We all know the effect of a deadline when it comes to a project at work or paying a bill. Nadim Matta sees this power as something much more consequential. Matta is the head of the Rapid Results Institute, a nonprofit that helps poor communities around the world set ambitious goals on timelines so short that they seem unreasonable -- just 100 days. Rapid Results then moves in to train locals, who coach their peers to meet the targets: build a school in a Sudanese village, get 700 people tested for HIV in Addis Ababa, double the number of attended births in a Rwandan town. The driving idea behind the method, Matta believes, is that an often overlooked barrier to development is motivation -- that final push to get over the finish line. The work Rapid Results does, he says, is about stepping in and "unleashing local capabilities."
This deadlines-driven approach, developed four decades ago at the management consultancy where Matta also works, was originally applied to Fortune 500 companies. It was Matta who adapted the method for the realm of development -- and with impressive results. Since its founding in 2007, Rapid Results has set down roots in more than half a dozen sub-Saharan African countries. Nearly all of Kenya's government ministries, as well as the World Bank, have adopted the method, and this year in the United States, it's helping provide housing to tens of thousands of homeless people. "The biggest issue is that people don't actually mobilize.… The last mile is where solutions need to come together in specific ways," Matta explained. "We think we have part of the answer to the last-mile problem."
Reading list: Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson; Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath; Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World, by Tina Rosenberg. Best idea: Incubators and Internet start-ups in Arab countries -- channeling the energy of the youth in post- (and pre-) Arab Spring countries toward productive economic activity. Worst idea: The resurgence of the concept of American exceptionalism in this election season. American decline or American renewal? Renewal, always. More Europe or less? About the same -- I hope. To tweet or not to tweet? So far I have not felt the urge to join the tweeters. Maybe in 2013.