Kathrin Oellers, Head of Division Population Policy, Social Protection (Div. 101) / German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Alexander Schulze, Head of Global Programme Health Division / Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
The speakers commented about the continuous evolution of openIMIS over the years and even since the last Steering Group Meeting in April 2021. From an initial tailor-made software developed for the Community Health Fund in Tanzania (2012), openIMIS has matured into a digital public good, serving health and social protection schemes in Tanzania, Cameroon, Chad, DRC, The Gambia, Niger, Mauritania and Nepal. This growth can only be attributed to the joint efforts and supports from the funders BMZ and SDC, and the vibrant community of developers, implementers, and users. openIMIS as pointed out by Alexander Schulze (SDC) is advantageous in that it is license free (open source) and it is interoperable with other digital health solutions. This makes it easily adaptable to diverse schemes and country contexts. The user community informs and drives the continuous development and upgrading of that software systems. This shows that openIMIS is not about a one-shot solution, but it is an iterative process.
In September 2021 openIMIS has been certified as a digital public good by the Digital Public Good Alliance. To be listed in the DPG registry, Kathrin Oellers explained, the initiative had to show its relevance to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) among many other requirements. By becoming a digital public good (DPG), openIMIS has proven its relevance particularly to SDG 1.3 (Social protection for all) and SDG 3.8 which endorses Universal Health Coverage. BMZ, which joins the DPGA as a board member from January 2022, stressed “… (a) label like DPG brings a real added value for partner countries to find affordable and efficient digital solutions and for development partners in supporting implementations of digital solutions.”
The goal for the openIMIS initiative is to be more than just a provider of a software solution, but a contributor and enabler for quality health and social protection systems. There is still greater potential to use the software beyond health like demonstrated by ILO with implementations for accident insurance schemes in Pakistan and Bangladesh or by the National Nutrition Agency in the Gambia, where openIMIS supports a cash transfer scheme.
Both BMZ and SDC who have been supporters of the openIMIS initiative since 2016, stressed their confidence in the continuation of their efforts in digital social protection. Beginning of 2021, BMZ and SDC jointly had launched the Catalytic Implementation Fund which aims to enable countries to look at the feasibility of using or linking openIMIS to their health or social protection systems. Kathrin Oellers (BMZ) also called for the support of other partner countries and international donor agencies which will be indispensable in the further dissemination of openIMIS.
The intention behind inviting such a wide spectrum of experts – with contributors and participants from more than 10 different bilateral and multilateral organisations – is to work together to better connect the dots between the existing systems, solutions and approaches and to avoid fragmentation and duplication. As Alexander Schulze expressed it “The meeting provides an opportunity to discuss and identify areas of common interest or even challenges we could address together. … It is also in this spirit of broadening and bringing the players, initiatives, solutions and approaches together that BMZ and SDC had reviewed the Terms of Reference for the openIMIS Steering Group in order to involve more stakeholders like you and to broaden the scope of discussions beyond openIMIS.” The invitation to join as new members of the Steering Group was extended to the attending experts and organisations, who are either working on digital common goods for health and social protection or are already implementing them. The idea would be to foster an even stronger community of practice that enables us to learn from various solutions and their implementation to explore efficient and impactful ways of linking these solutions and ultimately to build digital systems for positive change in health, social protection and other domains. In that spirit BMZ and SDC encouraged participants to actively involve and engage in the meeting. Alexander Schulze: “I hope todays discussion will motivate you to consider joining us in future Steering Group Meetings and on this journey.”