You do WHAT?
Musings on the evolution of an organization — from solving problems to joining the battle for democracy
Ten years ago, my colleagues and I founded a non-profit organization — the Rapid Results Institute. The idea was spurred by the dearth of results in international development work. “Meaningful results take time.” “You have to focus on building capacity and changing systems first — and then results will follow.” We saw things differently: capacity can be unleashed and system change can be inspired when committed teams pursue short-term results.
Ten years into this journey, the Institute is a small band of change makers at the core of a network of amazing individuals who have helped hundreds of communities and organizations create profound impact, in a hurry! Usually within 100 days or less.
You would think what we do is easy to describe: We help organizations and government agencies embed 100-day challenges in their social impact programs — nudging people from talk to action. In other words, we help people make things happen. We put the “impact” into collective impact efforts…
Yet it is not easy to describe what we stand for and what we aim to create in the world. Are we just mercenaries who are hired to help others accelerate the achievement of their goals? This would not explain the passion our team has for the work we do — nor the transformation that many people we work with experience. There must be a deeper meaning to our work.
This meaning is emerging for us as we reflect on the troubling trends around us.
In 2012, the Arab Spring promised to usher a new era of people power, but the hopes of so many young people in the Arab World and beyond were dashed. And the trend towards more authoritarian and divisive world views has intensified — in various parts of the world — over the past few years.
Increasingly, we see ourselves as foot soldiers in an epic battle: between those who believe in the top-down exercise of power to get things done, and those who believe in ‘people power’ to bring about change and a better future.
At its core, our work is about giving voice to people who typically “just do” what they are told. It is about building trust and connections among people who usually work — and live — in isolation and in organizational and cultural silos. It is about connecting people who are closest to the problem with their peers, and restoring their confidence in their own solutions and abilities. It is about giving people the experience of bringing their ‘whole selves’ to their work.
Ultimately, our work is about connecting people to the power that they possess, and helping them unleash their capabilities for collaboration, innovation and execution.
Over the years, the stories that have been told about our work have focused on the dramatic results that were achieved when people power was unleashed: Dozens of cities in the US doubling and tripling their monthly housing placement rates of chronically homeless individuals, in 100 days. Users of HIV voluntary counseling and testing centers in the capital of Sierra Leone increasing from 40 to 5000 people per month, in 100 days…
The real story though is in demonstrating, right here and right now, how much more abundant — and JUST — our world can be when work in communities, organizations, and governments is oriented towards unleashing the full power of people. For us, this is the ultimate prize. We are proud to do our part by working with people so they have more agency, voice, and power to clarify and achieve their aspirations — one person, one team, and one community at a time.