Towards the beginning of his talk for Yale SOM’s Social Impact Lab, Nadim Matta walked towards the blackboard, exclaiming that he hadn’t used chalk and a blackboard in decades. He proceeded to draw a graph, demonstrating two reasons why organizations fail. He explained that the Impact Gap persists when organizations ambitiously invest in programs, but for a multitude of reasons do not achieve the results they want. The Sustainability Gap occurs when an organization’s leader pushes for change, but the achievements aren’t sustainable, so results regress back to their original level.
Nadim Matta was born and raised in Lebanon, and his career spans the US Agency for International Development, Save the Children, and Schaffer Consulting, a Connecticut-based advisory firm. Currently he is president of Rapid Results Institute (RRI), the organization that hosts the “100-day Challenge,” the focus of his Social Impact Lab talk.
RRI seeks to address the Impact Gap by pushing organizations to unleash “unprecedented potential” during a 100-day period. At the beginning of each challenge, the organizations, with support from RRI, set a goal far beyond what they normally achieve in 100 days. For instance, RRI partnered with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to launch 100-day challenges across 32 US communities to house chronically homeless youth. In Sacramento, over 200 youth and young adults were housed over a 100-day period, compared to the city’s baseline of housing 10-15 youth and young adults per month. Other 100-day Challenges include reducing carbon footprint in the UAE and fortifying food with micronutrients in Kenya.
At the base of Matta’s belief is that the Impact Gap persists in part because systems and organizations are complex, requiring continuous experimentation and collaboration. Unfortunately, according to Matta, most organizations are not wired to address these complexities. But within the 100-day challenge, RRI helps the organizations set and achieve seemingly unrealistic goals within a short period of time, requiring them to innovate and experiment to achieve results. At the end of the Challenge, the organization’s altered systemic capacity allows it to continue to progress in its goals.
Matta believes that the 100-day goals must be “practically impossible” in order to “shock the system,” essentially allowing for an environment where experimentation and collaboration are encouraged. He elaborated on five enabling conditions that allow RRI to be successful, including that the goal is set by frontline staff, not executives. During the challenge, frontline staff progress towards their goals, but it is the responsibility of organizational leadership to find a way to sustain results and fold new methods into the culture of their organizations. By allowing frontline staff to frame and carry out the challenge, Matta argues for disrupting the power structure and the social contract within the organization.
At the end of his presentation, Matta spent time answering students’ questions, highlighting the importance of the support network: which local capacities are needed to carry out the Challenge, where the money comes from within client organizations, and what happens after a Challenge is completed. He emphasized the importance of senior leadership in creating the space for frontline workers to carry out the Challenge, and the necessity of leadership support to bring about long-term change in organizational culture. In his words, RRI doesn’t have a “formula for culture change” nor do they have systems in place to track or monitor what happens after the 100 days.
One student asked what happens if the organizations don’t achieve their goal. For Matta, the 100-day Challenge is less about achieving the results and more about redefining success through progress, insights gained about the organization’s system, and the overall experience of the team.
By Kendra Nealon, MBA/MA ‘21