By Claire Droll, Communications and Advocacy Officer, Digital Health, PATH
Last month at the Global Digital Health Forum, I introduced Digital Square to many colleagues. “Digital Square is an innovative co-investment mechanism,” I said. “Yes, but what exactly does Digital Square do?” was a common response.
Here’s what we do.
Digital Square is a partnership of the world’s leading digital health experts from 30+ organizations and countries working together to strengthen digital health systems in emerging economies.
We maximize the value of scarce development resources by coordinating investments behind ‘tried and true’ global good technology solutions. Multiple donors – including USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – are already buying into this innovative new funding approach.
Think of Digital Square as a funnel.
I like to draw a picture of a funnel when I explain Digital Square’s co-investment approach. We align funding from many different sources to support tested, scalable digital health tools that have gone through Digital Square due diligence (specifically, through our Open Proposal Process).
Why does coordinated investment matter?
Often, investments into digital health tools – like mobile phone applications for health workers, electronic health record systems, and disease surveillance systems – are made in a siloed way. This means that a single donor, company, foundation, or individual contributes money or other resources into a single, oftentimes new tool to address a specific disease (despite the fact that a similar tool might already have been developed and tested by another program).
As part of the global health community, you know that these kinds of siloed investments, and in particular those which fail to build on what’s already been developed and tested, lead to a number of problems: inadequate and volatile funding streams, fragmentation, duplication, and a high cost burden for in-country health programs which end up utilizing competing tools. Most importantly, these challenges mean that data isn’t being shared effectively for wider decision-making.
How do we know that the global goods in our portfolio are sound investments? Because Investments support the scale-up of digital health tools that have been proven to work. Each of these tools has been rigorously reviewed by our expert Peer Review Committee and Governing Board. Specifically, each has the potential to 1) be deployed to significant scale, 2) be used across multiple countries, 3) receive funding from multiple sources, 4) be interoperable with existing standards and systems, 5) be (usually) free and open-source, and 6) benefit from a strong community of support. Right now, Digital Square is supporting investments into 7 global goods, each of which meets many of those standards.
Each of the global goods elevated by Digital Square also benefits from a community of support. Digital Square grew out of a forty-partner USAID Broad Agency Agreement (BAA) process that completed in 2016. Many of those BAA partners remain involved in Digital Square. Some are expert members on our PRC, others have been selected through the Open Proposal Process to receive funding and implement global goods, and many join monthly partner calls.
Digital Square: supporting global goods and the environment in which they thrive.
Bringing digital health tools to scale in developing countries and ensuring their sustainability requires several elements to be in place: national leadership and commitment, an environment where global goods can scale, digitally-literate healthcare workers, and robust local capacity in software development and other critical digital technical skills.
Digital Square is helping to develop digital health capacity through the African Alliance of Digital Heath Networks (‘the African Alliance’). The African Alliance provides an umbrella platform to cultivate the human capital needed to develop strong national digital health systems. Promoting country ownership of digital innovation and offering a hub for south-south learning, the African Alliance helps foster the sustainability of investments made through Digital Square. The African Alliance will amplify the impact that the BID Learning Network and other mature peer learning mechanisms have had in building capacity on the continent to date.
In 2018, the African Alliance is incubating digital health experts and champions on the continent through a number of activities. Several workshops at African summits are planned, and the team is working with the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa and the International Telecommunication Union to launch a new Digital Leadership Program. This will begin with two workshops, one in East Africa, and one in West Africa, where up to 60 fellows from Ministries in 20 countries will hone their digital health leadership skills.
Meet us in the Digital Square.
We intentionally chose Digital Square as the name for our collaborative partnership. A square in a town or village is a place where people can meet and tap into the collective energy and ideas of the community. Digital Square provides this place for the global health sector. Partners meet in the Digital Square to seed and grow big ideas – like the African Alliance – for how technology can improve health in developing countries.
Join us! Help us disrupt business-as-usual by investing in sustainable global goods, growing the African Alliance of Digital Health Networks, authoring a thought piece, and more. Contact Claire Droll (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more about how you can get involved.