LETTER HOME: Results in 100 Days

Results in 100 Days

As I start to write this letter, I’m sitting in a small room in the town of Rashad in Sudan, which lies west of the Nuba Mountains and borders the region of Darfur. I’m wearing a headscarf over my dusty hair and I’m covered from head to toe. The running line I have with a teammate is, “Did you ever think that it would come to this, you in a small village in Sudan?” Each time things get tough I joke about how amazing and ridiculous it is that our paths have lead us here.

Wesleyan alumni who were in the CSS with me know about my struggle to get into the development field—where those of us who are idealistic and crazy enough can put our theories and wills to the test. As it turns out, my journey has led me to two other Wesleyan alumni. I work for a new nonprofit organization, The Rapid Results Institute, which is a spinoff of the management consulting firm Robert H. Schaffer and Associates, where Ron Ashkenas ’72 and Matthew McCreight ’81 are managing partners. They and their colleagues developed and support the work of the institute.

Our goal is to help people and organizations manage change in order to accelerate the achievement of results while developing leadership capacity. By results, we mean tangible, bottom-line results, usually in 100 days or less—not recommendations to senior management as to how they might get results. Of course, in the development sector everyone wants results, but that’s not always what happens. In the struggle to craft viable solutions, people often lose sight of the objective.

I started in June of 2006 as an intern in Sierra Leone, helping local councils strengthen their development and implementation skills. I also did research in Madagascar, where our institute is working on problems related to taxation, health, and reforestation. My job is to train local “coaches” and their “teams.” I work with them both on site and remotely from our office in Stamford, Conn., to make sure that they develop enough capacity to support their projects.

In Rashad, I work with four teams focused on education projects. The community of Rashad is recovering from a recent conflict during which education became a low priority. Boys and girls drop out of school at very high rates. Leaders and community members alike agree that a shift in attitudes is necessary to improve education. Building schools is not enough. The four teams were set up to make sure the construction projects have a long-term impact on their communities.

We’ve put a lot of pressure on coaches to succeed in a short time. At one point our lead coach lost interest in working with her teams. When I asked her why, she said that if the teams did not understand the management skills we were trying to explain, they were never going to articulate clear ambitious goals, let alone achieve results. I was so frustrated. I wondered, “Is this what happens when development fails? Do people just give up and go for second best?”

Thankfully, the local coaches and their teams redoubled their efforts and were able to climb the learning curve. The four teams created specific goals and detailed work plans for the next 100 days. In the village of Tarouba, for example, they planned to increase the number of newly enrolled students from 24 (last year’s number) to 50 by May 2007. Highlights of their plan include traditional dramas at school, lectures in the mosque, and spiritual support through chants and singing to engage students.

At the end of my week in Sudan, the teams presented their work to local leaders and received inspirational words and support. I vividly recall the words of one community leader, who said that what the teams had learned would move their communities from relief towards development. Their achievements would give them an appetite for more success and that, in time, would liberate them to strive for more.

I was moved because he was talking to a room full of people who had been disillusioned by ineffectual interactions with international donors and aid agencies. These people—young and old, mothers and fathers—didn’t have PhDs or MBAs, but by working with us, they had become leaders in their communities.

For further information see www.rapidresults.org.


It’s 57 days in and I’m feeling more comfortable in Sudan. I’ve gotten henna on both hands and just finished the mid-point review. The teams are living up to their initial promise. Tarouba and Mabsout have already reached their goals and will surpass them. Tarouba will now provide adult literacy and kindergarten classes. Khor el Deleib will add adult courses for women that focus on small-scale processing of agricultural goods. Dar es Salam and another team are partnering with an NGO to provide school lunches and latrines. Three of the teams will now try to target the nomads in their communities whose children use the schools.

At the presentations of their mid-point review sessions, one community member echoed something I wrote months ago. He said when he saw team members get up to present he thought to himself, “I know these people; who let them get up to talk?” He was afraid of what the team members would say in front of everyone. But, when he heard them talk, he realized that he was in the presence of leaders, new budding leaders in his own community.