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Reflecting on 2020 - Dimagi

Dimagi CEO Jonathan Jackson (@jonathanleej) reflects on a year filled with uncertainty, challenges, inspiring partners, and no small amount of hard work.

As the CEO of a social enterprise working in public service, one of the biggest challenges I’ve found is that all too often doing great work isn’t enough to generate impact.

No matter how hard we try to control our fate, every program requires the alignment of stakeholders, logistical challenges, as well as flawed market dynamics to succeed. When all the cards are down in our field, doing your best, most impactful work sometimes just comes down to being in the right place at the right time, and being ready when you are.

Some of Dimagi’s proudest moments have been the product of this confluence of hard work, preparedness, and timing. 2020 felt like an extended one of those moments. Like it did to millions of others, COVID-19 flipped our world at Dimagi in early March. All of a sudden we found ourselves facing a heap of personal fear, business uncertainty, and deep concern about how this growing pandemic could derail our projects’ impact worldwide.

Like many organizations, COVID-19 made us quickly adapt to remote project delivery, ensuring we continue to deliver maximum impact while keeping people safe.

We worked through this uncertainty by mobilizing. Our teams dove into researching WHO protocols, interviewing disease experts, and speaking with health organizations about how they were preparing for COVID-19.

We built free template applications for different phases of response with incredibly rapid support from partners like Johnson & Johnson, the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, the Open Road Alliance, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the CDC Foundation. We had our first opportunity to team up with our friends at Medic Mobile to coordinate our response efforts and multiply our impact. Early on we made a decision to provide pro bono support to all organizations working in COVID-19 response in global health.

When we started to receive more support requests than we could handle, we put out a call to our alumni network to come help. Twenty of our former employees returned to Dimagi to support. Several ended up staying on permanently, re-joining our growing team that by December would surpass 200 people. 

And then on Saturday, March 7 at 1:09 AM, something unexpected happened: We received a cold email from the CDC asking for contact tracing support in Santa Clara County, the site of the first known COVID-19 death in the United States.

By Monday morning, one of our Project Managers, Marissa Harrison, was on-site with the Santa Clara Public Health Department building their COVID-19 contact tracing and case investigation system. Two days later we had a prototype undergoing user feedback. The system has since been adopted by and adapted for several major American cities and states – first in San Francisco, and then Alaska, Navajo Nation, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Colorado.

A contact tracer in San Francisco uses the CommCare-based tracing and investigation system. Photo: Paul Chinn / The San Francisco Chronicle

Today, more than 30,000 users in 40 countries have or are using CommCare applications for COVID-19 response, including nine national governments. 

In addition to doing as much as we could for COVID-19 response, we balanced our response efforts with continuing to support our portfolio of active projects, not dropping a single one. CommCare remains the largest mobile health data collection and job aid platform in use today. We continue to add many new projects this year as well as several million dollars in R&D funding for new products and research.

More than 788,000 frontline health workers used CommCare in 2020, providing services across 3,072 active projects in 80 countries. They submitted more than 35 million forms – a huge increase from when we first crossed 1 million forms in a month five years ago. 

While it was a busy year (to say the least), it was incredibly rewarding to see CommCare continue to provide value for organizations. We saw this in our partners’ third-party evaluations – not only for contact tracing, but for nutrition and generally for global health. We also saw CommCare’s value not only at the last mile in Sierra Leone, Uttar Pradesh, or Venezuela, but in places like downtown San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Denver. While exciting, this experience shone an even greater light on the critical need for market shaping and in supporting Global Goods, as our Chief Technology Officer talked about during this year’s Global Digital Health Forum.

Three digital health innovation evaluations that featured CommCare this year. Read more here.

The coronavirus pandemic has provided the entire world one of its biggest challenges in a century, as well as one of the biggest personal challenges for many of us. While we still have a long way to go, I feel incredibly fortunate that Dimagi has been able to help in such a pronounced way.

Doing your best, most impactful work takes more than being in the right place, at the right time, and being ready – it takes the right people. Our ability to contribute has been the result of years of hard work, learning, improvement, and keeping impact our top priority above all else.

It has been a long and hard year, but I couldn’t be more proud to work with a team that has been ready when it counts, time after time after time, just as we will be in 2021.

From all of us at Dimagi, we wish you a happy new year.



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