The USDR team at a recent retreat

Responding at the Speed of Need: Two Years of U.S. Digital Response

Dear USDR Community,

When I speak to people about the story of U.S. Digital Response, I often ask us to flash backwards. To imagine where we were and what we needed in March 2020 and to put ourselves in the shoes of our neighbors — people who needed new kinds of help, more urgently than ever before.

Simultaneously, I ask us to remember the crush of people who lined up to offer help — the fuel that launched USDR into being. During these past two years, new relationships sprang up all across the country, with people offering their skills and time in selfless and creative ways. Since March 2020, more than 8000 people have raised their hand to join our pro bono community, and they join more than 200 governments and NGOs who stepped up to deliver. We’ve seen breathtaking dedication from doctors and nurses and neighbors and public servants and community organizers and caregivers and corporate partners and volunteers. At USDR, we’ve been honored to spend two years at the ground floor of these new partnerships, bringing rapid responder technologists together with governments to meet critical community needs, and to do so by working fast, free, and non-conflicted. Read more in these recaps of our 2020 and 2021 year-end summaries.

But this year, on USDR’s second anniversary(!), I am excited for us all to take a moment to look forward and to imagine what comes next.

We are at a critical moment in our communities. There are people in crisis everywhere, whether that crisis is individual, like someone struggling to keep their family housed, or collective, like the digital divide.

This year, we get to choose how to respond. We can take this opportunity to meet people’s critical needs in the moment while simultaneously building better and more resilient public systems. We can work at the speed of need as well as meet those needs as they change moving forward. We can use all hands on deck to build more equitable, accessible services while we have the chance, so that when the next crisis hits, we are more than ready to respond.

In 2022, USDR’s mission has expanded to meet the moment: as we still respond to the “now,” we also prepare our partners to build for the future that we want. We’re building up two muscles as an organization: a rapid response muscle that continues to take in on-demand requests for help from governments and NGOs of all sizes, and a digital capacity-building muscle that does deeper dives with partners in targeted areas to build field-wise resilience and shared tools.

The start of our second year has already seen substantial growth with the establishment of our newest program areas: Economic Stability and Digital Service — with more to come this year. We’re also excited to share one peek behind the curtain: USDR recently completed our transition from a fiscally-sponsored organization to our own standalone nonprofit, setting us up to continue to offer and grow our work for years to come.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing highlights of two kinds to celebrate this two year milestone. We’ll share some internal how-tos — like this initial post on how we’ve used low/no-code tools to accelerate our partners’ work — alongside features of our partners and collaborators themselves. As you can see, there are many hands building this future. I’m grateful in particular to our incredible team, supporters, cofounders, handraisers, partners, collaborators, and neighbors who trust us to do this work together every day. I, for one, can’t wait for the year ahead.

Jessica Cole
U.S. Digital Response

Volunteer with USDR in 2022
Join USDR’s full-time team
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U.S. Digital Response

U.S. Digital Response

Connecting governments and nonprofits with pro bono technologists and assistance to quickly respond to the critical needs of the public.