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The following blog post was written by Abhishek Prateek, a Dimagi Field Manager based out of India. The views represented in this  blog are those of the author alone, and not necessarily those of Dimagi. 

So what exactly does your company Dimagi do?

This is one question I come across a lot, especially when meeting new people. It all starts with the naïve question, ‘So what do you do?’ My most basic answer is, “I work for a software company called Dimagi, which builds mobile applications for NGOs and frontline workers to help them with their day-to-day tasks.”

The word NGO often rings a bell in people’s head, and many become curious. Then they ask more probing questions. If someone is taking a keen interest in my work, I delve into the details. And the conversation goes something like this. Most NGOs do a lot of paperwork. They often hire frontline workers who go door to door filling out paper forms and surveys, tracking them over a period of time. We work with the organization to transform all those paper forms and everything into a mobile application, which captures the same data. Essentially we help organizations become ‘paperless’ whereby increasing their efficiency.

For example, the Government of India runs a community health worker program, in which women from rural communities are selected as community health workers known as Accredited Social Health Activists, or “ASHAs” for short. ASHAs are trained about pregnancy (required checkups, vaccinations, pregnancy danger signs, etc) and about child care (immunizations, nutrition, etc.), and then make home visits in their villages as a first line of healthcare. Traditionally, ASHAs carry heavy registers and fill out various information about pregnant mother and young. The registers eventually are sent to a government office (every month or so), where someone feeds this data into some computer system. The process is slow, cumbersome, and error prone. By replacing these paper forms with CommCare, ASHAs only need to carry the mobile phone during her home visits. All the data is entered on the phone and is sent to the computer servers as soon as the phone gets connectivity. We support both Android smartphones and Nokia java phones.

Building apps is the technical piece and a small fraction of what we do. We invest a lot of time in training and capacity building of partner organizations. As a Field Manager, I travel to the project site for two weeks or so, train those Ashas on how to use the mobile application, train project staff on how to analyze the data that is being submitted, teaching troubleshooting of issues, etc. The users are often semi-literate or illiterate and it’s likely that they’ve never used a mobile phone for anything except calling. CommCare apps supports descriptive images and audio recordings in local languages for various questions, which helps low-literate users use the app effectively.

Oh, so you write code to make these mobile apps?

Actually, no. We have built a web-based platform where anybody can build apps with forms and surveys, without needing any programming skills or technical background. Anybody can register on our website www.commcarehq.org to create a CommCare application. Through a web based interface, you can easily create forms with questions like “What is your name,” “Select gender: Male/Female,” etc. Once you are done, hit the “Deploy” button and the server processes all this information and spits out an Android file (for Android phones) or a Java file (for Nokia phones). Just put the app on the phone, and it simply runs! Our platform is open source and we provide the server space to host all if the data. Everything is well documented and our platform is free to use if you have fewer than 50 mobile users.

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Working from the beaches of Goa

So you guys are a NGO?

This is a common follow up question. We are a for-profit, social enterprise and the majority of our clients are NGOs. Any profit that we make we invest back into Dimagi to improve and grow our business, which is why we have expanded significantly in the last few years. We work throughout India, and have offices in South Africa, Senegal, India, and Mozambique. Apart from country offices, we have active projects in over 30 countries around the world.

Dimaig’s revenue comes from three different areas. First we have software/hosting plans for larger projects. We also provide implementation services packages, for organizations that would like Dimagi to help them build and implement a mobile project. And our other source of revenue is grants from organizations like Gates Foundation, USAID, etc. Organizations like USAID give grants for mobile innovation in various domains like health care, etc. We apply for those grants (like many other organizations), and have won a few of them. Grant money funds our proof of concept projects with small organizations who are doing good work but cannot afford our services otherwise. The grant money also funds a lot of our internal research to evaluate impact of our work. Research results are very encouraging and we often see unintended social change as well.

For example, our research has demonstrated that using CommCare can help boost ASHAs’ self-confidence. Typically, a conventional ASHA home visits consists of an ASHA sitting in one corner of a home talking to pregnant mother. This changes when CommCare is added to the mix, and results in more engaging conversations. Various household members including kids, a husband, and mother-in law will gather around the mother and ASHA, curious to hear what the mobile app has to say! Other research shows that in CommCare can enhance the credibility of the information that ASHA gives out, and her advice is likely to be taken more seriously by mother and other family members.

Do you like your work?

I love my work! Even though the company is global and has been around for a decade, it’s fairly small. About 20 people in India and around 80 people worldwide. We have a bunch of smart, dedicated and passionate people who care about their work and about making impact. There are folks from schools like MIT, Oxford, London School of Economics and others who quit high paying jobs in consulting, finance and software in the US to follow their passion. It’s a pleasure to work with such passionate people. And after the work day, we spend a lot of time with each other, whether that’s getting dinner after work, spending time on the weekend together, or going on fun trips.

I like the fact that Dimagi is a Social Business. Social entrepreneurship is a fairly new phenomenon, and it’s satisfying to be part of an innovative business model. And since we are a global company working in various parts of the world, I see an opportunity to make a wide scale impact through my work.

I love traveling and my job provides ample opportunities to travel to cool new places for both work and fun. For example, my colleague and I are working from the beaches of Goa. Our whole Boston office is working from Guatemala for a month just because Boston weather in February is freezing!

Dimagi also provides tremendous freedom to choose what you work on, and people here do a plethora of things based on their interests and abilities even in their first year. We are a flat company, meaning that people from all different parts of Dimagi can propose ideas to influence business decisions. We brainstorm ideas, reflect upon past mistakes, and listen to each other. Even as a newbie who just joined about five months ago, I can see changes happening in the company based on my feedback!

And last but not the least, I love the fact that Dimagi’s priorities are in the following order:

  1. Impact
  2. Team satisfaction
  3. Profit

Ironically these priorities are in reverse order of ease of measuring it, which is probably why most companies do it the other way around. But we strive hard to stick to this order, and are committed to maintain this in the future.