capacity development. They are paying consulting fees to local coaches who have been trained to provide management, implementation, and leadership support in the country itself. Previously, most of the donor “soft money” was being spent on policy, strategy, planning, and other types of “arm-chair” support.” Matta points out that two years after the institute terminated its involvement in Madagascar, there are still hundreds of 100-day projects under way at any one time.
In Kenya, the Rapid Results Approach was first introduced by the Ministry of Water to improve its performance on a number of issues ranging from helping newly formed water companies reduce the amounts of “unaccounted for water” to assisting the ministry to reduce the time needed to complete major irrigation projects and to pay contractor invoices. Based on the impressive results at the Ministry of Water, the government of Kenya decided that all the other ministries in Kenya would adopt the Rapid Results Approach using the local “resources” (i.e. the men and women) that Matta and his colleagues had trained. Although the issues and challenges at each ministry were different, they all benefited from the new approach. Matta points out that in 2007, Kenya won the UN Public Service Award for improved transparency, accountability, and responsiveness.
One of the institute’s most recent engagements is in Rwanda. Although it is still very much a work in progress, Matta says that the scale of what is happening is exciting. He cites, for example, one effort to help the country deal with a monumental challenge: soil erosion. This is a huge and growing problem in the country because of pressure from population growth, the topography of the country (often described as the “land of a thousand hills”), indiscriminate burning, the need for fuel wood, and the unrelenting pressure for land.
The approach is simple. Each of the country’s 15,000 villages selects a hill where it introduces new progressive terracing techniques that have proven to be effective in halting soil erosion. By working on a small scale (one hill in each village), village teams can achieve results quickly and build their own confidence in what they can accomplish.
Looking ahead, Matta sees enormous opportunities and real challenges for the Rapid Results Institute. Although it is focusing its attention these days on Africa, Matta is already meeting with development professionals who are interested in adopting the Rapid Results model in Latin America and looks forward to the day when the institute is working in the Middle East too. “We believe that we have a ‘better mouse trap’ for carrying out development work and are anxious to share it with as many people as we can.”
More at www.rapidresults.org