Scaling CommCare

A DIV-funded startup becomes a leading solution for mobile health

In India and elsewhere, resource-strapped public health departments and supporting NGOs are increasingly reliant on community health workers—men and women, literate and illiterate, specialists and jacks-of-all-trades—to provide life-saving services in areas that traditional medical providers struggle to reach.

Scaling CommCare: A DIV-funded startup becomes a leading solution for global health
Scaling CommCare: A DIV-funded startup becomes a leading solution for global health

Their numbers are growing. Since 2005, India has trained and deployed more than 750,000 community health workers to provide services to citizens in rural areas. With the growth of community health worker programs, however, comes persistent challenges related to training, supervision and evaluation. Health workers, too, can struggle to establish their credibility.

Mobile phones, proliferating in the developing world, just might provide the solutions. Dimagi, a health and technology social enterprise, aims to unlock the tremendous potential of India’s community health worker program and other social sector frontline worker programs with CommCare, its mobile phone-based software platform.

CommCare offers a mobile phone app and web interface to clients, which include non-governmental organizations, public health organizations, research institutions and governments. The platform is easily customizable to the organization’s needs, and supports translation into multiple local languages and dialects.

CommCare applications allow resource-challenged health programs to store and access patient information and perform case management for at-risk patients. It contains checklists and educational prompts to help health workers promote healthy behaviors that have been shown to reduce mortality and disease in low income populations.

In 2010, Dimagi received DIV Stage 1 funding for CommCare and rapidly set to work with 11 organizations using a proof-of-concept deployment model: Dimagi provides 10 phones for free, and allows each organization to test the CommCare platform before committing to the service. Just two years later, Dimagi has won acclaim as one of the top social enterprises in the world from Businessweek, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and others.

Data from Dimagi’s Stage 1 work indicate that the total cost of ownership for the CommCare deployment was $86 per community health worker per year. This cost can be shared by governments, external donors, NGO or others. By comparison, the Government of India is currently running management programs that alone can amount to over $1,000 per health worker per year.

Their early success was enough to secure a second award from DIV, for just under $1 million. With this DIV Stage 2 funding, Dimagi plans to engage more than 40 organizations through the same rapid proof-of-concept deployment model. Dimagi will provide each new organization adopting CommCare with 10 free phones and free technical support to facilitate the pilot phase.

"This Stage 2 funding will allow us to develop the evidence base, increase our field team, and build needed core functionality to reach scale with our partners in India," said Dimagi CEO Jonathan Jackson.

Neal Lesh, the chief strategy officer, explained that DIV’s deliverable-based contracting approach, which sets milestones that grantees must achieve to receive their next funding installment, has allowed the group to retain needed freedoms to determine how, and how fast, they would grow.

In the coming months, Dimagi will analyze data from CommCare’s first few years of operation in India to track its effect on health outcomes, in pursuit of its ongoing mission to transform human health and wellbeing.

To read about more DIV grantees, please visit our full portfolio.

Last updated: February 15, 2013

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