When we first thought about establishing the Global Digital Development Summit, the idea was born out of a desire to expand our insight into technology and digital approaches that we might find across a variety of international development sectors.  What we never anticipated was that a global pandemic was going to rapidly change the digital landscape in the course of one short year.  

Over the course of three days, we heard an incredible array of technology expertise and opinions. We were thrilled with the variety offered by the Summit agenda.  What was also surprising was the reach of participants that were able to attend because of the virtual platform.  Over 325 participants from over 50 countries joined us, more than doubling the turnout of our 2019 Summit in Geneva.  

Across the 30 presentations and panel discussions, the pandemic was at the forefront of the discussion, creating an environment which brought forth necessary innovation across all the collective sectors. Whether it was to change the way we reach and teach community based health care workers via mobile applications or how the use of blockchain changed the way vaccinations challenges are addressed. 

We found it interesting to hear the perspective of a donor representative in the panel discussion about the investments in sustainable architecture.  Martin Gross from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation confirmed that donors are collectively aware of the fragmentation they drive, saying that “There has been a realization in the last five years that donors are driving a lot of the fragmentation in the coherence of digital architecture and data systems at the national level.” Martin mentioned how donors are committing to changing the way they are funding digital solutions at the national level through commitment of The Principles of Donor Alignment of Digital Health but mentioned there were still challenges to tailor this approach to each unique situation. 

It was interesting to transpose Martin's presentation with the closing panel discussion where participants discussed how the donor commitment to localized funding is falling short and how this gap is impacting digital development. Richard Gakuba from ICAP highlighted the fact the funding inefficiencies have been created by donors not funding local organizations, despite the fact that the local organizations will ultimately be subcontracted to do the work. Richard stated that, “The most effective funding was direct funds to empower the governments to create leadership and governance around digital health”. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to take the plunge into the digital realm - be it good or bad, we look back at the GDDS virtual edition as a win-win opportunity both for us and for participants. Driven by a wave of creativity and investment, new concepts are transforming the virtual event experience and the virtual edition offers everyone the luxury of attending from anywhere in the world. The virtual nature of the Summit gave us the opportunity to reach a broader audience than what we could have hoped to reach. We were able to connect with new corners of the world and to provide a platform to emerging voices in the global digital development space. If there is one thing this Summit thrives on, it is stakeholders in the global digital development community being a part of the discussion and helping steer our future roadmaps. 

Through live discussions and presentations, along with pre-recorded (on-demand content), we had the pleasure to learn from and be inspired by over 80 speakers that demonstrate impact in what they do. Going forward, we want to continue the momentum, and continue the discussion, focusing on the impact we can make in the world. Because of this, we are also changing the name of the event from the Global Digital Development Summit to the Impact-First Summit; to further specify and focus on our collective goal of positively impacting the global society through technology. 

With the 2021 GDD Summit behind us we have already started to look ahead toward what's to come and we look forward to seeing you all again next year for the 2022 Impact-First Summit.

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