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5 Women Who Are Using Robots, Data, Fashion, and Tech to Transform Global Development

A bold new generation of women is guiding the future of global health and development. You’ll meet some of them at SwitchPoint.


During tough or uncertain times—and they certainly are that for global health and development these days—we like to look to our heroes.

We’re talking about those who rally under pressure. Who light their various corners of the world with hard work and noble objectives. Whose ideas are surprising and inspiring, even if they’re not widely known yet.

Chief among our heroes are the women and men we’ve invited to speak at SwitchPoint 2017. It’s a two-day global event where all our favorite things—humanitarian innovation, global health, and technology—collide. And it’s happening next month, April 27–28.

We want you to meet them all, of course, but this is a start. Meet five women who are boldly, quietly, creatively transforming our shared global future.

Roya Mahboob, serial entrepreneur
As one of Afghanistan’s first-ever tech CEOs, Roya Mahboob has made it her mission to help more women become digital citizens. The Taliban has never liked the fact that she works to educate women and girls in her home country—in fact, they told her that if she didn’t cut it out, they would kill her. So she was forced to flee Afghanistan, but she hasn’t stopped her work.

The education centers she established have helped educate over 9,000 girls in Kabul and Herat, and she aims to reach 5,000 more in the next two years, she told WIRED. Today Mahboob runs the Digital Citizens Fund, which gives Afghani women access to technology and digital education that can change their lives.

Meenakshi Jain, digital humanitarian
In India, one out of every 25 children dies before their first birthday. One out of every 500 women dies while giving birth. And one of the biggest reasons for these unnecessary deaths is the extreme remoteness of many of India’s villages.

That’s why Dr. Meenakshi Jain, who leads IntraHealth’s work in India, is helping to put smartphones loaded with the lifesaving mSakhi app into the hands of frontline health workers in the country’s hardest-to-reach villages. mSakhi is an award-winning mobile phone app that helps health workers provide high-quality health care to pregnant women, newborns, and families in real time.

Khadija Abdulla Ali, drone pilot
She’s a drone pilot, a mapper, and a member of one of the most ambitious surveying efforts in history: the Zanzibar Mapping Initiative, which uses drones to create high-resolution maps of the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. Once complete, the robots will have mapped an area of over 2,300 square kilometers—the largest drone-surveyed area ever—which the country can then use for better planning, land tenure, and environmental monitoring.

“It’s satisfying that our county is making something so powerful,” Khadija Abdulla Ali says. “It will be ours and pioneered by us.” Watch the video.

Jill Andrews, wedding gown and Ebola suit designer
When she designed her first wedding gown in 1990, designer Jill Andrews didn’t foresee a future in hazmat apparel. But that was before the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. Without her wedding and evening gown design skills, the Johns Hopkins team that worked so furiously to design new personal protective equipment during the Emergency Ebola Design Challenge would likely, she says, “have been using a lot more duct tape.”

Their winning design for frontline health workers featured a fast removal process, larger face mask, two layers of gloves, and a battery-operated air filter that blows dry air into the suit. It even debuted at New York Fashion Week.

Lucy Mphuru, health care revolutionary
In Tanzania, where maternal mortality rates are high, violence against women and children is widespread, and the HIV epidemic is mature and generalized, rural health workers are often left to do their work with minimal equipment and support.

But today, even the most isolated among them carry mobile phones. And that spells opportunity for health care in the country.

The Health Network Programme, led by Dr. Lucy Mphuru, allows health workers to call and send each other SMS text messages for free, access informational websites without incurring data charges, and opens invaluable lines of communication between health workers and government officials. But Mphuru is using more than data to transform health care in Tanzania—she also builds surprising, creative partnerships for the cause. Think comedians, motorcycle taxi drivers, factory owners, teachers, police—all have a role to play, she says.

Meet these women and more at SwitchPoint 2017. Get your tickets today!