Last October, all of Dimagi’s Africa staff came together in the mountains behind Roberston, South Africa for a summit. It was a great opportunity to pause and reflect as we embarked on significant growth, ensuring that our tactics and strategies could help us achieve our goals; staff came in from our Cape Town and Boston offices, as well as our posts in Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, and Zambia, and parted with a sense of shared purpose.
Among the things rolled out at the All-Africa Summit was a new “hub” strategy, whereby our projects and staff around the continent would be organized into two large groups to increase efficiency, one of which would be based in Cape Town and work largely in the Anglophone and Lusophone countries of South and East Africa, and the other of which would be based in Dakar, serving the largely Francophone countries of West Africa.
This differentiation enables us better to calibrate our efforts to the astounding diversity of Africa; while the offices still work closely together: a worldwide partnership between Dimagi and World Vision, for example, is coordinated out of our South Africa office, but pulls in staffers from Dakar and New Delhi, depending on the needs in the particular country of deployment.
What does this mean for corporate summitry? It means that 2014 is the year that Dimagi’s African regional gatherings begin. In April, Dimagi West Africa (DWA) had its first-ever summit in the village of Popenguine in Senegal. The relevant team members based in Boston, Dakar and Ouagadougou came together, some meeting each other for the first time; Mohini Bhavsar, soon to be DWA’s Senior Regional Manager, came in from India, a post that she helped build largely from scratch over the course of three years; our Chief Technology Officer Cory Zue, on his own initiative, hopped a plane from Boston and brought a welcome technical perspective to the meeting.
There were eight of us, all told, enough to fill to bursting a Senegalese sept place, a station wagon for intra-country travel that is more remarkable for its ubiquity than its comfort. It dropped us on a ridge at the west side of town, down which we walked to get to a cozy four-bedroom cabin that was not too big that you could fail to hear the crashing of the surf when standing in a back room.
We spent most of our time in almost absurdly enjoyable and fruitful meetings, discussing briefly how to make this summit work for broader team strategy before turning to focus on that strategy itself. DWA is finishing up a round of proof of concept pilots, and pivoting to several larger ones that open up exciting opportunities for us in the region, and for Dimagi as a whole.
Working with Intrahealth on its Informed Push Model in Senegal, we have developed a last-mile logistic tracking system that promotes effective management and distribution of family planning commodities in a society where it is often difficult to effectively measure demand for such services. With Terre des hommes in Burkina Faso, we are developing a tablet-based program as part of the Integrated e-Diagnostic Approach, which will use digital patient records and decision support for the treatment of all children under five in the country. In Niger and Burkina Faso, we will be creating mobile applications to solidify the last-mile efforts of REGIS-ER, which seeks to promote resilience in rural agricultural communities of the Sahel.
Our team will be growing in the coming months as we ramp up on these and other projects in the region, and we focused on core competencies and processes that would enable us to execute on what we called “the Big Five,” while not losing track of our other initiatives, such as adapting Dimagi’s apps for use by the growing cadre of African sales agents and entrepreneurs (Fiorenzo Conte, Senior Field Manager and leader of Dimagi’s CommSell initiative, is based in Senegal and travels regularly to Kenya, keeping a foot in each of the two African countries where ICT makes the biggest contribution to GDP).
Some months back, a white paper was drafted internally in Dimagi, noting the difficulty a tech company could have of finding room to continue to innovate while scaling up solutions. Cory, taking a look at Dimagi’s pipeline, noted that DWA will be innovating and scaling at the same time, as we push forward the use of mobile technology in logistics, in clinical settings, and in agriculture over the course of the coming year. We settled on a schedule of alternating broad-based strategy meetings like this one with technical proficiency builders, to ensure we continue to improve on the details as well as the big picture.
We met on the porch of the cabin (occasionally having to raise our voices to be heard over the crashing surf) and at tables in neighboring restaurants, going for occasional dips in the still-frigid Atlantic and runs along the beach, well aware that by the time of our next DWA strategy summit, we will probably have outgrown the villa at Popenguine.