Results for Development Institute (R4D), a not-for-profit organization, came into being in late 2007. We created it at the urging of prominent voices from the developing and developed world – voices we had come to know well through our decades of working with public, private, and non-governmental organization leaders in African, Asian, Latin American, and eastern European countries, as well as the donors and development partners that seek to help governmental and non-governmental organizations who convinced us that an important gap needed to be filled.
They pressed on us their concern that an important gap needed to be filled. Think tanks don’t go far enough, they argued, stopping too short of ensuring that their proposals will actually work on the ground when the practical realities of implementation have to be dealt with. Implementers, they said, jump in too late, without starting from basic questions. Further, the institutions that bridge that gap well tend to be few, large, and perceived to have weighty agendas of their own (for example, the development banks have their lending to do).
What is greatly needed, we were told, is to have more groups working at the nexus between thinking and acting, with skill not just in developing promising, evidence-based ideas but also in the arduous art of applying them in practice in far flung places.
This need, we also heard, was for groups not too large to be independent sources of impartial advice, responding to the priorities not of the rich countries but of the low and middle income countries that need to be in the driver’s seat if progress is to be made and sustained in solving the major, complex problems they face, and overcoming the barriers impeding their populations from unleashing their full potential to build better lives for themselves.
Responding to that calling, we took the plunge. Starting with only a tiny, dedicated team – and not a penny to our name (we had no initial starter funding from a generous benefactor) – we had to prove ourselves every step of the way. The stakeholders we wanted to work with, including funders, examined us rigorously. As they saw what we could do – and as our track record built up – they came back again and again. Within three years, over $40 million of support had come our way for the mission we had embarked on, and our small team had grown to over 30 people. Since then, we have continued to deepen and expand our reach, but are also turning away new undertakings as we deliberately limit growth so as to ensure quality and stay focused on our mission.
The deeper roots of who we are and what we do go back to our former lives as professionals from multiple backgrounds – from decades of experience working on and in the developing world, from skills developed as economists, MBAs, finance experts, or technical experts (e.g., in health or education), and from perspectives honed as researchers and implementation practitioners. Lessons learned – and convictions forged – about what works and doesn’t work in the tough feet-on-the-ground business of problem solving in challenging situations have underscored for us the essence of what we believe in.
At the center of that is a question we continually ask ourselves: how can we do a better job to enable the world’s least advantaged to break through the obstacles holding them back and construct for themselves a brighter future?