And just like that, Dimagi is 20. It’s incredible to reflect on where we started: a group of eager engineering graduates at MIT with big dreams, driven to improve healthcare service delivery with technology. I’m incredibly proud of the mature social enterprise we have evolved into, all while maintaining nearly our exact original mission.
At Dimagi, our core value is “Impact, Team, Profit. In that order.” This guides everything that we do as a company. Achieving High-Impact Growth is both our mission and also helps us recruit the best team. An incredible team is necessary to create profit and impact. Modest profit growth is necessary to sustain impact and continued investments into our team.
With that in mind, it feels only natural that I look back on our 20 years through our core value (“Impact, team, and profit. In that order”) with a focus on 5 key moments that changed the course of Dimagi.
Our Impact at 20
Hands down, this is what I’m most proud of. We’ve built the world’s most widely scaled digital platform for Frontline Workers. We’ve grown a product that is being used in 130 countries. We’ve supported thousands of projects working to deliver services at the last mile. We’ve grown an evidence base that shows, hands down, that equipping Frontline Workers with CommCare improves Worker performance and client outcomes in underserved communities.
But none of this would be possible without the work of our incredible partners. We support an incredibly diverse portfolio of projects, ranging from social enterprises with an outsized impact like Lwala Community Alliance to scaling solutions with forward-thinking governments like Madagascar and Jamaica. As we enter our third decade, we are proud to serve teams who measure the impact of their tools in years, and even some who are now measuring in decades – including incredible programs with Catholic Relief Services (2011) as well as the Integrated eDiagnostic Approach (IeDA) program in Burkina Faso (2010).
As we’ve reflected on the last 20 years, I’ve had the pleasure of having conversations with members of our team about moments that were truly pivotal in our history. By far, the project I am most proud of is scaling CommCare in India. In 2015,we supported the Government of India’s Integrated Child Development Services, the largest public health and nutrition program in the world. At its height, CommCare was being used by over 600,000 Frontline Workers. This may very well be the largest project we ever will work on, and for me, the biggest heartbreak when our role on it ended. But it also showed us that we could deliver incredible impact at incredible scale.
Shortly after ICDS-CAS, Dimagi found itself in another opportunity to make enormous impact in supporting COVID-19 response. In March of 2020, our firstname.lastname@example.org email address received the following message: “I am a CDC epidemiologist working on coronavirus in California and am interested in talking to someone about CommCare for contact tracing.” A year later, we’d stood up an entire 50-person team working exclusively on supporting government health programs in the United States. While we were working around the clock, I look back on this time as one of the highest impact periods we’ve had: no matter what was needed, we were all willing to jump into the highest need areas.
Being able to collaborate with key players across global health and development has been both a privilege and a continuous learning for us. I am proud of the collaborative culture we have cultivated as Dimagi, and know that only through good collaboration can we achieve our vision of a world where everyone has access to the services they need to thrive.
Our Team at 20
When I started Dimagi 20 years ago, I did it for two reasons:
First, I wanted to build something that delivered real impact in the world.
I wanted to work with smart, great, impact-minded people. It was a purely selfish reason, but probably the best decision I made.
That second reason really paid off. Working with people that you admire and can learn from has been critical for our success. All of our best ideas have come from great teams that work well together – something that really helped us in first building CommCare. Before CommCare became what it is today, it was an idea that a few of us had in 2008 while doing research in Tanzania. It was during this time that we came up with our user-centered design methodology at Dimagi. We coined “Design Under the Mango Tree,” because most of our design work happened with community health workers under a mango tree at the Kibada Health Facility in Tanzania.
I had the chance to sit down with some of these team members, people who I am still lucky enough to call colleagues 14 years later, as well as friends. We had a blast looking back on this special time for all of us, including reminiscing on the moment when we knew we had something special in CommCare.
We are still in close touch with one of our partners in Tanzania, Gayo Mhila, who worked with Dimagi in the initial days of building CommCare. To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we went back to the first CommCare site. Last month, Gayo made a visit in Tanzania and shared updates about Dimagi and CommCare with the first CommCare users, right under the same mango tree outside the Kibada Health Facility. It was incredible to see these individuals 14 years later. In honor of our 20th anniversary, Dimagi made a small contribution to gift 30 chairs in the waiting area for the facility’s expansion, per their request. Thank you to Gayo for coordinating this wonderful moment, and for bringing us back to our literal “roots!”
In addition to building our team, I’ve loved growing beyond a few MIT grad students to a diverse team of people from 20+ countries, from different professional and personal backgrounds. I often think back to 2010 as a milestone moment for our team’s growth. Dimagi had just received support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) program to test CommCare through dozens of pilots in India. This was a time of maximum learning velocity, as we got feedback from users across many organizations and applied it to get better and better every week. It also led to the creation of our professional services team – the heart of Dimagi, and our biggest team at the company today.
20 years later, I couldn’t imagine a better set of colleagues. We’re 250+ people in 20+ countries. We’re all driven by a shared mission and vision, and committed to embracing the complexity and challenge of supporting frontline workforces inherent in our work.
Despite working from all over the world with many remote team members, I’m incredibly proud of our culture which we have worked hard to build, nurture, and maintain. We have one of the most thoughtful and proactive People Operations teams who consistently go above and beyond to make sure the team is continuously learning, feels supported holistically in a hybrid remote working environment, and that they have the tools they need to thrive. We truly are a different kind of tech company and it’s our people that make this possible.
Reaching 20 As a Social Enterprise
I know all too well that the vast majority of social enterprises don’t make it to this age.
In our 20 years, we’ve seen far too many of our partner social enterprises either go bust or abandon their social impact mission and transition into the fully corporate, for-profit space. It’s not surprising: Like most actors supporting public benefit, we face an underlying challenge where our most impactful work may have the least viable path to being funded.
There were definitely moments when we didn’t know if we could balance both impact and profit. Until 2014, we were operating project by project, trying to make something great in impact while also keeping our company afloat. 2014 was the first time we had a big break when we received instrumental core funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This funding was our big break and transformative for Dimagi, and allowed us for the first time to invest in the impact we wanted to create, including in growing our Software-as-a-Service business. We remain grateful to the Foundation for this support.
Through a combination of support from great partners, our great team, our ability to quickly pivot, and, candidly, sometimes a bit of luck and good timing, we’re now on the path to being one of the largest financially sustainable social enterprises. We’re able to take on risks that we couldn’t before, including acquiring our first company, SureAdhere, to expand our portfolio of digital health solutions. And we’ve actually had enough headspace to create our first five-year strategy towards High-impact Growth. In support of the next 5 years at Dimagi, we recently announced the Steele Foundation for Hope’s transformative investment of $25 million in Dimagi towards building our technology platform CommCare to support improving jobs to improve outcomes. This investment is the largest Dimagi has secured to date and will go a long way in accelerating our five-year strategy.
In addition to these milestones from the past year, there are two other big ones that jump out to me when I reflect on our sustainability as an organization.
The Next 20 Years
Looking back on the last 20 years has been wonderful, and makes me excited about the next 20. As we continue to grow, stretch and challenge ourselves towards creating better solutions that enable better jobs and better outcomes, I am simultaneously optimistic about what’s possible, humbled by the challenges ahead, and grateful for the team and partners I get to work with every day. But most of all, I am humbled in recognizing the incredible people, partners, and users that have been critical to our last 20 years and will help us move forward into the next 20 years of high-impact growth.