Career Profile: Neema Iyer

Career Profiles
Neema Iyer

Neema Iyer

WHAT DO YOU DO?
I currently work for a social enterprise called Text to Change in Kampala, Uganda. TTC develops custom mobile-phone solutions with a focus on feature phones to interact with participants in developing countries. This includes interactive two way SMS and voice features for behavior change, health, education, agriculture, transparency, data collection etc. Our largest project which is currently based in Tanzania has reached over 300,000 participants with over 25 million text messages on pregnancy tips for mothers and their supporters.
HOW DID YOU GET TO WHERE YOU ARE?
I started out as a pre-med student in college, but started to gravitate more towards public health after shadowing some physicians. I then started a Master in Public Health program in Global Epidemiology at Emory University. Following my masters degree, I worked as a research analyst at the RAND Corporation in Washington DC working on health policy issues with clients such as the Center for Medicare and Medicaid and the Department of Defense. During this time, I began to work on a project looking at the use of technology to support veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. This ignited my interest in the integration of technology for public health.

At the same time, I started to feel strongly about returning closer to home, having grown up in Nigeria to Indian and Tanzanian parents. I began to apply jobs for through out Africa, looking into organizations that focused on mhealth or ehealth and I got quite lucky with the offer from Text to Change. I love my job and I love living in Kampala. A big help for me in finding this job was networking, both in person and online. It’s interesting the people you meet on twitter who can end up being such a source of support and encouragement. I’ve met friends on twitter and we went from complete strangers to partners working together on a start-up.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE IN YOUR FIELD?
My advice is to not be scared to go for what you want. This might sound cliche, but one day I just quit my comfortable, well-paying job in DC and moved to Uganda to do what I really want to do and I absolutely love it.

Networking is key, as daunting as it sounds. You need to put yourself out there and ask for advice or help when you need it. I love being around people and feeding off their energy to create things together. This is one of the reasons that I am aiming to work on girl empowerment because the energy of the women I meet at tech or networking events is exhilarating and I wish to somehow help other girls experience this collective passion and energy. This is what keeps me going on all my different side projects.
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