The Last Mile

For developmental economists, the Last Mile (as coined by the MIT Poverty Lab professor Esther Duflo) signifies the last stretch between having a plan of execution to solve a problem and actually solving the problem. For example, in the fight against malaria, the Last Mile is the gap between having sufficient number of mosquito nets to give out and having the people use them. Because if you think about it, just because you give someone mosquito nets for the purposes of preventing malaria does not mean that the people will actually use them for that cause. Sometimes, mosquito nets become fishing nets or fabric for making clothes. Other times, they are simply tossed away because the people do not know what to do with them. So the problem for philanthropists and economists alike is how to make sure that people actually use what they are given and use them for the right reasons. Because if they do not use them for the right purpose, all the effort and hard work before that are null and simply a waste of resources and time that could have been used elsewhere.

Therefore, we need to make sure that we always bridge the gap and connect what we are working towards to the end results. This can apply to a variety of things, from the most complicated, such as eradicating poverty, to the most simple and commonplace, such as getting good grades. I know many people, including myself, who work their asses off during the school term to earn good grades, but when finals roll around, they are so exhausted that they simply don’t care about their finals and hence do not study as much as they should. Yet they spent all that quarter working their asses and they could not carry on with their hard work towards the end. The Last Mile in this case is the gap between how hard they worked before the finals and their final grades which are bounded to disappoint them as their final grades dragged down their overall grades. This is just a very simply application of the Last Mile.

In the broader context, solving the Last Mile problem can solve a lot of world’s biggest problems such as poverty and education. Solving it is usually the hardest part as it is very detail-oriented and require thinking from both the lenses of the people the solution is seeking to help and from the people who are investing resources in trying a solve a particular problem. The more difficult part is being able to look at the problem through the eyes of the people the solution is trying to help because often times, we do not understand their values and cultures or we hold a wrong stereotype/understanding of what they need in life. But we have to understand them and see how they perceive the world and their own lives if we want to help them as efficiently and humane as possible. Thus, only when these two perspectives are bridged and made to overlap can the problem be successfully solved as efficiently as possible. Or else we will continue to waste resources which are getting more and more scarce by the minute.