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Harnessing Technology for Humanitarian Impact: A Conversation with Seema Iyer

Seema Iyer, Senior Director of The Hive at USA for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, joins The Igniting Change podcast to discuss her circuitous career path, and how she went from studying human migration patterns in the former Soviet Union during the '90s to running the data science and innovation lab for UNHCR.


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Welcome back to Igniting Change!

This week’s episode looks at how technology and data science can be harnessed to revolutionise humanitarian aid. Join us for an insightful discussion with Seema Iyer, a veteran in the field of refugee assistance, and leader of The Hive – a Data Science Innovation Lab at USA for UNHCR. She shares her inspiring journey from researching human migration patterns in the former Soviet Union to deploying data integration for impactful work in Baltimore.

In the episode, Seema takes us behind the scenes at The Hive, offering a glimpse behind the innovation. She reveals how data science has been instrumental in understanding public reactions, fund-raising, and forming strategic alliances in the face of crises like the Ukrainian conflict. Her team’s work isn’t limited to problem-solving but extends to empowering refugees with tools ranging from AI models that assist pro bono lawyers to projects addressing food insecurity, education, and employment. The Hive, since its inception in 2015, has been a beacon, highlighting the refugee crisis and galvanising support.

She also shares about the creation of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps of refugee camps using drone imagery and AI. The use of technology extends to the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) utilization of natural language processing and AI-generated responses for prompt assistance. Maintaining the core principle of helping people, Seema emphasizes the need to remember the “why” when using new technologies and data.

Throughout the episode, one thing is crystal clear, technology is reshaping our approach toward humanitarian aid.

Meet Seema: The data whisperer transforming humanitarian aid

Seema Iyer is a renowned data scientist, humanitarian, and social innovator best known for her groundbreaking work in leveraging technology to amplify global aid efforts.

Career Milestones

Seema’s career took off with her mapping projects across the remnants of the Soviet Union, earning her a place as a recognized leader in the use of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) for humanitarian causes. However, she gained international acclaim for her role as the Senior Director of the Hive for USA for UNHCR, an innovative hub that employs data science to revolutionise crisis management and refugee aid.

Under her leadership, The Hive has been transformed from a think-tank to a ‘do-tank,’ focusing on actionable insights and real-world solutions. From predictive analytics for resource allocation to AI-based legal aids for refugees, her work has been instrumental in redefining the capabilities of humanitarian initiatives.

The fact that USA, for UNHCR, has invested in our team is a testament to their belief that data science and technology can help us find solutions to a serious problem in ways that are faster and better.

Seema Iyer, Senior Director, The Hive for USA for UNHCR

Philosophy and Impact

Seema believes that technology serves its highest purpose when anchored in empathy and humanity. The idea is simple: “It’s not about bytes; it’s about heartbeats.” She has created a legacy that marries technological innovation with compassionate action, saving lives and making sustainable changes in communities across the globe.

Connect with Seema

To stay updated with Seema’s latest projects and insights, follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

USA for UNHCR: Empowering lives, one refugee at a time

Let’s talk about USA for UNHCR, an incredible nonprofit that’s in the business of saving lives and building futures. They’re the vital conduit between American philanthropy and the UN’s refugee initiatives. Essentially, they make sure American generosity turns into meaningful global action.

Where it all began

Born in 1989, USA for UNHCR has a track record that’s nothing short of impressive. For decades, they’ve been rallying resources and public support to help out in crisis zones worldwide. In short, they’re the humanitarian MVPs you want on your team when things get tough.

The Hive

So, one of their game-changing moves is the Hive—an innovation hub that takes tech and humanitarian work to the next level. Think AI-driven legal aid for refugees and predictive analytics for efficient resource allocation.

Their impact

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. USA for UNHCR isn’t just about throwing money at problems; they’re committed to comprehensive solutions. That means not just emergency relief, but also long-haul strategies like education and job training. They’re the full package, advocating for refugee rights and making sure displaced folks get the dignity and opportunities they deserve.

Get involved

If you are looking to be part of something big, life-changing even, check out their website, give them a follow on social media, or donate. Trust me, once you’re in the loop, you’ll see why USA for UNHCR is making waves in the world of humanitarian aid.

Listen to the full episode here

If this sneak peek has left you wanting more, make sure you tune in and find out what can be achieved when technology meets compassion. So, whether you’re a tech aficionado, a humanitarian at heart, or simply curious about how data and ingenuity can intersect to drive meaningful change, this episode is a must-listen.

Listen now and become part of the movement to ignite change.

For more things tech for good, stay tuned to our blog or shout us a holla to get in touch with us, we would love to hear from you 💚

Published on September 14, 2023, last updated on September 14, 2023

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